DON'T ever touch umpires. Always respect umpires.
The AFL's messaging on this matter is very strong. But matching up the words with actions is not always a strong point. It used to be – Greg Williams copped nine weeks for touching field umpire Andrew Coates back in 1997. In light of a decision handed down by the Match Review Office on Sunday night, the great 'Diesel' would have massive reason to be even more aggrieved than he always has been.
Two experienced football people who should know better made bad mistakes with interactions with umpires in round six. One was the reigning Brownlow medallist, the other the head of the football department at the AFL's newest club.
Lion Lachie Neale reached out and touched field umpire Mat Nicholls during his match against Carlton at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night. Left bloodied on the face after a tackle, Neale grabbed the arm of Nicholls as he was about to throw the ball up for resumption of play. Frustrated at not being given a free kick and for the blood now appearing on his face, Neale wanted the attention of Nicholls.
Some, maybe most, would take the view that in the heat and frustration of that moment, a fine would suffice for Neale's contact. The AFL itself did, fining him $1500. I have a very different view. Neale should have been suspended for a week. Now, that would have sent a message about respect for umpires that no words could ever send.
"Based on available evidence, the incident was assessed as making unnecessary or unreasonable contact with an umpire," the finding read. "The incident was classified as a $2500 sanction as a first offence. The player can accept a $1500 sanction with an early plea."
There's a bit to absorb here. Because this umpire contact was a "first offence" for Neale, there was mitigation in penalty. Really? Then, there is the "reward" of the fine being reduced by $1000 if Neale chooses to take an "early plea". Please.
Neale won't be playing next week because of an ankle injury sustained in the match against the Blues. The AFL should have already determined that to be the case, long before the Lions released that information pertaining to injury.
GWS head of football Jason McCartney approached umpires at the one place they should always feel safe – their own change rooms – at half-time of Friday night's Giants-Bulldogs game at Manuka Oval. In an intimidating tirade heard by many, McCartney made aggressive observations and asked questions about decisions made in the first two quarters. Umpires at any level should never have to be subjected to such actions. Umpires at AFL level would be justified in thinking they would be fully immune to such moments.
That the free kick count was 0-6 (Giants-Bulldogs) at quarter-time, and 3-11 at the time McCartney approached the umpires is part of a conversation worthy of being had at a different level, but hopefully it is viewed as an irrelevant component to the AFL's investigations into McCartney's actions. A fine for McCartney or the Giants would not be enough punishment. McCartney should be suspended – certainly from attending his team's next game (against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval next Saturday) and maybe for one or two more beyond that.
Neale has already been given the oft-used AFL wet lettuce leaf, and McCartney and the Giants will be hoping he and they will, too. Fines are a cop-out, and the only message they send is that the messaging around not touching and respecting umpires is conditional. As in, please listen to us when we tell you not to do it, but hey, if you do, you can still partake in your football next week.
No Dusty, no Tigers? Time to find out
OK, Tigers, on Friday night you finally get the chance to do something significant without Dusty.
Against the unbeaten Western Bulldogs at the MCG in what is looming as one of the matches of the year, there is also the more pressing opportunity to get the season back on track.
Since mid-2017 when an extraordinary three-premiership phase was launched, Richmond has not been faced with the type of uncertainty and doubt that is now obvious after a lacklustre opening six rounds of 2021.
Sure, there were major issues as the Tigers were inundated with behavioural and other COVID-19 induced problems last season, but not the match-day lethargy which has led to losses to Sydney, Port Adelaide and Melbourne in the past four matches. Right now, there an unusual vulnerability attached to the Tigers.
And now Brownlow medallist, three-time Norm Smith medallist and four-time All-Australian Dustin Martin will miss against the Dogs after suffering a concussion in a worrying loss to the unbeaten Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday night. Gun midfielder Kane Lambert will also be out, having damaged a calf against the Demons.
The beauty of Richmond's reign has been its all-in, everyone-is-equal mantra. And even without Martin, the Tigers would almost certainly have secured the 2017 and 2019 Grand Final wins, respectively against Adelaide and GWS. But there is at least some doubt that they would have beaten Geelong last year, with Dusty keeping the Tigers in the contest with a brilliant goal just before half-time and then three more thereafter.
Extraordinarily for a team boasting an all-time-great four-season dominance, Richmond will be a longshot on Friday. The truly great teams have always found a way to win in adversity. Can't wait to see how they deal with Friday night. Can't wait to see how Dusty's absence is filled. Tipping Jayden Short to have a very big say in the big-moment void.
Perfect 10 looms for high-flying Demons
Unbeaten after six matches and an engagement against North Melbourne, which has lost 20 of its past 21 games, next up.
Then follows the wobbling Sydney, the forever-disappointing Carlton, and the OK but rebuilding Crows.
Melbourne will start favourite in each of those matches. Staggeringly, it could be 10-0.
The Demons bashed up Richmond at its own pressurised game style on Saturday night at the MCG. They have genuine reason to believe this surge is high-end finals real.
There is now not an obvious weakness to this side. The backline – led by big men Steven May, Jake Lever and Adam Tomlinson into the midfield control of Christian Petracca, a rejuvenated and ultra-crucial Jack Viney, Christian Salem, Max Gawn, Ed Langdon, Angus Brayshaw, Clayton Oliver, into a dynamic and unpredictable forward line of Kozzy Pickett, Charlie Spargo, Bayley Fritsch, Tom McDonald and Luke Jackson (who is going to be a very big AFL name at some stage very soon) is proving elite.
Ben Brown and Sam Weideman will be introduced to the mix at some stage in the next month. Out of nowhere, Melbourne has become the most must-watch team in the competition. If the Demons do as is now expected of them after their brilliant start to 2021, they will be 10-0. The Western Bulldogs then loom in round 11. The mind boggles at both the improbability of this club's start to the 2021 season, and even more so of the now-real premiership possibilities.