Normally when a high
profile player is reported, there’s little if any sympathy for the player
outside his own club and their fans, but there’s a growing sympathy for
Sydney Swans captain Barry Hall because he’s critical to helping his team win
its first premiership in 72 years.

That’s a lifetime for
any football fan, and with West Coast having twice toasted premiership success in 1992 and 1994, the vast majority of
neutral fans are behind the Swans. So tonight’s tribunal appearance is seen as critical to Sydney’s
chances against the Eagles.

The three former players on the
tribunal panel will be facing enormous pressure tonight, as they can’t
be
oblivious to the huge blow to the Swans’ fairytale flag aspirations,
nor what it could means to the AFL itself in NSW, if Hall is rubbed out.
All
of this begs the question as to whether the consequences of
Hall’s suspension is out of all proportion as punishment – an issue
that in a
court of law underpins the whole notion of natural justice. But the AFL
process allows no such leeway.

The experts agree that it’s paramount to Hall’s defence to convince the tribunal that his strike to
the solar plexus of St Kilda’s Matt Maguire occurred “in play” and not behind
it. Sydney will hammer home
what it believes constitutes in play, which may rewrite the rules on that score. And should Hall’s defence
fail tonight – and any subsequent appeal also fall on deaf ears – the big question
remains whether the Swans will then cop it sweet or go to court in one final
bid to get Hall on the paddock on Saturday.

On that question alone,
the Swans find themselves between a rock and hard place. And while many believe they
should exhaust all avenues open to them, including the courts, the fact is Hall
was stupid. Tonight, the argument will be whether such stupidity is
considered negligent or reckless.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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