Doubting Thomas slide unfounded
THE throwing out of the rough conduct charge against North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas was a win for common sense.
The damage his foot caused to the leg of Sydney youngster Gary Rohan when he slid into him at the SCG last Sunday was one of the most sickening things you will see on a footy field - probably up there with a Collingwood premiership lap of honour.
But, it was an accident, albeit a horrible one that, no matter what the AFL does to try and avoid them, will always be a part of the game. And fortunately the AFL Tribunal agreed on Tuesday night when the Kangaroos contested the two-match ban handed out to their livewire forward by the Match Review Panel.
A year ago Thomas would not even have had a case to answer, but fearing serious injuries to players, the AFL decided to crackdown on the slide in 2012 and distributed a DVD at the start of the season to clubs with an example of 'what not to do'.
But, as he told the tribunal, Thomas clearly had intent for the ball, and it was only due to the slippery conditions he slid into Rohan with such force it caused the promising Swan's lower right tibia to turn at a right angle - a disturbing image replayed again and again on television.
Field umpire Andrew Mitchell actually awarded a free kick against Rohan at the time of the incident for in the back as he had been second to the ball, another fact, along with the wet surface, that allowed Thomas the benefit of the doubt.
Being first to the contest, he did what players are taught as juniors - get yourself between the ball and your opponent, and get in low so as to avoid being easily bumped away when body contact comes.
Thomas' other option would have been to bend over as he arrived and go in head first to pick up the pill. With Rohan coming in from directly in front, Thomas probably still would've gotten a free kick for high contact, but also possibly concussion or worse.
By coincidence, Swans great Adam Goodes was suspended for one match the previous week after performing the kind of slide the AFL has real concerns with - knees first, second man in.
Opinion has been divided on the slide, but at least there has been two examples in two weeks that better illustrate to players, coaches and public what may be deemed acceptable and what won't - even if Goodes' act did not cause even the slightest injury to his opponent, let alone one so shocking the victim may never even fully recover from.
Free to play against the Gold Coast tomorrow night, Thomas was relieved but hardly jumping for joy when he left the tribunal hearing, thoughts obviously with Rohan, who had surgery this week to fix the compound fractures of the lower tibia.
"I rang him up yesterday and left a brief message on his phone, just to see how he was going and wished him all the best in his recovery," a sombre Thomas told the media. While also describing his son's injury as "gut-wrenching", Rohan's father, Jim, summed it up: "I think it's just part of footy".
As hard as the AFL tries to reduce their occurrence, unfortunately broken legs and other serious injuries are part of footy. It's not just a contact sport, but a fast-moving, highly physical and aggressive one. Players aren't throwing as many fists as they used to - the AFL has seen to that - but will always throw themselves into all manner of contests, and from any angle.
In recent years, most serious injuries like broken legs, have occurred after those 'big men have flown' in a marking contest and landed awkwardly.
It happened to Brisbane great Michael Voss in 1998, while Port's Robbie Gray hyper extended his knee while landing after a two-on-two marking contest last week, in similar fashion to the way Melbourne's James Strauss snapped his leg last season.
Former Richmond forward Nathan Brown suffered a similar break to Rohan in 2005 because of an opposition player leaping across his leg as he tried to smother his kick.
Then there's 'friendly fire'. Rhys Palmer crashed into an unsuspecting teammate Michael Barlow at Fremantle a couple of years causing him to miss 12 months of footy with a broken leg.
Despite what some rugby league lovers believe, it can be a bloody brutal game Aussie rules.