Umpiring, not to blame, but certainly didn't help

THE 2016 AFL Grand Final, one that has already been heralded as one of the modern greats, was still in dispute with just 7 minutes remaining in the match. In the end, the Dogs ran out deserved winners, while winning the rub of the men in the green.

AFL Match Report:
AFL Match Stats:

While many of the frees paid to the Dogs could be argued to have been correct, they weren't necessarily in the spirit of the game, and contrary to season-long interpretations, such as the tunneling/sliding rules, were outright ignored.

In the end, the Dogs ran out victors, but not before they finished on top of the count, 20-8. One of the most contentious non-decisions was Easton Wood sliding in on Hannebery in the opening minutes of the 4th quarter, taking out his legs and injuring his knee, causing a medial ligament strain and leg bruising.

“Looking at that again I think it should have been paid as a free kick for contact below the knees,” Ball told The Daily Telegraph.

I thought that the level of umpiring was very poor and incredibly inconsistent. Seeing the Western Bulldogs players drop the balls in tackles without reward was the most frustrating thing to watch, because the club was doing everything right and giving themselves every chance of winning. The non-decision on Hannebery certainly affected us in the last quarter, and while we were still running and moving the ball, we were doing it without our best midfield runner.

Criticism of the standard of umpiring has come from nearly all media outlets, including the AFL where their own website even questioned whether or not the umpires were caught up in the emotion and the event. They had an earlier article posted during the AFL Grand Final saying that the Dogs were receiving questionable free kicks, but it has since been deleted.

5. Did the men in green feel the pinch of a tense Grand Final?

As hard as it is for the players, the job of the umpires must be even more difficult on Grand Final day, and there were some puzzling decisions at the MCG. The Bulldogs led the free kick count 12-4 at half time, with more than a couple of head scratchers going their way. The third term ramped up the pressure on the players and the Dogs were given another two or three questionable decisions, with a 50-metre penalty against Jeremy Laidler, and a high shot on Clay Smith among them. The Swans didn't land a free kick at all in the third quarter, and co-captain Jarrad McVeigh certainly made his feelings known to the whistleblowers. The below the knees rule also seemed to be abandoned with Tom Papley and Dan Hannebery both brought down by Dale Morris and Easton Wood with no whistle.

On this, John Longmire was reserved and wouldn't bite when asked, saying that he'd need to watch the game again.

“The Doggies were good,” Longmire said. “In the end all you can ask for is they get paid both ways.

“I’ll have to sit back and have a look at it in the cool light of day before I can comment on that.”

Since the game, Swans great Tadgh Kennelly has since come out and slammed the performance of the umpires, categorically stating that the umpiring did impact the game. Pretty bloody obviously, I would think, since every time we had the ball in the 3rd quarter, a free was being paid where non existed.

Kennelly admitted he didn’t want to seem like he was eating “sour grapes”, but said there were “some really tough decisions made in a really tight game”.

“I don’t think it was the overall difference between winning and losing the game,” Kennelly told Fox Sports News 500. “But it certainly contributed in a way that helped the Dogs win the game.”

He later went on to say

All of them ended up in goals and in such a tight contest — you’ve got to remember the Swans were only a point down with seven minutes to go — they are crucial calls,” Kennelly told Fox Sports News.

“Now I don’t buy into the umpires getting caught up in the romance of it all, they’re there to be professional and clear as they see the calls.

“It had an impact in the game, which was a bit disappointing.”

Gerard Healy also had a bit to say about the umpiring and the sliding/below the knee contact rule, which was so graciously discarded and ignored throughout the game.

“This has to change for the game and the football community as a whole,” Healy told Fox Footy’s On The Couch.

“You can’t have blokes whose careers are maybe threatened, something needs to change in the off-season. They’ve cracked down on it to a degree and yet they lost their absolute focus on that and it nearly cost Hannebery his season next year and potentially was a career-threatening injury.”

This isn't the first time that we've been on the receiving end of poor umpiring. In 2006, the game was bizarrely over-officiated after the 2005 decider with just 24 free kicks paid all game. The Swans managed to win the 2012 grand final with a -12 free kick differential, but the -14 differential against the Dogs is now the highest free kick differential in the AFL era.

The Swans have a lot to learn in this area, since the club is often at the bottom end of the scale of free kick differentials, with the Dogs & Hawks at the top the last 2 seasons. It's little wonder then, that the teams finishing top are having success, because when things aren't going well for you, the umpires will always pull you out.

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Justin Mitchell

Justin is a passionate AFL and Sydney Swans supporter, and football blogger since 2016. All articles are of his own opinion. You can reach him by twitter and Facebook at @theswansblog

Melbourne, Australia

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