One of the best AFL games of 2022 so far has ended in chaotic and controversial circumstances after a referee decision not to give Swan Chad Warner a 50m penalty left the Tigers players stunned and divided an agitated football world.
With Sydney ahead of Richmond by six points in the dying seconds of Friday night’s gameTigers star Dion Prestia was awarded a free kick after being held for a stoppage on the wing.
But it seemed Warner didn’t hear the umpire’s whistle, as it came less than a second before the final siren sounded.
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The circumstances caused a cheering Warner, who was one of the best players on the ground, to kick the ball high into the SCG stands.
It sparked pleas from Richmond’s players and the commentary field for a 50-yard penalty.
“He kicked the ball over the fence, it must be 50!” Channel 7 commentator Brian Taylor said:
“There are no excuses that he doesn’t know.”
As the players watched, a conversation took place between the umpires on the field.
Umpire John Howorth appeared to be seeking clarification from colleague Brendan Hosking through the referee’s microphone system as to the location of the free kick and, crucially, whether a penalty of 50 meters should be paid.
Howorth asked, “He kicked the ball into the crowd after the free kick…50m I think?”
But both Hosking and nine-time Grand Final referee Matt Stevic were then heard through the umpires’ microphones saying “nah, nah”. One of them said, “He (Warner) couldn’t hear the whistle.”
Howorth replied, “That’s why I’m asking the question. Are we happy with that?”
Howorth approached Prestia and explained to him why he should take his kick from between the wing and half forward and not be pushed 50 yards forward.
“He couldn’t have heard the free kick. It’s just common sense, okay?” said Howorth.
Prestia’s kick inevitably went wide and the Swans held on to win by six points.
Coincidentally, it was Warner who marked the ball off Prestia’s kick, making sure there was no impossible, clumsy deflection for a Richmond goal.
Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph told Fox Footy it was “perhaps the most chaotic 20 seconds of the season yet”.
Richmond superstars Dustin Martin and Jack Riewoldt both had passionate conversations with umpires after the game.
Warner told Channel 7 after the game that he “clearly didn’t know it was a free kick”, adding: “I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”
Both coaches chose not to pass judgment on the non-call after the game.
Asked if he’d had time to break the chain of events surrounding the final siren, Richmond’s Damien Hardwick told reporters, “I haven’t. That’s not my job. There are people on the ground who make those decisions.
“We’re probably the same as everyone else, we didn’t know exactly how it would unfold. So I’ll leave that up to you to find out and find out.
“It’s irrelevant (what I think should have happened)… We can look at that last incident, but the fact is we were 30 points ahead. It’s easy to watch the last game, but we should have slowed down the game.”
Asked to comment on the incident, Swans coach John Longmire told reporters: “I don’t know. I heard that a free kick was paid at the same time as the siren, so I don’t know what happened. You should probably ask someone else, but that’s what I heard.”
Swans star Callum Mills told Fox Footy after the game: “’Ramps’ (Dane Rampe) said it was going to be 50 and I started saying ‘Oh no’. The reality was that it was nice that it wasn’t 50.”
The incident divided opinion among the AFL world.
Melbourne champion Garry Lyon told Fox Footy after the game “technically the 50 was there”, but three-time premiership Lion Jonathan Brown said umpires weren’t “as strict as they used to be when a player kicks the ball away”.
“Following the trend in the way they play umpires when players kick the ball away after a whistle, they don’t normally pay a 50-yard penalty,” Brown told Fox Footy.
Many fans and commentators felt that a fine of 50 meters should have been paid.
“He kicked a ball away and at the time the free kick was paid for, the match was still live,” said three-time All-Australian Nick Dal Santo. Fox Footy Live† “The kick was after the siren, but the time of the free kick was paid for before (the siren).
“So whether he thinks it was his (free kick) or not, if that’s at any other time in the game, (it’s a free kick).
“I love that it was a matter of common sense, but we don’t live by common sense. It’s not happening enough.”
Ralph added: “It’s not really up to the referee to decide the state of mind of a player who kicks that ball. I think it’s up to him to give a very strict interpretation.
“Of course there will be some discretion. All I would say is if that’s in a different part of the field and with the time on the clock in a different phase of a quarter, that’s a 50m penalty.
“Look, it probably would have been the bravest call of the season.”
Others thought it was the right decision.
“We’ve been asking umpires to use common sense for years. Technically that was a 50m penalty, but the referee used common sense – and I don’t think it should have been a 50m penalty,” said Cameron Mooney, a three-time premiership forward. Fox Footy Live†
“I think the referee made the right decision.”
Seven-time All-Australian Nathan Buckley praised the whistleblowers for showing “umbrella’s common sense”.
“I thought that was a good judgement. Took my time, communicated through the microphones and earphones and came to the right conclusion,” Buckley told Fox Footy.
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