Now that the dust has settled and the raw emotion has been taken out of the situation my view is Steve Johnson should be playing in the preliminary final and not missing it.
At the stoppage Kennedy clearly looks at Johnson prior to the ball up and is aware of his presence to a point that it could be construed he is going to block his pathway to the contest.
Johnson doesn’t look at Kennedy, is clearly focussed on the contest and driving through the middle of the stoppage at pace to win a clearance – something he is renowned for.
At a critical juncture the ball is tapped back over Kennedy’s head as he instinctively raises his hand to grab the ball and nearly connects with it. This significantly warrants Johnson to change direction sharply to follow its flight and engage the ball. It is at this point that Kennedy is standing prone in his line of pursuit to the ball.
In my mind there is no alternative for Johnson to avoid contact with Kennedy if he is legitimately attempting to win the ball as Kennedy is directly in his line of following the tapped ball away from the congested stoppage.
Johnson could have tried to stop, spun away from Kennedy or not braced for contact. I don’t believe any of these courses of action would be naturally expected. The one corollary with this is the fact that players in congested situations no longer expect contact when they are not in possession or about to take possession of the ball. Players – on the back of recent AFL rule changes – have been provided with a much safer work place and the threat of physical harm has been significantly diminished. The net effect of these new safety guidelines is players are not protecting themselves and in many cases are not even aware of potential clashes or physical contests because of their confidence in the rules to protect them.
Whether it be tackling or bumps (when we are lucky enough to see one of these beautiful executed but now relatively extinct aspects of the game), players can add to the trauma by not bracing or being aware of the potential danger because rules have been put in place to protect them from head high physical clashes. This gives an unnecessary and overbearing sense of confidence in most hotly contested situations but when a clash inevitably happens players are more susceptible to injury because of their lack of awareness and lack of protection on the back of these rules.
Whilst Kennedy has his eye on Johnson initially and knows he is probably going to run straight through the action he is completely unprotected and utterly unaware of the potential danger. Like in boxing players should be instructed to protect themselves at all times and in fact taught to expect contact as players were taught for a hundred years.
This situation leads into my concerns around the intimidation, danger and fear within a game of footy which the AFL has seen fit to minimise and be the social conscience for society. I am of the view that it is a gladiators game. It should be dangerous. You must be able to overcome fear. Intimidation is a valuable asset in sport. Fans love to see it in action and more so love to see how opponents react.
It must be highlighted that I am not in any way condoning elbows, punches, kicks or thuggery.
My point is simple; expect contact, brace yourself and protect your head at all times otherwise the whiplash affect of a well executed bump may result in some head trauma. I am a strong advocate for minimising danger at every level outside AFL (Junior, VFL, Country, Metropolitan etc).
The AFL may believe they are being responsible citizens to society but they are ripping the very heart out of the very best game in the world.