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Saturday, December 05 2020 @ 03:56 am ACDT

A Fair Hit, A Hard Hit

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Back in 1978, the crowd at Kardinia Park in Geelong held its collective breath as North Melbourne’s Keith Greig fearlessly ran at a high ball on the wing. Coming the other way was Geelong’s Ray Card. Greig never wavered or looked at anything but the ball. Card saw trouble coming and changed to a side on shirtfront – hammering Greig and knocking him senseless.

Back then it was considered a brave act by all parties. Today, the same move would result in suspension (consider Shane Mumford’s hit a few years back against Geelong’s Mitch Duncan…some eerie similarities).

In different eras, each represents the brutality of our game. Whilst the rules that define what constitutes legal and illegal tackles have changed, the ferociousness of players and courage have not.

What made the Greig/Card hit more memorable was that it headlined football media just three years after the tragic hit at the Western Oval in 1975 when Footscray’s Neil Sachse was left a quadlaplegic after a horror collision with Fitzroy’s Kevin O’Keefe.
In an era of tough players and tougher, harder hits, the power and bravery of players carried on the traditions set during the nineteenth century and are still present today.

For every purely courageous clash between players both intent on the ball, there are the acts which are either vicious, callous or just poor choices poorly executed. Rules changes allow umpires and judiciary to review and apply penalties to lessen the world of crude tackles and hits.

However, what hasn’t changed is the level of interest the public has for the hard hits. Like it or not, views of tackles and hits have enormous audiences. A look through YouTube can verify this. This clip, called “Here Comes The Boom” has in excess of 600,000 views. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF7oSCsmJgY ) “Biggest Hits AFL Pt.1” has 1.2 million. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1aU0hz5Tf8 ). Place a search for big AFL hits in YouTube and there are massive numbers of hits.

Whether it is genuine attraction to an aspect of the game, or a reprehensible curiosity for the dangers, big hits have always fascinated and will always. The wrongs and rights have to be decided by those given that task. Until then a big hit is a big hit.

Last month we posted a story referencing a footy convert in the UK and his reactions to big hits. The story gained attention from some who felt that real fans don’t go to the footy for big hits. They come for the purity of the brilliant football skills. But the hits on social media sites suggests otherwise.

This debate could go on for years without resolution – some want the heavy contact outlawed, others see the hit as a gladiatorial centrepiece of a tough, hard game. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. I am not right or wrong in my thoughts, but I will use my own experience to highlight the difficulty of finding what is “right” in this argument.

The following three photos show three stages in a hard hit in a match between Pyramid Power and South Cairns Cutters.













































































The middle photo shows that by the letter of the law, this should have been a free kick for head high contact. I know because that is me being hit. It was a brutal hit. I did see stars. But neither the hitter nor the hittee had time to think. My intention was to kick the ball forward. His intention was to stop me. We were both at full pace. We did not have time to pirouette out of trouble. And, yes, he did make head high contact - I had the headache to prove it.

The question of whether or not the umpire should have paid a free kick is moot – we were travelling too fast. Nevertheless, the deciding factor here cannot be the force of impact, angles or injury. It has to be intent and that player had no intention of deliberately causing harm. He had to stop me kicking a goal, or at least setting one up.

This is the dilemma of the modern game. Powerful hits are still spellbinding – they get the fans out of their seats and screaming on behalf of both players. To see these hits outlawed we face the real possibility of becoming a clone of soccer or other “non-contact” sports. What makes our game so attractive and mesmerising is the raw power and skill.

The tackle should not be outlawed. But the rules need to be crystal clear and the intention reviewed to ensure we are left with “tough” football as opposed to “rough” football.

The door is also open for some solid debate on the issue to find the right balance. It seems that our friend from the UK, so enraptured by the bone-crushing power of our game, was onto something.

I don’t advocate violence for the sake of violence within the game. There is no place for the angry (Robbie Muir), reprehensible (Phil Carman), brain fade (Steven May – pictured top), boxing (Barry Hall) or other acts of either thuggery or brain fades.

But Neil Sachse, Keith Greig, Ray card and even myself would all say that footy is tough and big hits are a part of the game – even if outcomes can be tragic.

NB: No players were harmed in the photos, but he did put me on my ass for a good while.

Picture Credit - Steven May (Gold Coast Suns) on Stefan Martin (Brisbane Lions) - Fox Footy
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