Alastair Lynch says Ben Cunnington should not be playing this weekend after his gut punch against Fremantle.
Alastair Lynch says Ben Cunnington should not be playing this weekend after his gut punch against Fremantle.

Lynch: AFL has dropped the ball on punches

THE AFL has missed the mark with their views on what people do and don't want to see at the footy.

I'm talking about introducing a new rule based on improving the aesthetics while ignoring the ugly gut punches that have become a blight on the game.

What looks worse; a guy running across the field to deliver a message or a player lying in the foetal position 30m away from the ball after being whacked in the stomach by an opponent?

The AFL dropped the ball with the series of off-the-ball incidents that escaped with fines in round one. The precedent has been set and it will be hard to suspend anyone now unless a major injury is caused.

I've watched footy all my life and I can say that I've rarely felt that the use of runners has hurt the look of the game. That rule, albeit an advantage to the better teams, I understand and I'm happy enough with.

What everyone does notice though is when a player is sprawled out in apparent agony when the play has moved on to another part of the ground.

Was Ben Cunnington lucky to get away without suspension for his punch against Fremantle on the weekend? Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images
Was Ben Cunnington lucky to get away without suspension for his punch against Fremantle on the weekend? Picture: AFL Photos/Getty Images

Last year the Andrew Gaff suspension for striking Docker Andrew Brayshaw was the biggest on-field story of the year.

Brayshaw didn't play again after the shocking incident left him with a badly broken jaw and damaged teeth while Gaff missed the Eagles premiership win after receiving an eight-match suspension.

While there was no excusing Gaff's actions and his remorse for the wild punch was genuine, it was clearly a boilover of frustration at the constant off-the-ball treatment the best midfielders in the competition receive every week. Star forwards get it too.

The AFL talked tough on punches at the start of last year when new footy boss Steve Hocking put the players on notice that everyone who punched an opponent would be either suspended or fined.

The revamp of the league's tribunal system saw punches to the head penalised with suspension and larger fines for low-impact stomach punches starting at $3000.

The shocking blow from Andrew Gaff last year that left Docker Andrew Brayshaw with a broken jaw shifted the focus onto punches. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images
The shocking blow from Andrew Gaff last year that left Docker Andrew Brayshaw with a broken jaw shifted the focus onto punches. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images

The AFL insisted they were determined to fine players for punches under the misconduct provision even if the hits were not hard enough for a low-level grading.

After the Gaff incident the public's perception was that the rules needed to be tightened again to incorporate suspensions as the fines were not acting as a strong enough deterrent.

If the aesthetics of the game are so important to AFL HQ, North Melbourne's Ben Cunnington would not be playing against Brisbane this weekend.

Cunnington's strike on his Fremantle opponent Nathan Wilson late in the game at Optus Stadium on Sunday is not what we want to see in footy.

He is playing because match review officer Michael Christian considered the impact to be low.

Nathan Fyfe of the Dockers checks on the welfare of Nathan Wilson after he copped one during the clash with North Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images
Nathan Fyfe of the Dockers checks on the welfare of Nathan Wilson after he copped one during the clash with North Melbourne. Picture: Getty Images

Christian's comments after the decision where he said players needed to be concussed or have broken ribs for the impact to be graded higher was staggering.

No one means to break a rib or concuss an opponent, but as we have seen in society whenever a punch is thrown there is a risk of dire consequences.

That's why the AFL should legislate against the action, not the outcome and stamp out this action that can lead to more serious incidents.

Brisbane Lions champion Alastair Lynch says the AFL has missed the mark by not cracking down on gut punches. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Brisbane Lions champion Alastair Lynch says the AFL has missed the mark by not cracking down on gut punches. Picture: Jamie Hanson
News Corp Australia


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