THE AFL Appeals Board has dismissed Western Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan's bid to overturn her two-match ban, meaning she almost certainly won't be available for Saturday afternoon's NAB AFL Women's Grand Final against Brisbane.
However, Bulldogs president Peter Gordon kept open the option of taking the case to court.
"Obviously it's a terribly disappointing decision for Katie and for her teammates and the whole club, really," Gordon told reporters after the hearing.
"We will consider our position."
The Dogs are considering going to court. pic.twitter.com/so5sSmehei— Dinny Navaratnam (@dinnynavaratnam) March 22, 2018
Brennan, who did not show up to the appeal and was not required to, was suspended for two games by match review officer Michael Christian for engaging in rough conduct for a tackle on Melbourne's Harriet Cordner that was graded as careless conduct with low impact to the head. She could have accepted a one-match suspension with an early guilty plea.
The Bulldogs, in an appeal argued by Jack Rush QC and Ben Ihle, used the Sexual Discrimination Act in their case to argue against the suspension, saying it was unfair females were treated differently to males.
Rush made the comparison that with an early guilty plea, a woman can't play for one-seventh of the AFLW season, whereas a man is fined less than five per cent of the average player's salary. He went on to say Brennan's penalty was equivalent to a six-match ban in the men's competition.
AFL legal counsel Andrew Woods countered by saying the same system applies to thousands of males – not those in the AFL, but in suburban, rural and AFL Victoria players, thus undermining the argument that discrimination had occurred.
Rush sensationally responded by declaring it was "nonsense" to compare the elite AFLW competition with suburban football.
They also put forward that Brennan's role as an ambassador, and the commercial consequences of missing the decider, should be taken into account when considering exceptional and compelling circumstances.
However, Appeals Board chairman Brian Collis pointed to the Bachar Houli case from last year which originally saw the Tribunal hand the Tiger a two-match ban after striking Carlton stopper Jed Lamb with a forearm. That sanction was reduced because of Houli's exceptional character, but the AFL appealed and the ban was increased to four weeks.
The Board found that on-field character was what counted in its deliberations, so that argument from the Dogs was dismissed.
Also referred to by the Bulldogs were two cases from 2017 in the men's competition: a tackle by Essendon midfielder Ben Howlett on Adelaide defender Luke Brown in round 21 and a tackle by West Coast midfielder Jack Redden on Greater Western Sydney star Josh Kelly the following week.
Both were also charged and graded the same as Brennan, and both were offered a $1000 fine. The Bulldogs said those incidents were more dangerous than Brennan's.
"There was nothing inherently unreasonable in her tackle," Rush said.
The Bulldogs tried to overturn the ban on all four grounds available to appeal:
- The Tribunal made an error of law
- The decision is so unreasonable that no Tribunal acting reasonably could have come to that decision having regard to the evidence before it
- The classification of the offence by the Tribunal was manifestly excessive
- The penalty imposed by the Tribunal was manifestly excessive
After deliberating for 15 minutes, the Appeals Board, made up of Collis, Michael Green and Stephen Jurica, dismissed all four grounds for appeal.
It was Brennan's second offence of the season after she accepted a reprimand in round one for engaging in rough conduct against Fremantle's Stephanie Cain.
Under the system for the men's game, Brennan would have been fined for a second such offence. However, AFLW players don’t receive financial sanctions.