Joel Selwood and Toby Greene’s actions antithetical to AFL principles

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After a week of handwringing brought by the David Mackay tribunal case, expect there to be very little as the AFL world glosses over the match review findings of round 14. And more is the pity. The actions of Joel Selwood and Toby Greene deserve greater discourse than they will receive at a time when the industry obsesses over what should, and what should not, have a rightful place in the game.

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Few incidents have polarised opinion like the one that saw Mackay sent straight to the tribunal for breaking Hunter Clark’s jaw. The hit on Clark – if a collision between two men going for the ball can be called such – did severe damage to the St Kilda player but none to the reputation of the sport. The conclusion of this supposed landmark case was that the Adelaide veteran acted reasonably in the circumstances and had no case to answer despite the horrific injuries suffered by his opponent.

The actions this round of Selwood and Greene, conversely, achieved the polar opposite: the victims of their wrongdoings will train and play this week as if nothing had happened, but the game itself has suffered.

The Geelong skipper escaped with fines for two episodes of misconduct against Western Bulldogs: probing fingers to the face of Bailey Dale as he lay pinned to the turf and a face scrape followed by sliding studs to the shin of Taylor Duryea. Greene, too, will not be suspended despite striking Carlton’s Nic Newman across the stomach behind the play. This is familiar territory for both players, whose handiwork off the ball and at the bottom of packs is as good as anyone’s.

The acts did not look good at the time and they don’t get better with each re-run on news bulletins and social media platforms. They are antithetical to the principles of Australian football: hardness and fairness, not cheap and underhanded. They are also the acts that might bring a slow death, by a thousand cuts, to the image of the sport.

Their Machiavellian brand has been given licence but it is high time to show it the door

“A fine at the most there. There’s not a huge amount in that,” said Matthew Richardson on Fox Footy of the Greene incident. “We don’t want it but I don’t think there was severe contact and I think the precedent for fines is there.” The former Richmond star’s views are widely shared. The acceptance of such behaviour as “part of the game”, and the wrist-slapping way the AFL deals with it, is why we keep seeing it.

The AFL defines misconduct as something “which would be regarded as unacceptable or unsportsmanlike … or where it had the effect or potential to prejudice the reputation of any persons, club or the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute”. If a player has been found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute, why just a fine? Particularly when players dismiss monetary punishment as one might swat away a fly.

“I think I’ll pay my fine and move on. It was a little bit silly but it is what it is,” Green said on Melbourne radio. “I’ve got to obviously rein it in a bit but I can’t say I’ll ever stop doing it.”

Greene’s coach, Leon Cameron, was in no mood to chastise his star player. “Toby in the last couple of years has gone a long way to tidying up those things,” Cameron said. “Toby’s such a passionate player and that’s what we love about him. I love the way he goes about his footy.” One can only hope Cameron is referring to Greene who is capable of 70m torpedoes that sail through the uprights and not the Greene whose chronic white line fever has seen him become the MRO’s best customer in recent years.

Toby Greene
Toby Greene was not suspended for his hit on Carlton’s Nic Newman. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Cameron was also at his defensive best the round prior when stepping in for Shane Mumford after the cavalier ruckman almost cleaned up two North Melbourne players. Rather than concede Mumford might want to mend his ways, Cameron prefers to laugh off his playing style as “clumsy”.

“Shane has only been reported for one week at our footy club. That’s pretty good for a person that nearly gets people,” Cameron said. And therein lies the rub. The ilk of Mumford, Selwood and Greene: they are well-versed in the dark arts that can throw an opponent off his game but rarely attract commensurate penalty.

The AFL has become neurotic about the outcome of an action as opposed to its intent. Now, if a player gets concussed or a bone is broken there is hell to pay. It is almost unbelievable sanity prevailed and Mackay got off. The case against him argued he had options to do otherwise yet elected to run full steam into a vulnerable opponent. The fact is Mackay’s only alternative was to pull out of the contest and allow Clark to get to the ball first. Selwood and Greene, on the other hand, had options. They could have chosen to not scrape faces, to not drag boots across shins, to not punch midriffs off the ball.

The real villains of the game are not the likes of Mackay who inadvertently cause injury playing the game the way it should be played, but the snipers who subsist on the periphery of foul play. Their Machiavellian brand has been given licence but it is high time to show it the door.

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