Adelaide midfielder David Mackay has been found not guilty of rough conduct by the AFL tribunal over the collision that left St Kilda’s Hunter Clark with a jaw broken in two places.
A jury of former players David Neitz, Paul Williams and Richard Loveridge on Thursday night found Mackay was within his rights to contest the ball with Clark during last Saturday night’s match in Cairns.
In doing so, they rejected AFL legal counsel Jeff Gleeson’s argument that Mackay could have foreseen injuring Clark as he charged in at high speed and should have held back to tackle his opponent.
Mackay is now free to play in Adelaide’s next match, against Carlton on June 27.
“It was not unreasonable for Mackay to go for the ball,” the jury said in a statement of its findings, concluding a three-hour hearing.
“Both players got to the contest at virtually the same time and both were seeking to collect the ball.
“In those circumstances, Mackay’s conduct was not unreasonable.”
Many high-profile football figures are relieved with the decision after widespread fears during the lead-up to the hearing that a suspension for Mackay would have changed the way players attack loose balls.
Adelaide’s legal counsel Andrew Culshaw called three witnesses – Mackay, Crows data analyst Chris Sheedy and biomechanics expert Dr Robert Crowther – in an attempt to prove the player’s actions were not unreasonable.
“You have two incredibly brave players going full tilt at a loose ball,” Culshaw said.
“This was a 50-50 ball. There is nothing unreasonable about a player going hell-for-leather for a 50-50 ball.”
Mackay, 32, repeatedly stated he believed he would beat Clark to the ball “right up until point of collision”.
“At no stage did I take my eye off ball,” the 239-game veteran said in his evidence.
Mackay rejected Gleeson’s argument that he knew Clark would get to the ball first and said he did not choose to bump the St Kilda player.
Gleeson did not suggest Mackay was attempting to break Clark’s jaw, but argued contesting the ball is not a licence to cause injury to another player.
“This wasn’t an accident in the sense that it was unforeseen,” Gleeson said.
“It was quite foreseeable that if Mr Mackay sprinted the way he did and hurtled into Mr Clark, he would bump him front-on at very high speed.
“Then it was not only possible but it was likely that high contact would occur, and if high contact occurs at that speed in that way, injury is likely.”
On behalf of the AFL, Gleeson argued Mackay’s bump should be classified as careless conduct, high contact and severe impact.
Those classifications would ordinarily bring about a minimum three-match suspension under the AFL tribunal guidelines.
Gleeson dismissed the notion put forward by many key voices in the industry – including current and former players and coaches – that a suspension for Mackay would change the game dramatically.
He said Mackay had the chance to make a decision that players make regularly during matches by waiting to tackle Clark.
“We see it all the time – players stop short,” Gleeson said.
“It’s not cowardice, it’s not a lack of courage for the contest.
“The bravest players do it all the time. They recognise instinctively, but also consciously, ‘I’ve got to stop here, I’ve got to change’.”
Mackay was initially sent to the tribunal without a charge from match review officer Michael Christian, with the AFL clarifying on Monday that head of football Steve Hocking had made the call to pursue a charge of rough conduct.
The method prompted an unusual late submission by the AFL Players Association that the league had not followed its own guidelines in bringing the matter before the tribunal.
The AFLPA wanted Mackay’s case thrown out but the tribunal rejected that suggestion.
Clark, 22, is expected to miss six to eight weeks of football after having surgery to the two fractures in his jaw.
Australian Associated Press