The AFL could tweak the sport’s rules at season’s end, while the organisation’s football manager Laura Kane concedes the league had no grounds to appeal the tribunal’s decision to clear Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard of rough conduct.
Debate continues to rage after Maynard was found to have no case to answer for his attempted smother that knocked out Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw.
The decision frees the defender to play in Collingwood’s preliminary final next week.
Maynard had leapt into the air in an attempt to smother the ball and turned his body at the last moment, resulting in his shoulder making contact with Brayshaw’s head.
Brayshaw will miss Melbourne’s semi-final against Carlton – and may not play again under a worst-case scenario – after being badly concussed.
Maynard would have been banned for at least three games if found guilty.
The incident has divided the football world, with the AFL unimpressed by the tribunal’s decision but ultimately opting not to appeal.
“The debate was a passionate one and … it was a really difficult situation, difficult incident,” Kane said on Wednesday evening.
“It’s really challenging for everybody involved, but we didn’t feel there were grounds to appeal.
“If we did think there were grounds to appeal, we would have.”
Kane, who was appointed last month, conceded the situation had been a “baptism of fire, but nothing is unexpected in our game”.
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin had said the case would define what players’ duty of care looked like in “football acts”.
The league hinted a rule tweak could be made at the end of the season after the incident is further assessed.
“The health and safety of players in our game will always be the AFL’s priority and regardless of the tribunal outcome this incident will be subject to close examination at the end of the season,” the AFL said in a statement.
“The AFL has actively taken action to minimise the incidence of concussion in our game and has continued to make considered decisions to protect the health and safety of our athletes, including by making further rule changes to deter avoidable forceful head high contact in our game as has been done in over 30 instances over the past two decades.”
Kane indicated the league wouldn’t focus on smothering alone when reviewing the rules.
“I won’t comment on one particular rule of the game, and reiterate that this situation was unique,” she said.
Friday’s statement confirming the Maynard incident had been referred to the tribunal was issued by match review officer Michael Christian and Kane.
Kane wouldn’t be drawn on reports Christian hadn’t wanted to refer Maynard to the tribunal and had threatened to step aside.
“In terms of what occurred on Friday, Chrisso is passionate. He’s passionate about football. He’s passionate about his role and he holds it at utmost importance,” she said.
“We worked through this incident and as you saw on Friday evening, we released a joint statement which referred this matter to the tribunal.
“There’s no issue (with Christian). I won’t enter into hypotheticals but I’m really comfortable with the model that we have. I was in regular contact with Michael all weekend.”
During the four-hour tribunal hearing, AFL counsel Andrew Woods argued Maynard had breached his duty of care by smothering in a dangerous way.
He also argued Maynard had made a conscious decision to bump after realising contact would be made.
But the AFL Tribunal – chairman Jeff Gleeson, Scott Stevens and Darren Gaspar – found Maynard’s actions “reasonable” as he committed to smothering Brayshaw when he was several metres away.