WEST Coast coach Adam Simpson has defended Andrew Gaff and questioned whether the midfielder’s brutal hit on Andrew Brayshaw was intentional, following Sunday’s 58-point win over Fremantle at Optus Stadium.
Gaff struck Brayshaw on the underside of his jaw with a clenched fist, leaving the Dockers youngster on the grass with a bloodied mouth, displaced teeth and a broken jaw.
TEMPERS FLARE, EAGLES SOAR Full match coverage and stats
Brayshaw – whose brother Hamish plays for West Coast – was sent straight to hospital for scans and will require surgery, while Gaff’s season could be in jeopardy pending a likely Tribunal hearing this week.
Gaff had never previously been reported.
"As much as it's going to look like it was intentional, I'm not quite sure it was," Simpson told reporters post-match.
"One thing I do know is Andrew's character and who he is as a person and as a player can't be questioned.
"Obviously he's very emotional and his thoughts are with the Brayshaw family.
"He's quite remorseful and his character can't be questioned."
Footage taken minutes after the incident showed a visibly shaken Gaff in tears on the interchange bench.
Simpson was seen comforting the 26-year-old but never considered pulling Gaff from the field.
"He was rattled. He was in a bit of shock, I suppose. I was just trying to put my arm around him a little bit," he said.
"Taking someone off for that reason – it's not the '80s.
"That’s footy and umpires should really take over, you think."
WATCH Gaff's hit sparks Derby chaos
Tempers flared on both sides thereafter, with spot fires emerging all over the field for the remaining quarter-and-a-half in a manner not seen since the infamous 'Demolition Derby' in round 21, 2000.
More incidents will be looked at by Match Review Officer Michael Christian, including a high bump on Gaff by Dockers veteran Michael Johnson that saw the Eagles wingman leave the field dazed and in the hands of trainers.
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Sensing tensions were at boiling point, Simpson left the coach's box early to calm his charges.
"We probably conceded five goals from 50m penalties, so part of my rationale for coming down was to settle the players down," Simpson told reporters post-match.
"It's hard to begrudge your players not to stand up for each other … we lost control a little bit there for five minutes and if it was an important period of the game or it was closer, I think we would've been a lot more concerned than what we were.
"I think both teams were probably sticking up for their mates so in the end, that makes for entertainment.
"They worked through it. I think the last five minutes of the quarter we settled down a little bit, but we could've handled it better."
WATCH Adam Simpson's full post-match media conference
The Eagles had no trouble with the absence of Josh Kennedy, who is expected to miss again next week, pending fitness at training.
West Coast posted a season-high score of 142 points – having previously averaged just 80 without Kennedy – and welcomed contributions from seven multiple goalkickers.
Among them was Liam Ryan (16 possessions, three goals and two score assists), who returned to the fray after serving a club-imposed suspension for excessive drinking following the club’s loss to Adelaide in round 15.
"I'm really pleased for Liam, he's obviously been through a few issues himself and copped a couple-of-week penalty," Simpson said.
"He's had the ups and downs already and I thought he contributed really well.
"I would've thought the indiscretion earlier in the year, that probably hurt him more than his ankle.
"Defensively in the last quarter-and-a-bit I thought he put some good pressure on. If he can get that right, we can get even more uplift so for a first-year player, we're pretty happy.
"He's back in now and he's done enough to hold his spot."
West Coast sits six points clear in second place ahead of Greater Western Sydney, with three crucial clashes against Port Adelaide (away), Melbourne (home) and Brisbane (away) to round out the home and away season.
Key defender Will Schofield is expected to spend time on the sidelines with an injury to his left hamstring.