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The Brayden Maynard incident divided opinion in the football public, but it also was the cause of a division within the AFL’s decision-makers – between match review officer Michael Christian and the AFL hierarchy, led by Laura Kane, the new football boss.
Christian’s view was that Maynard should not be charged with rough conduct for his attempted smother that turned into a head-high bump on Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw, a view based on Christian’s view of the evidence and the guidelines. He also had access to the behind-the-goals footage that Collingwood would successfully deploy in their “two-lanes” defence of Maynard.
Some of the figures at the centre of the Brayden Maynard incident (clockwise from top left): Angus Brayshaw, Laura Kane, and Michael Christian. Credit: Channel Seven, Justin McManus and Getty Images
The AFL hierarchy’s position was led by Kane, and she was supported by her higher-ups, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and his successor Andrew Dillon. Their position and opposition to Christian’s – confirmed by two sources familiar with the discussions, who requested anonymity because of AFL protocols – was that Maynard had a case to answer and should face the tribunal.
And this view that Maynard might have committed an offence was, according to one well-placed observer, based on the action the tough Collingwood defender had taken – or not taken in duty of care for Brayshaw – in those fateful few seconds.
Christian did not initially think there should be a charge, but he was amenable to the idea that Maynard could be sent to the tribunal directly, without grading his offence.
The sources said Christian had not felt comfortable rendering a judgment that Maynard had been “careless” – the key word in terms of assessing whether Maynard would be suspended and miss the preliminary final and potentially the grand final.
Heavy collision: Brayden Maynard crashes into Angus Brayshaw.Credit: Channel Seven
Herein lay another difference between Christian, the former Magpie defender and MRO for the past six years, and the AFL’s executive, who also included head legal counsel Stephen Meade. The AFL bosses felt that Maynard had to be charged and his landing/bump on Brayshaw graded as careless.
The AFL executive was also clearly mindful of the way Brayshaw’s concussion – he was unconscious for close to two minutes and had a history of concussion layoffs – had shocked the public, and of how the incident was reverberating with the community. There was cognisance, too, of the whole legal environment surrounding head knocks in the code and of the need to show vigilance in protecting players.
In 2021, then AFL football boss Steve Hocking had sent Adelaide’s David Mackay directly to the tribunal without a grading for bumping in a contest with St Kilda’s Hunter Clark, who was concussed in the collision. Hocking had let the tribunal decide, as Mackay was cleared.
Hocking had wanted the case – another split-second call by a player that led to a nasty-looking concussion – heard, given the ramifications. A source said Hocking took the view that the Mackay incident was unusual and he did not take that strong a position on Mackay’s guilt.
If Christian did not want a grading, he finally accepted that Maynard would go to the tribunal with a grading of “careless”, which set the suspension bar at a minimum of three matches. Two matches would be enough to rule him out of the grand final if the Pies made it, a fate that famously befell Collingwood’s Anthony Rocca (2003), Jason Cloke (2002) and Phil Carman (1977) in losing or drawn grand finals.
Christian’s acceptance of the charge and grading was – as the AFL’s media release suggested – on the proviso that the AFL and Kane take some ownership of the decision to charge Maynard; in the release, Kane, the executive general manager of football, was cited as the person who’d made the call, alongside the MRO.
Once Maynard went to the tribunal, the case went in his favour. Collingwood were armed with a biomechanist and behind-the-goals footage that allowed Ben Ihle, KC, to argue that Brayshaw had moved slightly into the “lane” that Maynard was hurtling towards; essentially, Ihle and Maynard argued that the Collingwood player had not enough time (inside fractions of a second) to alter his course and also that he had touched the ball – evidence that his smother attempt was genuine and not something carelessly endangering Brayshaw.
That the AFL chose not to appeal the verdict of the tribunal was, in part, a recognition that the odds were stacked against a successful appeal to their own last-chance saloon (the AFL appeals tribunal). The tribunal chairman, Jeff Gleeson, KC, had all but closed the door on a successful appeal in his 1100-word judgment of why Maynard had been cleared of rough conduct.
The case was closed, the arguments about the incident would linger for a while yet, in one of the game’s most emotive episodes.
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