Collingwood defender Brayden Maynard has escaped suspension for his controversial smother attempt that knocked out Melbourne midfielder Angus Brayshaw and divided the football world.
During a marathon four-hour hearing at the AFL Tribunal on Tuesday night, Collingwood called upon a biomechanics and neuroscience expert in a bid to clear Maynard.
Maynard would have been banned for at least three weeks if he had been found guilty of the rough conduct charge, which was classified as careless conduct, severe impact and high contact.
But he is now free to play in Collingwood’s preliminary final next week after being cleared of wrongdoing.
The decision is set to divide the footballing community given the devastating effect the collision has had on Brayshaw, who has a history of concussion issues.
At a minimum, Brayshaw will miss the Demons’ semi-final against Carlton under the AFL’s concussion protocols and there’s no guarantee he will play again.
Collingwood’s counsel Ben Ihle said there was only about 120 to 150 milliseconds between an airborne Maynard looking down at Brayshaw and contact being made.
The Magpies called upon Associate Professor Michael Cole to give evidence in Maynard’s favour.
Cole, who has an extensive background in the fields of biomechanics and neuroscience, believed it wasn’t a conscious decision for Maynard to bump Brayshaw.
In his report, Cole said the average time to make a decision was between 200-250 milliseconds, but only in a laboratory-controlled environment in which there is a single stimulus and a single response.
In a sporting environment where there are numerous factors to consider and numerous decisions to make for each instance, Cole said the reaction time might be closer to 500 milliseconds.
“I do not believe it was a conscious decision (to bump),” Cole said.
“My assessment of the footage was his primary focus was on the ball, his vertical leap was greater than his horizontal leap, but because of his speed and his opponent’s speed they collided.
“Once he’s in flight, he’s essentially a projectile. Like a frisbee with arms and legs.”
Ihle used colour strips on video stills to show how Brayshaw was the one who had ventured slightly into Maynard’s path.
Maynard said his sole intention was to smother the ball and he was surprised to find that Brayshaw had moved into his path.
“After I’d smothered the ball, I looked down and I thought, ‘s**t, he’s there’,” Maynard said.
“It was a surprise he had come into my way.
“You can clearly see that I’m running straight. When I jump to smother the ball, he’s on my right side … and then he’s made his way across.”
Maynard insisted he never consciously decided to bump Brayshaw.
“It was almost like a bit of a flinch reaction. I sort of seized up,” he said.
“And then next thing I know, he was on the floor and I was a bit rattled myself.”
Maynard shut down the suggestion of AFL counsel Andrew Woods he should have either held out his hands to cushion the impact, or put his arms out wide to meet Brayshaw with “open arms”.
Woods argued Maynard shunned his duty of care by choosing to smother in such a dangerous manner.
He also argued Maynard’s decision to turn his body was a conscious decision to bump.
The three-person panel on the AFL Tribunal disagreed, clearing Maynard of wrongdoing.
“We are not at all satisfied that a reasonable player would have foreseen that violent impact, or impact of the type suffered by Brayshaw, was inevitable or even likely,” tribunal chairman Jeff Gleeson said.
Carlton forward Jack Martin also had success, with his two-game ban for striking Sydney’s Nick Blakey reduced to one match.
Martin pleaded guilty to the striking charge, but Carlton successfully argued the impact grading should be downgraded from high to medium.
Although the one-match ban means he will miss Friday night’s blockbuster against Melbourne, he will be available for the preliminary final should Carlton make it that far.