Verdict in for Heeney suspension after heated Appeals Board hearing

Heeney learns Brownlow fate after Tribunal hearing over Saint hit as Rankine awaits judgement

Sydney star Isaac Heeney’s Brownlow Medal hopes have been dashed, after the Swans failed to overturn his one-match ban at a heated Appeals Board hearing.

Heeney will miss the Swans’ clash with North Melbourne on Saturday, and is now ineligible for football’s highest honour, an award for which he had been one of the favourites.

Heeney was originally handed a one-match suspension for his high hit on St Kilda’s Jimmy Webster on Sunday by Match Review Officer Michael Christian, thanks to an off-season AFL rule change that determined off-the-ball high hits by players trying to create space for themselves would be graded as ‘intentional’ rather than ‘careless’ conduct.

That verdict was upheld by the AFL Tribunal on Tuesday, who classified Heeney’s hit as a strike.

“Heeney’s swing of the arm was a forceful blow, and he intended that blow to make contact with Webster, albeit not to his face. We are not satisfied that he intended only to make contact with Webster’s hands,” the Tribunal’s statement read.

“This was an intentional strike resulting in injury, and accordingly, we consider a one-match sanction is appropriate.”

The Swans would then challenge that verdict with the AFL Appeals Board, with coach John Longmire saying the club were ‘obliged’ to try and clear Heeney’s name.

Swans counsel Duncan Miller described the Tribunal’s verdict as ‘so unreasonable that no Tribunal acting reasonably could come to that decision’.

“Having identified there was a swinging arm… the Tribunal closed its ears to the evidence of the player and the other objective evidence… and it assumed intention,” Miller added.

He then claimed that the incident should not be considered to have been ‘off the ball’ due to the fact he was the obvious target of teammate Justin McInerney’s kick.

Additionally, Miller argued the ‘stumbling’ of Webster during the incident saw his head level drop lower than Heeney could possibly have anticipated, resulting in a body check becoming an accidental high hit.

“It [suspending Heeney] would mean a lawful action which might accidentally result in a strike would somehow automatically be deemed to be intentional,” Miller said.

However, both the Appeals Board and the AFL expressed disdain for the Swans’ argument, first dismissing their claim that Heeney’s strike should be deemed accidental because he only intended to push Webster in the chest.

“He clearly was struck in the face, Mr Heeney’s intention doesn’t really matter,” AFL counsel Andrew Woods said.

“It was a straightforward and unsurprising application of the guidelines.” 

Appeals Board chairman Andrew Houghton agreed heartily with the AFL’s argument.

“You seem to be saying if there’s no intention to hit the player in the face, there can’t be an intention regarding his contact vis-a-vis a strike, but the two don’t run together do they?” he questioned.

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