St Kilda forward Dan Butler faces a nervous wait, with the Match Review Officer set to carefully assess the Saint’s tackle on Nick Blakey, which led to the Swans star being subbed out.
And AFL legend Jason Dunstall says he’d be “horrified” if a ban is handed down.
Butler produced a run-down tackle on Blakey during the third quarter of Friday night’s match between Sydney and St Kilda at the SCG, only for a free kick to be paid against Butler for a dangerous tackle.
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Butler was heard arguing with the umpire, claiming “I didn’t sling him” after the free kick was paid.
Blakey’s head, however, did make contact with the turf as a result of the tackle.
While Blakey got up quickly to take his free kick then stayed out on the ground for several minutes, the Swans star was subbed out of the game because of a head injury assessment, according to the club.
An array of players have been suspended for dangerous tackles this season, with the MRO cracking down on acts that have the potential to cause injury.
Swans coach John Longmire said Blakey left the field late in the third term for an HIA, but confirmed he passed.
But Longmire said because Blakey’s HIA would take 15 minutes, plus he also had a toe injury coming into the game, the Swans decided to sub him.
“It was a pretty important part of the game and 15 minutes is a good slab of time. With his toe being sore we decided to make a change,” Longmire said.
But if Butler’s tackle was still graded as medium impact, he’d cop a suspension.
Herald Sun journalist Jon Ralph explained post-game why the Saints forward could be in trouble.
“Michael Christian asks himself two questions: Is Nick Blakey in a vulnerable position? And was he driven into the ground with excessive force? Blakey’s definitely in a vulnerable position, he’s dodged Philippou and Crouch, he’s not expecting the tackle. He gets his arms pinned,” he said on Fox Footy.
“Now is Blakey driven with excessive force? Well, the MRO rules here, and we’ll read them out – they state a player is in a vulnerable position if they have their arms pinned with little opportunity to protect themselves. So Butler has Blakey cold.
“The AFL is effectively asked him to do something impossible – tackle him but don’t drive them to ground. Don’t even let his momentum pitch forward. I understand how hard that is.
“…the Tribunal has just overturned a couple of decisions but one of them was a Rory Laird tackle where he slowed the force of a tackle on an opponent in Lachie Neale, and the other one was Adam Cerra, sort of falling back on Tom Hickey. I think the AFL would say that they are different tackles.”
Hawthorn great Dunstall led a chorus of concern about the tackle resulting in a suspension, believing it was essentially exactly what a player should do in Butler’s situation.
“I’d be really concerned with where the game’s going if he gets rubbed out for that tackle, I’d be horrified,” Dunstall said on Fox Footy.
“I mean, he steps inside, he turns side on so he’s not going to keep his balance, you’re a little bloke tackling a bloke who’s 6’5”. I was watching that passage of play and I thought Dan Butler was brilliant the way he stayed in the hunt, because it looked like he was out and he just kept in there, in there, in there. And eventually, he makes the tackle, momentum takes him to ground. He’s got no option here. I don’t know.
“I think if you ask him to do anything other than what he did, it’s impossible. He’s a small bloke, you think he’s going to just hold him when they’re running at that pace? I don’t get what the options are there, other than not tackling. And I would have thought if we say don’t tackle, well, then we may as well give up the game.”
North Melbourne champion David King suggested it was “almost the perfect tackle”, believing Blakey’s left arm was out.
St Kilda Hall of Famer Leigh Montagna added: “What vulnerable position was Blakey in? He had the footy in the middle of a football ground!”
Melbourne premiership player Daisy Pearce said Blakey’s concussion would mean Butler’s tackle will almost certainly be scrutinised closely by the MRO.
“The precedent this year is if you tackle a player to ground and their head hits the ground, regardless of outcome, it has the potential to cause injury,” Pearce told Channel 7.
“We empathise with Butler, but on precedent this year he’s in trouble, particularly if Blakey has been subbed out with concussion.”
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Speaking on Fox Footy at three-quarter-time, Montagna said: “Unfortunately for Blakey he’s in some trouble with the HIA.
“For me, I can’t see the dangerous element in this tackle, this is momentum so I don’t know if Butler has any other option to try and stop the momentum.
“You can actually see really closely, Blakey’s arm is free so Dan Butler doesn’t actually have his arms pinned. So that might work in his favour and the momentum has to be considered because when you’re chasing from behind there’s not too many options.”
Swans legend Jude Bolton said it would be disappointing if Butler was suspended.
“I still think it’s a footy action,” he told Channel 7. “It’s one of the toughest tackles to execute when you’re running from behind and I think he’s actually guided him down.
“There’s going to be accidents in football. I don’t think it’s cut and dry like that.”
St Kilda coach Ross Lyon said he wasn’t worried about the tackle but understood why the AFL was taking a cautious approach to protecting the head.
“I didn’t assess it. Everyone has come to me on it (but) we’re unwavering in the process in and outside the club so that can go through the channels and they (MRO) can make an assessment,” Lyon said.
“Clearly that part of the game is challenging for everyone. I haven’t had a look at it, I was looking at Warner exploding out of stoppages.
“It’s a delicate (issue), isn’t it. I’ve got a daughter that got knocked out playing netball with a clash of heads.
“She’s out for three weeks and I’m a bit ‘get moving’. I’m a bit flippant with it but I think to be cautious and go through the protocols is the right thing.”
Lyon said he hadn’t spoken to Butler about the incident.
— with NCA NewsWire