Brereton: time to tackle ‘blight on the game’

Angst about players buckling in tackles to ”stooge” umpires into paying free kicks resurfaced after West Coast’s dramatic win over North Melbourne.

Dermott Brereton has implored the AFL to stamp out what he described as a ”blight on the game”.

Confusion reigned over the free kick to Adam Selwood just before Nic Naitanui’s spectacular mark and after-the-siren goal won the game by two points on Friday night. Selwood appeared to fall backwards into his tackler to draw high contact.

The umpire said at the time he had paid the free kick because ”the second one was high, on the ground”. Brereton said if this was the case, the umpire had made an ”unforgivable” mistake.

AFL umpires’ boss Jeff Gieschen will not make a judgment on the decision until after he has viewed all available footage on Monday.

An earlier free kick to Luke Shuey, which allowed the Eagles to keep the ball in their forward arc, was paid when Shuey dropped forward from the knees, and an opponent crashed into his back.

Brereton said players could not be blamed for exploiting a loophole, saying he had done the same thing during his career. ”I disliked the fact that I did it. It meant that I didn’t have the creativity to get out of the situation so I would try to stooge the umpire. It was a get-out-of-jail card.

”You can’t blame someone for exploiting a loophole that is there. It’s up to the rule makers and the umpires’ department to become a cohesive unit and strike at the heart of this,” he said.

”I hope something can be done about it before next year because it’s an absolute blight on the game.”

The former Hawthorn star said the principle was no different to the one that underpins free kicks against players who have the ball and put their heads down to initiate contact with an opponent. ”Close the loophole,” he said. ”These rules are put in place to protect the ball carrier, and by slipping the tackle and flailing your arms out slightly, lowering your body and putting the tackler’s arms on your neck to gain a free kick, players are deliberately putting themselves in danger.”

North Melbourne coach Brad Scott did not blame umpires for the loss, the Kangaroos’ third defeat by four points or less this season.

”There were some mistakes that we made defensively as well. I don’t know if they were mistakes, the umpiring decisions,” Scott said.

”I will focus on our mistakes and let the umpires’ directors coach up their umpires.”

Last season, he turned the spotlight on the controversial tactic of ducking to elicit frees, but there was no subsequent change to the head-high interpretation.

”The onus is on the tackler to get as low as he can to make sure the tackle is legal,” Gieschen said in March.

Naitanui relived his leaping mark on Saturday morning, and revealed he was emotional afterwards because of a family tragedy. ”My girlfriend’s little cousin passed away. Being a young little baby it’s pretty sad. The funeral was yesterday.”

Still, he seized the moment. ”There was a pretty big pack. I think I was a few deep. I felt if there was a chance to go for the mark, to fly for it, I was going to do it. I just backed myself in.” He backed himself to kick the goal, too.

■ AFL Hall of Fame legend Kevin Bartlett insisted there was no reason for him to stand down from the laws of the game committee because of a perceived conflict of interest with his role as an outspoken radio host. ”Why would I do that?” he said on SEN.

A column by Age chief football writer Caroline Wilson said Bartlett had angered clubs and coaches by blurring the line between commentator and committeeman.

”I speak for myself, I’m not a sheep,” he said in response. ”When I’m on a committee I will give my opinion, and it can be agreed upon or not.”

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