Star Collingwood midfielder Steele Sidebottom has begrudgingly accepted a four-match ban for committing a series of COVID-19 breaches during a weekend drinking session.
The AFL handed down the stiff punishment on Wednesday night, meaning the two-time Copeland Trophy winner won’t be available to play again until round nine.
Sidebottom and teammate Lynden Dunn, who has received a one-game suspension, broke protocols by catching an Uber late on Saturday night following a visit to the house of injured defender Jeremy Howe.
The pair were there to console Howe after his devastating knee injury, but Sidebottom’s alcohol consumption during that visit triggered a series of events.
While Dunn headed straight home, Sidebottom took an Uber to the house of Daniel Wells, which was another breach given that the Magpies staff member isn’t part of Collingwood’s COVID-compliant bubble.
“That was probably the next bad decision. And obviously things have headed a little bit off the tracks at that point,” Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said.
Police took Sidebottom home on Sunday morning after finding him in the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown just before 7.30am.
The Magpies were hopeful Sidebottom would only cop a two-match ban, and they were disappointed when the AFL handed down the four-game suspension.
“Collingwood and Sidebottom share the view that his four-match ban is excessive, inconsistent with recent protocol breaches and contestable,” the Magpies said in a statement.
“However, club and player concluded that for the greater good of the game and the realities of our time it was necessary to end the matter.”
Buckley said Sidebottom’s alcohol consumption on Saturday night meant the star midfielder couldn’t quite recall all of the details of the night.
“Speaking with Steele, he’s quite embarrassed about the situation,” Buckley said.
“He’s obviously remorseful about the decisions that were made but he’s also in some way confused about what has taken place.
“At some point obviously with his drinking he’s made some poor decisions, but his recollection isn’t that great.
“He hasn’t been drinking as regularly (recently). In conversations with him, he’s probably hasn’t been consuming as much alcohol, and one of the theories is he wasn’t able to handle what he consumed at Howie’s place.
“They are all details that try to explain in some way what has happened in the evening, or Steele’s understanding of it.
“He’s embarrassed and very contrite as you would understand.”
Dunn has twice tested negative for COVID-19 since his protocol breach and was welcomed back to Collingwood’s headquarters on Wednesday.
Sidebottom has already returned one negative test, but has not yet been cleared for a return to the club.
The 29-year-old is currently a member of Collingwood’s leadership team, but his position could be in doubt following the serious breach of protocols.
Collingwood are due to enter a Perth hub later this month along with Geelong.
Western Australia premier Mark McGowan didn’t mince his words when asked what a protocol breach would mean for any visiting players.
“If anyone breaches, obviously my view is they will be punted from Western Australia as soon as they do,” McGowan said.
“Football players are not immune, they’re not exempt, they shouldn’t think they’re above the law.”