AFL makes telling call after Luke Hodge and Nathan Buckley fume over Adelaide 'robbery'

The AFL has made a call that won't do anything to appease Crows fans after their loss to Essendon.

The AFL has responded to the backlash over Adelaide's controversial loss to Essendon on Friday night, saying the Crows 'technically' should have been awarded a free kick in the final seconds but backing the umpire's decision. Nathan Buckley and Luke Hodge led a chorus of criticism against the umpiring decision that denied Adelaide the chance to kick a last-gasp goal.

The Bombers were up 78-75 when the Crows launched one final attacking raid with just 20 seconds left on the clock. The ball squirted around in the forward square as Adelaide players desperately attempted to get it free, before Sam Draper dived on top of it with his torso and appeared to hold it in with his arm. Taylor Walker then dived on top of Draper as Adelaide players appealed for what was seemingly a blatant holding the ball penalty.

AFL greats Luke Hodge and Nathan Buckley, pictured here alongside the controversial Adelaide and Essendon incident.
Luke Hodge and Nathan Buckley both think the umpire got it wrong in the last seconds of Essendon's AFL win over Adelaide. Image: Getty/Channel 7

But the closest umpire called for a ball-up instead, and the siren sounded just seconds later. Crows players were left livid at the decision, with Walker spotted giving the official in question an angry spray.

AFL makes call on Adelaide and Essendon controversy

Bombers players celebrated wildly over the great escape, but serious questions are being asked about the last call not to award Adelaide a free kick. Responding to the storm on Saturday, the AFL said in a statement: "In the moment and at ground level, the umpires believed that Draper dived on the ball, and then the ball came out to Draper's left [hand], and was then knocked back under him by Walker.

Sam Draper, pictured here jumping onto the ball and pulled it into himself.
Sam Draper jumped onto the ball and pulled it into himself. Image: Channel 7

"In review and with the assistance of the broadcast angle and behind the goals Hawkeye vision providing a clearer look, you can see that the ball moves from under Draper's chest to under his armpit/shoulder, which means the ball is still in his possession and he's not immediately knocked it clear.

"Therefore it technically should have been a holding the ball free kick. It's a very challenging one for the umpires in this situation, with the ball on the ground, to see exactly where the ball is, under a large number of players (there were 17 Essendon players in the area) and who has control of it. On ground level they were not certain of all these factors, so they didn't pay it - which is the correct approach at the time."

Luke Hodge and Nathan Buckley slam umpiring decision

Buckley said in commentary for Fox Footy: “He’s made sure it’s there and lied on it. Technically in any part on the field at any time of the game, that is holding the ball. It was a little tap in then he laid on it.

“The reaction of the players was clear too. The umpire made the decision that was a ball up before the siren went because you saw the Adelaide players put their head in their hands (implying) ‘that should’ve been a free kick’. Then the Essendon guys go up. It was a clear decision unaffected by the final siren.”

Garry Lyon said: “Adelaide might’ve thought they were unfortunate given big Sam Draper decided to lay on top of the footy. Not sure you can do that. It’s unfair to isolate it into one incident at the end. But it looks to me like he fell on it and then hooked it back in.”


On Channel 7, Matthew Richardson said: "We've been told forever that you can't lay on top of the ball and drag it back under. So that's a free kick."

Luke Hodge added: "It's a free kick in any way you look at that. The fact that he laid on it, Tex jumped on it. The reason why the AFL brought in four umpires was so they could see any angle and pay free kicks.

"If that was the five-minute mark of the first quarter or the second quarter, all four umpires would have jumped in to pay that. They didn't pay it because they didn't want to make an error. They made the wrong decision, that should have been a free kick and Tex Walker should have been having a shot on goal. Without a shadow of a doubt."

To rub salt into Adelaide's wounds, Draper was seen re-enacting his flop onto the ball after the final siren with teammates. After seeing Draper's post-match mockery, Hawthorn champion Jordan Lewis switched his point of view. "I’ve changed my decision," he said after he was initially unsure if it was a free kick. Johnathan Brown added that Draper was "just rubbing it in now."

Essendon skipper Zach Merrett admitted: "I was holding my breath a little bit that last few seconds. We obviously learned the hard way last year against Port Adelaide kicking it out and Houston kicking an amazing goal.

“We’ve certainly spent a lot of time and work and energy on those moments. To execute it for the most part was very pleasing. But no doubt it was a line ball call.”