Gaff incident: Deliberate hit to wrong area is still a low blow

Andrew Gaff wanted to hit Andrew Brayshaw and he got him flush in the face. He pulled his arm back and struck him a thundering blow.

What is less clear is whether Gaff meant to get him in the face. It didn’t look like he did. It looked like he meant to whack him high to the chest and he missed, or he missed the chest and got the face. Brayshaw dipped slightly just before the blow landed and as Gaff was swinging his arm. And no, that is not saying Brayshaw is to blame for the hit.

Andrew Gaff shoul be banned for the rest of the season.

Andrew Gaff shoul be banned for the rest of the season.

In the end, whether Gaff wanted to hit Brayshaw in the face or not is in one sense irrelevant, because that’s where he got him.

It doesn’t matter to Brayshaw, as he eats his food through a tube through the side of his mouth because his lips have been stitched up after his teeth were surgically rearranged, that Gaff meant to punch him in the chest and missed.

But it does partly explain a hit that seemed utterly at odds with everything else Gaff has hitherto done in footy. It does explain him hitting a bloke he was playing golf with only days ago.

Gaff is still guilty of intentionally punching Brayshaw, getting him high and doing so with severe force and impact. His exemplary record – never been reported, never been fined, never even been cautioned for having his socks the wrong length – informs the idea of his intent. It explains that he was not acting with the level of malice the act would suggest.

A player who has never done anything wrong in the past, it might reasonably be argued, does not as readily have the thought in mind to knock someone’s teeth out behind play.

Ross Lyon likened the hit to Barry Hall’s knockout blow of Brent Staker, which resulted in Hall being banned for seven matches. I disagree. There was no doubt what Hall’s intent was and, besides, Hall had a record worse than a Kenny G album.

But it was also different to Hall’s hit in that Staker played two weeks later while Brayshaw won’t play again this year. Even if the potential for serious injury was just as acute in Hall’s hit, the fact was Staker played two weeks later. That said, Gaff deserves to go for six weeks, not Hall’s seven. He might not have meant to hit him in the face but he did.

In the broader picture the hit illuminates a problem the AFL has with players hitting one another. It’s the little hits that go unpunished that empower players to feel they can strike out and get away with it.

This is the environment where the defender repeatedly whacks the forward in the small of the back. The environment where a punch or elbow around the stoppages is masked as a push or nudge.

They don’t draw a suspension because they are below the level of force for a report. That is probably the correct judgment, but it should be a free kick. That would stop the behaviour quickly and while this might sound soft or petty, it isn’t. Dermott Brereton has long argued this point … and he was not soft.

Jimmy Bartel has reasoned – and again on The Age Real Footy Podcast this week – that football and non-football acts should be judged differently. Punching and elbowing are not parts of the game so an elbow or punch should be punished more heavily than say a late bump or a spoil that is slightly awry.

Gaff committed a non-football act. It might not have been the one he thought he was committing but he committed it and what happened next falls on him.

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