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Conspiracy theorists would have you believe the AFL don’t want to rub out a potential Brownlow medallist.
But this is why Melbourne’s ball-winning midfielder Clayton Oliver wasn’t cited by the match review officer for a dangerous tackle on Sydney’s Luke Parker – an incident which has gone viral on social media in the past day or so, following one-match suspensions to Zach Merrett and Taylor Adams which will see them miss the blockbuster Anzac Day match.
Clayton Oliver was not cited by the match review officer for this tackle in round three on Luke Parker.Credit: Fox Footy
Cast your mind back to round three. It’s early in the second quarter as the Demons are hosting the Swans in a battle of the titans – a repeat of last year’s qualifying final, with the Swans undefeated through two rounds and the Dees seeking a quick rebound after their loss to the Lions in Brisbane.
Oliver is streaming out of half-back as he tries to pinpoint a kick to Jack Viney on centre wing, who is bumped in the contest by Nick Blakey.
The ball spits out to Parker, as the Swans are trying to rebound on the turnover, down 37-15 on the scoreboard, before Parker is swooped on by Oliver.
Parker tries to fend off with his right arm, lifts the ball up with his left hand, and then fires off a handball before Oliver slings him to the ground, letting go of the tackle as Parker braces his fall with his right arm.
In that split second, visibly, it looks dangerous, and despite the umpire in play calling play on, an out-of-play umpire blows his whistle to award Parker a free kick for a dangerous tackle against Oliver.
So, why didn’t Oliver face the scrutiny of match review officer Michael Christian, given the appetite to stamp dangerous tackles out of the game? Is it because the AFL doesn’t want another Corey McKernan or Chris Grant episode, with an ineligible player topping the Brownlow count, as they did in 1996 and 1997 respectively?
Or is it as simple as Oliver had no case to answer?
Well, for starters, Parker’s head doesn’t hit the ground – in fact, it doesn’t really get close to the ground, and he bounces up quickly to his feet to give a one-two handball to Ollie Florent running past.
Clayton Oliver finished equal-fourth, on 25 votes, in last year’s Brownlow Medal count.Credit: Getty Images
Secondly, Parker’s arms are free in the tackle. They’re not pinned, he’s not in a vulnerable position, and while the tackle is considered dangerous by the downfield umpire in that split moment, Christian has the benefit of numerous camera angles to take a more considered view of the action.
Free kicks and suspensions don’t always marry up. Comparatively, Adams’ tackle on Seb Ross last Sunday did not draw a free kick from any umpire, despite Ross having both arms pinned. Adams’ tackle resulted in a one-match suspension, given the vulnerability of Ross’ position in the contest.
Merrett’s tackle is much more a dump tackle than Oliver’s sling tackle, with Tom Sparrow driven head-first into the turf.
And thirdly, it’s not illegal to tackle. Sure, it’s becoming more difficult to execute the perfect tackle, but it’s still fundamental to the game that players can tackle in an attempt to dispossess the opposition.
Sebastian Ross was “gang tackled” by three Collingwood opponents, including Taylor Adams.Credit: Twitter / afl.com.au
But the Oliver tackle doesn’t tick any of the boxes that would be considered relevant to the MRO. There's no breach of a duty of care. There was no illegal contact to the player, no conduct to be considered intentional or careless, and therefore there was ultimately no need to determine the force of the tackle.
It closer resembles Jordan De Goey’s tackle on Hawthorn’s Lloyd Meek in the pre-season. That attracted a fine, as even though Meek was able to break some of the tackle with his arms, his head did hit the ground, graded as low impact. De Goey had breached a duty of care.
Parker’s head didn’t, and while it’s the action the AFL are trying to stamp out – not necessarily the result – the game still allows players to tackle, so long as those tackled aren't left in risky situations.
Asked why Christian didn’t provide an explanation for the Oliver case in his round three Sunday report, the AFL told The Age: “The match review officer reviews all games and charges are communicated. This passage of play is from round three and a charge wasn’t laid.”
Perhaps the latest lesson is “don’t pin the arms”. Or if you do, be sure that if you’re taking the player to ground, they don’t hit their head. While you allow your opponent to fire off a handball, you also allow them to brace their fall on impact, thus relieving some of your responsibility in the tackle.
And it means, for now, we don’t risk a third ineligible player polling the most votes should Oliver top this year’s Brownlow count.
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