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Players might have to start using their heads

SAFETY CONCERNS: Lachie Henderson of the Cats is stretchered from the ground during the round 17 AFL match between Fremantle and Geelong at Domain Stadium.
SAFETY CONCERNS: Lachie Henderson of the Cats is stretchered from the ground during the round 17 AFL match between Fremantle and Geelong at Domain Stadium. TONY MCDONOUGH

THE AFL has done what it can, now it appears the rest is up to the coaches and players in the ongoing battle to prevent concussion.

The league has tried to get to the source of the problem, giving its umpires the power to penalise as a way of stamping out dangerous actions such as the sling tackle while at the same time not rewarding players trying to win free kicks when they go in head-first for the footy.

It’s also laid down the law in no uncertain terms that proper assessments must be undertaken by medical staff for those players who have suffered a serious head knock, otherwise they can expect a substantial fine.

Case in point was Port Adelaide being fined last week $20,000 after it allowed Hamish Hartlett back onto the field in the round-16 match against Hawthorn when he shouldn’t have.

He didn’t end up having concussion, but you can understand the AFL erring on the side of caution in these matters and wanting all boxes ticked.

But with players continuing to suffer, what more can it do?

Make helmets compulsory for all players?

They’ve never been popular. Three-time Brisbane Lions premiership player Shaun Hart wore it well, but Jason Dunstall still cops flak about his.

Regardless, the AFL itself says “helmets are not recommended for the prevention of concussion. There is no definitive scientific evidence that helmets prevent concussion or other brain injuries in Australian football.”

And, in fact, it goes on “Some experts believe younger players who wear a helmet may change their playing style, and receive more head impacts as a result.”

Coaching great Mick Malthouse was tipping in 2013 that advanced technology may allow a helmet to be developed that would do the job and “soften the blow”.

But, while helmets remain on the shelf, others have wondered whether there should be even more restrictions on player actions – such as stopping them backing into packs, or not allowing a third man into a marking contest.

The big men fly, hey? Well, maybe just two at a time.

Collingwood premiership captain Nick Maxwell is understandably not a fan. As he says, “It’s a hard game, guys run into each other. You go for the footy. It’s going to happen.”

But, short of it being enforced by the league and its umpires, Geelong backman Harry Taylor said there may, however, have to be a change of mindset by the players, and in turn the public, especially when it comes to players backing back.

Fellow Cats defender Lachie Henderson was stretchered off in the clash with Fremantle when doing just that, just as young Saints forward Paddy McCartin did against Gold Coast earlier this month.

“We are extremely harsh on players who do duck their head or don’t go back with the flight when they should … maybe we have to view that a little bit differently and respect the fact that your life is important,” Taylor told media in Perth.

Cats coach Chris Scott told SEN radio that while “we love the way” Henderson plays his footy, he admitted he didn’t want any of his players putting themselves in “harm’s way”, and it may come down to technique.

“We do have an obligation to coach guys to protect themselves a little bit better,” he said.

But, he agrees that while players getting knocked out is never a good look, nor is penalising them after they’ve done so. “Are we seriously considering paying a free kick against Lachie Henderson while he’s lying on the ground?”

Let’s hope not.

Topics:  chris scott concussion sportopinion