Is Jack Viney a culprit or a victim?

Date: May 8, 2014 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

In recent times the AFL has further toughened its stance with respect to the head being sacrosanct when it comes to collisions between players.

The latest to fall foul of this edict is Melbourne’s Jack Viney who last night was handed a two-match ban for an incident that resulted in Adelaide’s Tom Lynch sustaining a broken jaw.

The Match Review Panel, the body that usually metes out the penalties following on-field incidents, chose to hand the matter straight to the AFL tribunal rather than decide the case itself.

The MRP had determined that Viney was guilty of “engaging in rough conduct” but chose to allow the player and his club to state their case before the tribunal and allow it to determine the level of guilt, and if required, the penalty.

After hearing the evidence, including Viney’s account of what happened, the tribunal took 19 minutes over its deliberations before handing down the two-week ban.

The triumvirate that made the determination comprised three former VFL/AFL players – Wayne Schimmelbusch (306 games), Emmett Dunne (129) and Wayne Henwood (79).

Safe to say, there verdict did not meet with universal support.

In fact, the tide of popular opinion seems very much against them.

Prior to the hearing five-time Hawthorn premiership player Dermott Brereton said he would boycott next month’s AFL Hall of Fame dinner should Viney be rubbed out.

One presumes that one less place setting will now be required.

On Fox Footy shortly after the verdict was handed down an array of current and former players – including Nathan Buckley, Cameron Mooney, Barry Hall and Robert Murphy – all vehemently opposed the tribunal’s finding.

The arbitrators classified Viney’s actions as “negligent, high contact and medium impact”.

That equated to 200 demerit points resulting in an automatic two-game suspension.

Melbourne will decide today whether it will appeal the ban with many footy fans no doubt wishing it does.

The tribunal viewed the video evidence numerous times, both at real speed and slowed down frame-by-frame.

At normal speed is it hard to imagine just how Viney could have avoided the collision.

He had eyes only for the ball as he ran at speed to the contest with Lynch charging from the opposite direction with his direct opponent, Alex Georgiou on his tail.

The Crows’ forward was favoured by the bounce of the ball at which point Viney responded, realising he could not win the ball, by turning sideways and slightly lowering his body – he kept his arm firmly tucked to his side – and braced for the impending contact.

The impact from Viney’s shoulder caused a flow-on effect as Lynch’s head moved sideways and collided with Georgiou’s resulting in him leaving the ground with concussion.

The AFL’s legal counsel Jeff Gleeson suggested that Viney could have spun out of the impending collision rather than turning sideways to brace for the impact.

The Melbourne midfielder countered by saying, “there was not a lot of time to think about complex manoeuvres like spinning”.

View the incident in real time and it is hard to object to Viney’s contention.

At no point did Viney appear to be intent on making Lynch the target of his endeavour.

By lowering his body he actually did his best to prevent any high contact.

After the collision all three went to ground before Viney bounced back up and gathered the ball.

The fact remains that despite Gleeson’s suggestion that Viney could have taken evasive action, was it actually practical and possible for him to do so?

Again, when viewed in real time, the chances of him doing anything other than he did seems remote.

By its very nature the game of Australian Football is a contact sport and sometimes that contact can be frighteningly forceful.

At times it also may not be avoidable, regardless of the extent of the injuries that may occur, including to the head.

Buckley mused on the finding, saying “There’s been alarmists saying the AFL is trying to take the bump out of the game and, until tonight, I might have thought they weren’t warranted”.

Former Adelaide skipper Mark Ricciuto took to Twitter, asking “When will the AFL realise that the fans and players want the game to remain the physical one it has always been? Ban thugs not fair players”.

Yes, the head is, and should always be regarded as sacrosanct.

But that of course does not mean there will never be incidents where facial or head injuries occur.

Some will be as a result of a player’s recklessness, or indeed at times, true intent – although that is a part of the game that has largely been eradicated.

Others will be the outcome of two players going all out to win the football with any subsequent injury being a side effect that does not warrant an apportioning of blame to one party, and as a result, a  suspension being incurred.

In my opinion the Viney case has only further clouded the standing of the bump in the game.

The AFL, by all means, is right to try and police all incidents that incur a significant head injury.

However, given the very nature of the code, there will at times be serious injuries that come about not as a result of any reckless or negligent intent but purely as a by-product of a physical sport.

And not every such injury deserves a culprit or, dare I say, scapegoat.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 7 May 2014