Very occasionally, an on-field incident brings a change in either the laws of the game, umpiring or the judiciary. The sliding rule was born a matter of days after Lindsay Thomas slid under Gary Rohan at the SCG, breaking Rohan's leg.
Jeremy Cameron's unsightly hit on Harris Andrews was one of those once-in-a-blue-moon moments that ought to act as a catalyst for a specific change to AFL rules. It is a change that has been fiercely resisted and which is still widely viewed as a violation of tradition.
Jeremy Cameron collects Lion Harris Andrews.
But none of the arguments against the introduction of a send-off rule are as compelling as the logic in favour of it. The "red card" is a rule whose time has come.
While less violent, Cameron-Andrews can become this era's answer to the notorious "collision'' between the head of a wide-open Terry Wallace (Footscray) and Rod Grinter (Melbourne) under the grey Whitten Oval skies in 1988. Grinter received a six-match ban for the awful, jaw-breaking hit, but the greater consequence was that the VFL subsequently introduced video to charge players.
Cameron-Andrews should deliver similar for the send-off.
Andrews was felled by Cameron early in the first quarter. No sooner had the Lion hit the turf, it was immediately apparent to anyone watching on television that Cameron would be missing for a month or more.
The Giants likely would have beaten the Brisbane Lions even had they had Andrews. But the Lions were significantly disadvantaged from early in the game, and their best defender has bleeding to the brain. GWS gained immediately from the incident. Hawthorn are the first of five opponents that might gain from the suspension.
It is a perverse feature of the AFL that the team that loses the player in these circumstances simply has to cop it. This is not what happens in soccer, rugby and rugby league, where you can be sent off for illegal acts.
Footy's opposition to send-offs – albeit it happens in lower leagues – is a case of a tradition that evolved, due to circumstances that are no longer relevant.
For a long time, players were reported by umpires and could be suspended, but only after having their day in court (tribunal), where the victim, bound by the game's omerta, often couldn't remember incidents.
Today, as a consequence of TV coverage, punishment is doled out, initially, via a video system, plus interviews and doctors' evidence.
Given that we have moved to a system in which the match review officer dispenses justice, largely based on what he sees on a screen, I see no reason why this cannot be done mid-game by an official when there is an egregious incident.
If a score can be changed by a person in a room in less than a minute, why can't a player be tried and convicted within, say, 10 minutes?
The argument in favour of red cards is twofold: One, the AFL has the technology, why not use it? Second – more crucially – is the issue of fairness to the team whose player is felled.
AFL legend Leigh Matthews is now an advocate for the send-off rule, as is the influential Gerard Healy. Matthews, who raised this on Macquarie sports radio on Monday and expanded upon his views to me, reckoned fairness was the overriding factor.
"I believe our system is the worst of the four (football codes),'' said Matthews, who posed the hypothetical of Lance Franklin knocking out Alex Rance in a grand final as the extreme example to make the case for send-offs. "I just think there's a match-day fairness issue.''
Matthews, who acknowledged committing send-off-worthy acts as a player, felt that the send-off ought to be only for severe incidents such as Cameron-Andrews or Tom Bugg's knockout of Callum Mills, when the guilt wasn't in question, and the umpire in the video box could deliberate if necessary – before issuing the verdict.
The tricky part would be deciding where to draw the line between send-offs and incidents that might get a player taken out, but which aren't serious enough to warrant a punishment without trial.
These incidents would bring banishment mid-game: Bugg's hit, Cameron on Andrews, Barry Hall's horrendous punch to Brent Staker (2008). Bachar Houli's KO of Jed Lamb would be a send-off.
Send-offs need not involve a punch. Michael Long's uncharacteristically brutal bump on Troy Simmonds in the 2000 grand final would see Long not return for the second half.
But Trent Cotchin's bump on Dylan Shiel in last year's preliminary final would not warrant a send-off, despite Shiel's game-ending concussion. It was simply too debatable – Cotchin was not suspended and players should not be sat down for borderline incidents. There would be cases where a player might get one-two weeks, possibly even three, yet wouldn't deserve a red card.
Really, there were would be one or two incidents a season that would send a player from the field.
Red-card-worthy incidents should either be intentional – eg Bugg, Hall – or recklessly dangerous to the point that everyone wonders if they're intentional, like Cameron, who, in Healy's description, ran a red light.
Would Matthew Lloyd's bump that knocked out Brad Sewell be a send-off? Probably, albeit Lloyd-Sewell is close to where the AFL ought to set that elusive line. The subsequent suspension that the perpetrator received would be offset by his send-off.
The other consideration for the AFL would be whether to issue send-offs only for incidents in which one team is deprived of a player for the day, or if the perp could be red-carded simply because the incident is bad enough.
It's perhaps clearer if the send-off is confined to incidents that see the victim lost for the game.
The strongest argument against the send-off is human error: "What if you get it wrong?'' It's possible there will be a very rare mistake. It's certain that losing a player for a brutal act is unjust.
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