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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

A controversial interchange penalty against Hawthorn could well be responsible for denying the Hawks victory against St Kilda. Cyril Rioli had just kicked a goal with two minutes remaining in the final term to give Hawthorn a 13 point lead. However, the goal was disallowed due to Hawk Grant Birchall briefly putting a foot across the interchange line before a teammate had come off the ground. The emergency umpire signaled the infringement to the field umpire who then awarded a 50 meter penalty to the Saints. The Saints scored a crucial point to bring them within a goal. With just seconds remaining on the clock, the Saints cleared the ball from a stoppage and Ben McEvoy kicked a goal to tie the game.

Hawk Coach Alistair Clarkson said the club accepted what had happened and would move on, but expressed disappointment at the penalty for what was a minor infraction. However, the club is now considering speaking with the AFL regarding the severity of the penalty. The AFL introduced the interchange rule in 2008 after a Sydney game in which the Swans inadvertently had 19 players on the field for several minutes in a drawn game against North Melbourne. Hawk football manager Mark Evans would like to get an explanation from umpire boss Jeff Gieschen and the umpires who may have seen what really happened. There is no clear video footage. According to Evans, the cameras catch Birchall only from the waist up. He conceded that it appeared that Birchall did take a step towards the field of play but then returned to the bench. It is unclear whether or not he actually stepped over the line.

Former Richmond coach Danny Frawley, who now heads up the Coaches Association, said that broadcasters were supposed to have cameras focused on the interchange area, but AFL Media spokesman Patrick Keane said he was unaware of this rule. He further stated that it was the job of the interchange stewards to watch and monitor changes. AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan was interviewed on SEN Radio and said the penalty was fair. He further stated " ... it was an infringement. Is it too harsh...? ... in the old days you used to lose all your points ... it just happened he (Rioli) was shooting for goal ... The timing was unfortunate." Prior to the introduction of the interchange rule, a club captain could call for a head count. If an extra player was discovered to be on the ground, the offending team would lose all the points scored to that point of the match.

This was not the only issue to arise from the match. Saints' Coach Ross Lyon was also unhappy with an umpiring decision which denied Justin Koschitzke a shot for goal in the third term. Koschitzke had just marked the ball but had the ball taken away by the umpire who ruled that a St Kilda runner was too close to the play. Lyon questioned his team being penalized for their own runner's infraction.

On top of all of this, the condition of the playing surface came under fire as there were numerous incidents of players slipping over with parts of the ground shifting under their feet. The surface condition has been heavily criticized by Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett in recent weeks. Kennett believes artificial turf should be used. He said that rock concerts should not be held there during footy season and that December should be a cut-off date to allow the ground to be better prepared for footy games. Several games of the recent juniors' TAC Cup championships were also relocated to other venues.

Commentators Matthew Lloyd and Dermott Brereton were highly critical of the surface during the game and talk-back radio was full of fans saying the surface was a disgrace. Lloyd said during the commentary that it sometimes didn't matter what type of boot studs players wore because of the different conditions in different parts of the ground. Hawk Sam Mitchell echoed Lloyd's comments after the game and former Demon turned commentator Garry Lyon likened the surface to an ice-skating rink and called it a "joke".  Mitchell went on to say that the ground was unfit and unsafe for finals. He said he slipped several times and saw the same thing happen to Hawk Cyril Rioli whom he said he had  " ... never seen slip over ...".  Saint Brendon Goddard agreed with Mitchell, saying he found areas of the surface quite slippery. During the game, Leigh Montagna appeared to hurt his groin in a splits-like fall. Teammate Clinton Young was seen limping to the bench after falling over. Hawk Jarryd Roughead said the condition of the surface was worse than when the Hawks played there in Round Nine. Bulldog Shaun Higgins missed several weeks recently due to an injury suffered at Etihad.

Hawthorn general manager Mark Evans said that while the appearance of the ground looked fine, inspections needed to be more than just visual. He said there should be experts telling clubs what they should be looking for. Carlton's Chris Judd met with league officials in June to discuss the problem and Carlton also filed a formal complaint.

The problems with the surface are twofold. First, the playing area is built on top of the underground parking lot and is therefore built on top of concrete with a sandy layer underneath the soil and grass. Second, there are sections of the grass which do not get direct sunlight due to the design of the roof and its infrastructure. These factors have been ongoing problems since the stadium opened in 2000. The AFL has little control over the ground and the events scheduled there as it is privately owned. Former AFL official and current ground manager Ian Collins has continually defended the ground.

Also after Round 17, North Melbourne Coach Brad Scott was unhappy after the Kangaroos lost by three points to Essendon. He was furious with the AFL's strict enforcement of the emergency player and team list rules. The drama unfolded 90 minutes before the game when Nathan Grima (quad) and Daniel Pratt (hamstring) were late withdrawals from the team. Emergency players Ben Speight and Leigh Harding were quickly added to the team list, which was then submitted under the rules. However chaos ensued when Daniel Wells strained a quad muscle during the warm-up. David Hale, who had arrived at the ground to watch the game after playing in the VFL earlier in the day, had been named as the third emergency. Scott desperately tried to get an answer from the AFL about adding a fresh Nathan O'Keefe instead and was told that if he did, the club would be fined $20,000. The game was already underway by the time the answer arrived. The cash-strapped Kangaroos had no choice but to include Hale who finally made it onto the ground late in the first term. Scott said the addition of ruckman Hale instead of midfielder O'Keefe left the Kangaroos short of run through the middle and said no player should have to play eight quarters in one day. He further stated that the extenuating circumstances should have allowed him more flexibility. He also pointed out what he called a "farcical situation" of the VFL operating on a schedule different to that of the AFL and said it was impractical for clubs to hold all three emergency players inactive. Although Hale was named as an emergency, along with Harding and Speight, the club did not want three of their players idle on the weekend and so let Hale have a run in the VFL, not expecting the events which developed just minutes before their own game was due to start.

AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said that the league had recently reiterated to all club managers that in order to allow a player from outside the named 25-man squad (18 players plus four interchange and three emergencies) there had to be a "compelling medical case''. He basically accused North of not making it public that Grima and Pratt would probably not play and not withdrawing them from the officially named team on Thursday. He said that had the club done that, they could have named extra emergencies under the rules. Because they did not do that, according to Keane, they were bound by the rules to play their third emergency in Hale or face a heavy fine.

Kangaroos' chairman James Brayshaw was not surprised at the AFL's response. On the Sunday Footy Show, he said, ''The AFL will probably ... say the rules are pretty clear ... play one of your three stated emergencies otherwise you are fined.'' He also said he was surprised that it took so long for the AFL to get a reply back to the ground. Keane countered that it "took time to clarify the situation". League officials who were present at the ground were unable to provide an answer to the Kangaroos before the game got underway.

Several days later, Fremantle Coach Mark Harvey declared his support for Scott in demanding a rule change to cover such extenuating circumstances. Harvey and the Dockers were close to being in a similar situation as Scott and the Kangaroos when Docker midfielder David Mundy withdrew shortly before the Round 17 match against the Bulldogs. Unlike the Kangaroos, who faced the prospect of being short one player, the Dockers had Paul Hasleby as an emergency to call upon. However, Harvey said he could sympathize with Scott's dilemma. Harvey concurred with Scott's query regarding how many emergencies a team leaves idle on the slim chance they might be needed. He said the pressure was on the clubs with 25-minute warm-ups and incidents of players injuring themselves during the warm-ups. He went so far as to hint a suggestion of team sheets being submitted 90 minutes prior to the game to give teams more time. Hasleby was originally ruled out of the match but was, according to Harvey, the only emergency who traveled with the team due to his experience and the fact that his local Perth team had the bye.

Source: theage.com.au, sen.com.au, heraldsun.com.au, alf.com.au, shh.com.au, author notes

Article last changed on Sunday, August 01, 2010 - 8:14 PM EDT


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