Nobody doubts Justin Koschitzke is the
unluckiest man in football, but his injury on the weekend raises questions
about what distinguishes a legal shepherd from an illegal charge.

Clearly, Daniel Giansiracusa did not mean
to seriously injure the St Kilda big man. The clash of heads, while sickening,
was entirely accidental. Most in football call that sort of collision “part of the
game”, something that will happen occasionally in a sport that requires players
to run into each other at high speed.

But when the end result sees a key player
sidelined for up to three months,
it forces you to consider: when does a shepherd become a reportable charge? The
rules say it’s when “the amount of physical force used is unreasonable or unnecessary
in the circumstances”, but couldn’t we describe Giansiracusa’s shepherd that
way?

It also raises questions surrounding the
duty of care players owe to each other (raised last year by Jeff White’s facial
injuries). When does a shepherd or tackle, though within the rules, recklessly
endanger another player?

On Saturday, Kosi was closing in on Bulldog
Nathan Eagleton when hit by Giansiracusa. He was within five metres of the ball
and looking to force a contest. So far, so legal.

But Kosi was not braced for a bump like
that. The TV commentators made that point, while Saints coach Grant Thomas blamed
Kosi’s failure to take any sort of defensive action on his lack of match
practice.

Whatever the reason, it made him a sitting
duck. When Giansiracusa leapt off the ground to strike his taller opponent with
his shoulder, the resulting clash of heads looked unpleasantly predatory. Regardless
of the frenetic pace today’s game is played at, it’s not unreasonable to expect
players to weigh up how aggressive a certain tackle or shepherd should be. It’s
expected of them by the rules.

Indeed, it’s widely held that sickening
head clashes do not bring glory to football. Injured players do not bring fans
to a match. And while we laud toughness, fractured skulls cannot be accepted as “part of the game”.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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