KYLE Hartigan can consider himself the luckiest man in football on Wednesday.
The Match Review's decision to offer the Hawthorn defender only a $2000 fine for his strike on Tom Hawkins following last weekend's thrilling Easter Monday clash is another indication that the League has cooled on what it determines an intentional strike this year.
Hartigan's late spoil attempt on Hawkins was adjudged by the Match Review Officer as 'careless conduct', rather than 'intentional', thus not carrying enough weight for the action to be deemed worthy of a one-match ban.
Indeed, the AFL's Tribunal guidelines read that "an example of careless conduct would be where a Player collides with another Player who has taken a mark and where contact occurs just after the mark has been taken".
In this instance, how long after constitutes "just after" is up for debate. Hawkins completed the marking action, landed, and took three steps forward before he was struck to the back of the head by Hartigan.
Furthermore, in determining what constitutes an intentional strike, the guidelines also read that "if the immediate consequence of an act is obvious and inevitable, the deliberate doing of the act carries with it evidence of an intention to produce the consequence".
An argument could easily be mounted that what Hartigan did in choosing to clip Hawkins over the head had a consequence that was "obvious and inevitable".
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It was obvious to the on-field umpire, who chose to immediately pay a 50m penalty and subsequently put Hawkins to the goal line. And it was obvious to the victim's Cats teammates, who immediately remonstrated with Hartigan.
But it is not the first time the Match Review has had the option of determining nasty-looking strikes as intentional this season, subsequently producing suspensions rather than fines, but has elected not to do so.
In round one, Richmond defender David Astbury walked away with a $2000 sanction for elbowing Carlton's Lachie Plowman to the head after his strike was assessed as 'careless conduct'.
Later, in that same round, Brisbane recruit Joe Daniher produced a similar action to strike Sydney co-captain Dane Rampe with a stray elbow. Once again, the consequence was a $2000 fine after it was judged as 'careless conduct'.
That's despite the Tribunal's guidelines saying: "Notwithstanding any other part of these Guidelines, the fact that an act of striking occurred … with a raised forearm or elbow is usually consistent with the strike being intentional."
On both occasions, there was a case to suggest the offenders had raised their elbows. On both occasions, the players in question were reported by the on-field umpire. But, on both occasions, there was no judgement of 'intentional conduct' by the Match Review.
It immediately set the bar for what would – or, rather, wouldn't – constitute 'intentional conduct' this season. Hartigan is the latest beneficiary.