The AFL tribunal has made its call on Collingwood defender Brayden Maynard after a fiercely debated marathon hearing that lasted almost four hours.
Maynard was controversially sent to the tribunal after he knocked out Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw in Thursday’s qualifying final at the MCG.
The incident has divided the AFL, with many believing Maynard – who was attempting to smother Brayshaw’s kick before colliding with the oncoming player – was simply involved in a “football act” and had no intention to harm.
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Maynard pleaded not guilty to rough conduct and, after an extremely lengthy deliberation, the tribunal agreed.
Maynard is now available to play in Collingwood’s preliminary final in a fortnight’s time.
During the tense hearing Maynard said he was not close enough to tackle Brayshaw and he did not expect Brayshaw to move in the direction he did after he kicked the ball.
“After (I tried to smother) the ball … I looked down and I thought, ‘shit, he’s there’. I sort of seized up,” Maynard told the tribunal.
“Next thing I know he’s on the floor and I was just a bit rattled myself.”
It was put to Maynard that he could have opened his arms to cushion the impact, but he instead turned his body and braced for contact.
But Maynard dismissed the option and biomechanics expert Michael Cole also said he did not believe Maynard’s body position at the time of impact could be considered part of any “conscious decision”, but was an instinctive reaction.
“Based on the numbers and research, it’s difficult to conclusively say Maynard would have been able to make any conscious decision to reposition his body (and soften the impact),” Cole said.
“Once he’s airborne, he’s essentially a projectile. He’s like a frisbee with arms and legs.”
The AFL’s legal representative Andrew Woods said Maynard’s conduct was unreasonable and “dangerous”. Woods also stressed that in the modern game you had to know when to “pull your punches”.
Collingwood’s legal representative Ben Ihle said there was a difference between a player electing to bump (in a dangerous way), and this incident.
Social media soon exploded, however, after Ihle suggested Brayshaw contributed “significantly” to the collision by not “deviating from a path”.
He said many players who kicked the ball with their right foot at pace would veer to their left, but Brayshaw moved to his right or “inward” towards the airborne Maynard.
They also showed behind-the-goals vision of the incident, with a purple coloured lane for Maynard and a yellow coloured lane for Brayshaw, arguing Brayshaw moved into Maynard’s lane and not the other way around.
He said if the players were cars and a collision occurred, the car at fault was the one that moved out of its lane.
But fans took to social media to lash Collingwood, accusing the club of “victim blaming”.
The AFL has the power to appeal the decision but that seems unlikely at this stage.
Brayshaw, 27, has an extensive concussion history from early in his career and wears a protective helmet.
There is a chance he may not been seen at AFL level again.
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said earlier on Tuesday that the club was yet to have any discussions with Brayshaw about his playing future.
“But clearly, with concussion you need to make sure everything’s done properly and health is paramount in this space and we’ve seen a number of players retire due to concussion,” Goodwin said.
“We need to make sure the athlete, in this case Angus, is clear, is functioning fully and we’re really clear about what looks like moving forward.
“But I think nothing’s off the table at this point. We need to make sure he works through these protocols the right way.”
Goodwin said Brayshaw was “feeling a lot better” and if he continued to progress, the Demons could start to have conversations with him regarding whether he could return later in the finals series, if Melbourne get that far.
But he stressed the midfielder’s health came first.
“He’s progressing well,” he said.
“Clearly he’s in the protocols and there’s more checks that needs to be done.
“But so far so good in terms of his progression to where we want to be but there’s some tests that still need to be done.
“He’s got to work through these protocols, and we certainly won’t take a risk with him as a player.
“Now, there’s a big picture to think of here with Angus, and he’s got to make sure everything’s done properly. His health is paramount in this situation.”
Brayshaw’s concussion battle is a terrible twist for his extended family with Brayshaw engaged to the daughter of St Kilda great Danny Frawley.
Frawley battled severe mental health issues later in his life and died in a single-vehicle car crash in late 2019. It was later confirmed as suicide.
An analysis of his brain found he had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopothy, or CTE, the degenerative brain condition that has become the biggest issue in contact sport right around the world.
Anita Frawley, the widow of Danny, has since become a lead campaigner for concussion issues in the AFL.
Brayshaw proposed to Danielle Frawley in April this year.