Atley lucky to escape AFL sanction

The centimetre or so that separated Lachie Hunter’s head from a brain-rattling impact was also the gap between Shaun Atley and an AFL suspension.


Had the side of Hunter’s head landed heavily on the Etihad Stadium surface, Atley would probably be banned for the start of the finals.

All four members of the match review panel were unimpressed with the North Melbourne defender’s sling tackle on Hunter during the loss to the Western Bulldogs.

But no significant impact meant no charge.

In short, Atley was very, very lucky.

The AFL football operations department undoubtedly made a phone call to the Kangaroos this week, ensuring Atley knows as much.

His sling tackle would have looked more at home inside a wrestling ring and it was a notable incident during Monday’s weekly match review panel session.

AAP was invited to sit in the Brownlow Room – where else – at AFL House and see how the four-man panel operates.

What panel members and former players Luke Ball, Nathan Burke, Michael Christian and Brad Sewell decide will generate some of the most heated debate in the game.

On Monday they have 34 incidents to pass judgment on – a list that comes from umpires’ game-day reports, the umpiring observers and the four panel members themselves.

Scott Taylor and Patrick Clifton from AFL football operations administer the session.

It’s an average-size list and some incidents are dismissed in barely 10 seconds.

The melee that results in fines for nine Gold Coast and seven Port Adelaide players is a painstaking half-hour exercise of who-did-what-to-whom.

But the discussion around Atley’s sling tackle is fascinating.

“Here’s my little dilemma – that’s still a dangerous tackle,” one panel member says.

“It all comes down to the impact.”

Whether by good luck or design, Hunter does not hit the ground hard and he suffers no ill effect.

“To have Hunter’s head never hitting the ground is absolutely remarkable,” the panel member adds.

Another agrees: “I don’t like the action”.

One panel member notes that a side-by-side comparison of Atley’s action and Courtenay Dempsey’s sling tackle would show little difference at the start.

The big difference at the end is Richmond star Brett Deledio met the ground heavily in Dempsey’s tackle.

Deledio was left with concussion and a sore neck and the Essendon defender was sent directly to the tribunal.

“If he (Dempsey) got the angle wrong, we’ve got a major catastrophe,” one panel member notes.

Eight of the 34 incidents are tackles, an indirect result of two controversial incidents earlier this season.

One tackle meant a two-game ban for Carlton’s Bryce Gibbs, another meant no sanction for Port Adelaide’s Jay Schulz.

The two players who were tackled suffered concussions.

“I’m confused,” Gibbs tweeted after the panel’s finding on Schulz was released.

The panel members all work as AFL commentators and they hear the criticism, loud and clear.

It’s a given that if more of their critics were to sit in the Monday deliberations, there would be far fewer complaints about what they decide and why.