Brayden Maynard will take part in Collingwood’s premiership charge after the AFL tribunal cleared him of a rough conduct charge for an attempted smother that left Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw concussed.
The tribunal finally made its decision on Tuesday night four hours after the hearing began, and after an hour of deliberations.
The AFL, through its lawyer Andrew Woods, had argued the charge for Maynard was justified. In submissions Woods said Maynard breached his duty of care to Brayshaw either in his initial decision to jump forward and attempt to smother, or in the turning of his shoulder towards the Demons player when he was in mid-air. Alternatively, Woods argued Maynard had chosen to bump Brayshaw and had made high contact.
The tribunal chair Jeff Gleeson rejected these arguments and dismissed the charge.
He said Maynard had insufficient time to make a decision that would have led to a better outcome. “It’s asking a lot of a player to decide in a fraction of a second which of various ways to land, in a high speed collision, and which of those ways of landing might result in which type of reportable offence.”
“We find that Mr Maynard was not careless in either his decision to smother or the way in which his body formed after the smother.”
Gleeson said Maynard could not have decided to bump Brayshaw in such a short time period, which meant the AFL’s alternative argument was also dismissed.
The decision could still be appealed by the AFL, whose head of football Laura Kane referred it to the tribunal after the match review officer had initially deemed it didn’t warrant a charge. A decision from the AFL is expected on Wednesday.
The incident took place early in the first quarter of Thursday night’s qualifying final at the MCG, as Melbourne captain Max Gawn handballed out of the centre to Brayshaw who then went to kick the ball downfield. Running towards him, Maynard leapt into the air with his arms extended in an attempt to smother, but missed and ended up slamming his shoulder into Brayshaw’s head.
Brayshaw lay unconscious on the field for several minutes receiving treatment before being stretchered off wearing a neck brace and taken to hospital for assessment. The loss of consciousness was confirmed at the tribunal by AFL counsel Andrew Woods based on Melbourne’s medical report.
Maynard’s action was assessed by the match review officer to be severe impact, high contact and careless conduct. Maynard pleaded not guilty.
Giving evidence to the tribunal, Maynard said when he realised he was going to hit Brayshaw he “just sort of flinched and sort of tensed up because I thought, ‘Oh shit.’”
Prof Michael Cole from the Australian Catholic University provided expert evidence on biomechanics and neuroscience to the tribunal and said it would have been difficult for Maynard to avoid the collision once he was in the air.
“Once he’s in flight he’s basically a projectile … a frisbee with legs,” Cole said.
Maynard’s lawyer Ben Ihle used a series of time-coded videos and still images, as well as the evidence of Prof Cole, in lengthy submissions.
“The appropriate way to consider it is that this collision is just one of those things that happens from time to time in a high velocity, high-intensity, contact sport,” Ihle said to conclude.
Gleeson told the parties prior to deliberations he would not apologise for the hearing lasting three hours due to the public interest in the matter, and particularly given the incident left Brayshaw concussed and had potentially serious ramifications for Maynard.
“As important as any of that, footballers will be playing today, next year, and then in the decades to come, who need to understand the basis on which this decision was made, and the basis on which we approach those matters generally,” he said.
But ultimately he called for the decision only to be read narrowly.
“It ought not be assumed that this is going to be some watershed moment in the announcement of the duty of care,” he said. “There’ll be an analysis of the duty of care specific to this incident.”
Earlier on Tuesday the Demons coach, Simon Goodwin, said the tribunal outcome would help define what AFL players’ duty of care was for their opponents.
“To have a player concussed [unconscious] for two minutes, I think we’re all looking at the different types of footy acts that are out there and the space that we’ve come to in this area,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way as an industry about how we protect the head – whether that be within tackles, within bumps, with a whole range of different football acts.
“This is another example of what does a duty of care look like in a football act and the whole footy world will be looking at what the outcome of this result is and we’ll certainly be one of those clubs.”
Despite Brayshaw’s long history of concussions, his coach said there had been no discussions about his retirement.
“But clearly, with concussion you need to make sure everything’s done properly and health is paramount in this space and we’ve seen a number of players retire due to concussion,” he said, adding that “nothing’s off the table at this point”.
Brayshaw is ruled out of playing Melbourne’s semi-final against Carlton on Friday due to the AFL’s concussion protocols, which mandate a minimum 12-day break, but would be eligible to play if fit if they make the preliminary finals.
But Melbourne’s high performance manager Selwyn Griffith said “there’s no set timeframe on when Angus will return this year.”