Infamous AFL Finals Suspensions During the 21st Century

MISSING out on AFL finals action through suspension would have to be right up there with one of the worst feelings in the sport – just ask Andrew Gaff. As we gear up for the 2019 preliminary finals, the AFL tribunal is once again in the headlines with Tom Hawkins set to miss Geelong’s do-or-die clash and GWS’ Toby Greene expected to be handed a similar fate after their recent wrongdoings. With the two high profile names expected to be talked about all week, it got me thinking about the most noteworthy postseason bans that have impacted the finals over the last 20 or so years.

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Matthew Lloyd, 2001

THINGS could have been a lot worse for Essendon in 2001, with the Bombers right in the heart of their premiership defense when Matthew Lloyd was hit with his postseason ban. After claiming the minor premiership the Dons kick-started the finals by handing out a massive 70-point belting to the Tigers, however, it wasn’t all smooth sailing with Lloyd offered a one-week suspension for headbutting Richmond’s Darren Gasper during the contest. Luckily for Essendon, the absence of their premier spearhead didn’t stop them from claiming a close single-digit victory over the Hawks, but even with Lloyd back in the line-up, they failed to go back-to-back falling to Brisbane the next week in the ’01 decider.

Dustin Fletcher, 2002

DRAMA in the finals was a regular occurrence for the Bombers, with another key pillar of their squad coming under fire just 12 months later. Going up against West Coast in the first week of fixtures, a then 27-year old Dustin Fletcher found himself under the tribunal’s microscope after making “unnecessary leg contact” against Eagles champion Chris Judd. As a result, the tribunal smacked Fletch with a two-game ban, meaning the only way he’d play again in 2002 was if Essendon advanced to the last game of the year for the third consecutive season. Without one of their key marshall’s in defense though the Bombers lost to Port Adelaide the very next week, leaving Fletcher to serve out part of his suspension to commence the 2003 season.

Anthony Rocca, 2003

MISSING a final would hurt, but missing a Grand Final would be an entirely different ball game. Unfortunately, that’s the boat Anthony Rocca was in back in 2003 after his antics in their prelim against the Power. Late in the first quarter, as Collingwood was starting to control the contest that they would eventually win by 44 points, Rocca was put in the book for striking Port Adelaide big man Brendon Lade and was left to sweat over his future for the rest of the match. His worst fears were confirmed early next week with the tribunal confirming a two-week ban would keep the Pies’ vice-captain out of the big dance. The versatile ruck-forward never made it that far again leaving a lot of Collingwood fans wondering if his presence could have swung the result in their favour some 15+ years later.

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Alistair Lynch, 2004

ALISTAIR Lynch changed the game in more ways than one, become a champion forward for the Lions as they dominated the early part of the 21st century. However, for better or worse (ok worse), Lynch’s name will live on in AFL folklore for his eruption at the start of the 2004 Grand Final when he and Darryl Wakelin started exchanging haymakers like their lives depended on it. Hardly any of the blows landed and Lynch has since shown remorse for his actions, but with the Brisbane great retiring at the end of the ’04 season, any suspension that was coming his way wasn’t going to change anything. In the end, Lynch was whacked with a 10-game ban and a $15,000 fine for his temper tantrum.

Matthew Lloyd, 2009

LLOYDY’S second appearance on the list is one of the most infamous suspensions in AFL history, mainly because of what transpired after the ban was handed down. It technically didn’t unfold in the finals, but with the reigning premiers in Hawthorn still a fighting chance to return to September in Round 22, emotions were running high before the ball was even bounced. Just seconds into the third quarter, a reckless bump from Matthew Lloyd floored Hawks midfielder Brad Sewell and kickstarted a good old fashioned brawl with the outcome of the game quickly becoming the second most important storyline. Initially, Lloyd was dealt a six-game ban, however, that was reduced to four after an early guilty plea. Essendon locked up 8th spot with that victory, but it mattered for little as they were smoked by Adelaide the following week. As it turned out, that was the final time Matthew Lloyd appeared on an AFL field, with the Bombers legend announcing his retirement that offseason, missing just one match from his four-game ban.

Nick Maxwell, 2012

WITH one premiership from two Grand Final appearances in 2010 and 2011, Collingwood was right in the mix to once again contend for the 2012 cup. Those aspirations were dealt a hefty blow on the first week of finals with then skipper Nick Maxwell suspended for not one, but two matches following an off-the-ball incident with Hawthorn utility Paul Puopolo. Poppy was forced to leave the ground with a bloodied suspected broken nose and with the Magpies losing their qualifying final, there was still hope that Maxwell could return and play in another GF if things broke right. They took care of business against the Eagles, but had their dreams shattered the next weekend at the hands of the Swans. Maxwell’s presence might not have changed the result, but you can’t blame the Pies skipper from playing the ‘what-if’ game.

Brent Harvey, 2014

IT’S been five years since North Melbourne last made a preliminary final, and while you might not remember, they were forced to play the Swans without one of their inspirational leaders in Brent Harvey. In fact, Boomer’s close to the 2014 season was an interesting one to say the least, with the pint-sized Roo only featuring in one of North’s final five games. In Round 21 against the Western Bulldogs, Harvey was smacked with a three-match suspension for rough conduct against Liam Picken. Luckily for him, his teammates were able to steady the ship and defeat the Bombers in an elimination final without their iconic leader. That set the stage for an epic against the Cats, which North claimed by a solitary goal. However, the scoreboard drama wasn’t the only talking point, with an off the ball hip and shoulder on Joel Selwood once again landing Harvey in hot water. His punishment was another week-long suspension, keeping him out of the 2014 prelim as Sydney waltzed to a near 12 goal W.

Steve Johnson, 2016

STEVE Johnson’s AFL career quite literally resembled a rollercoaster as the polarizing Cat/Giant went through the highest of high’s and lowest of low’s during his 16-year tenure in the pro’s. One of his darkest days was in 2016, when, in the twilight of his career, Johnson was denied the chance to play for a spot in the big dance. Of course, he only had himself to blame, with Johnson’s absence due to a high bump on Sydney’s Josh Kennedy the week prior. GWS ran away to a relatively straight forward win in that qualifying final, but their prelim against the Bulldogs, widely regarded as one of the best games in the past decade was a different story. Johnson only managed to kick five points in the win over the Swans, but the mercurial forward could have been a difference-maker against the Bulldogs back in 2016, which could have left us talking very differently about the events that unfolded from there.

Peace ✌

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