Andrew Gaff’s punch on Andrew Brayshaw shocked the Australian sporting landscape and kicked off a heated debate in the process – but it also resonated too well for one father that has suffered immensely as a result of violence.
The incident, which resulted in 18-year-old Brayshaw requiring immediate emergency surgery and unable to eat solid food for four weeks, brought up painful memories for Ralph Kelly.
Mr Kelly, father of one-punch victim Thomas Kelly who was killed in 2012, has demanded the AFL take tougher action to stamp out violence in the game.
“I think the AFL needs to look past this one incident and think about violence per se — they need to make change, ” Mr Kelly told ABC News in an exclusive interview.
Ralph Kelly has been advocating for the reduction of violence in the community since his son’s tragic passing, and believes there should be no exemptions in place whatsoever, including the AFL field.
“An act of violence on a football game, or any oval, is going right across the community and it is making it seem like it’s a normal act, like it’s a part of everyday life,” he said.
“In our case we lost a son to a random act of violence on the street.
“It was really lucky that Brayshaw wasn’t more severely injured the outcome could have been much worse.”
Despite being handed a lengthy eight-game ban for the violent hit, the immediate consequences for such an act are seemingly non-existent in the AFL.
The violent act reignited pleas to introduce a send off rule, but AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was quick to hose down those calls in the wake of the shocking punch.
“I played in the amateurs and there were inconsistencies there,” McLachlan said on Talking Footy
“We don’t see that stuff much in our game anymore.
“I think we have a system of accountability that works generally.”
North Melbourne veteran Shaun Higgins has also weighed in on the debate, saying there will be a time when the AFL will be forced to automatically suspend players for punching an opponent, regardless of the force of the blow.
The Kangaroos star, who is routinely targeted physically by opposition players, feels punches thrown to the body are part of the game that should be eradicated.
The practice – carried out in a bid to establish a psychological edge, put an opponent off his game or shake a tag – has been in the spotlight following Andrew Gaff’s eight-game ban for breaking Andrew Brayshaw’s jaw.
At his tribunal hearing, the Eagles highlighted several incidents where Gaff was targeted off the ball before he lashed out at Brayshaw.
Gaff also admitted to punching Brayshaw in the chest to give himself some space before the ugly incident played out.
Under the current guidelines, players are fined if they intentionally strike an opponent with low impact to the body.
But Higgins feels that’s not enough of a deterrent.
“I think it’s probably going to get to that stage,” Higgins replied when it was put to him that bans for any sort of punch were required.
While Higgins is all for outlawing niggling punches, he still feels there’s room for a level of physical aggression.
“It’s still a contact sport,” he said.
“It’s a physical sport but I think punching we can definitely eradicate from the game.
“Bumping and trying to get mentally on top of the opposition and physically trying to impose yourself is still part and parcel of the game but there’s definitely a line there.