The star midfielder, who is set to become a restricted free agent, will miss the rest of the Eagles’ premiership campaign and the start of next season after last night’s hefty suspension for punching Fremantle’s Andrew Brayshaw.
Contract talks have played out slowly this year, with Gaff intent on taking his time over the big decision according to manager Paul Connors.
The 26-year-old is highly coveted in his home state Victoria, with Connors confident up to six clubs are interested in landing him.
It remains to be seen what effect Sunday’s ugly incident at Optus Stadium and the subsequent ban will have on Gaff’s decision-making process.
A shattered Gaff said he will spend time with family and friends as he attempts to come to grips with the incident and its devastating aftermath.
Whatever Gaff’s future holds, it is clear his ban is another huge blow for Adam Simpson’s finals-bound side with the midfielder joining Nic Naitanui (knee) on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Champion forward Josh Kennedy won’t play against Port Adelaide on Saturday and must be in some doubt to return as he struggles with a leg fracture.
The Eagles tried in vain to argue for a ban that would allow Gaff to return this season.
Early in the hearing – which lasted for more than two hours – David Grace QC, representing the Eagles, entered a guilty plea to the striking charge graded intentional, with severe impact to the head.
He then went about presenting a case for leniency that included a long list of character references and a contrite Gaff, who had never been suspended at any level, giving evidence that he meant to hit Brayshaw in the chest and not the head in a bid to break free from a hard tag.
Grace’s ambit claim on a punishment was that the jury start their deliberations at a three-game ban and work upwards.
Dockers club doctor Ken Withers, however, described in graphic detail the damage caused by Gaff’s swinging left-arm punch, which included a broken jaw, the displacement of three teeth and a deep laceration to his lower lip that went down to the muscle.
Jeff Gleeson QC, representing the AFL, described the incident as a “historically significant event” and recommended a suspension between eight and 12 matches.
The jury of Wayne Henwood, David Neitz and Shane Wakelin handed down the lengthy suspension after 13 minutes of deliberation.
“First of all I just want to say that I’m so, so sorry to Andrew and the Brayshaw family for the pain that I’ve caused them over the past 48 hours,” an emotional Gaff said as he left the hearing.
“… I’m really disappointed. I own my actions, and it really hurts a lot.”
The club has until midday on Wednesday to lodge an appeal, but that appears unlikely.
The AFL tribunal’s heaviest recent suspensions
ANDREW GAFF (West Coast) – eight games in 2018
JEREMY CAMERON (GWS) – five games, 2018
TOM BUGG (Melbourne) – six games, 2017
BACHAR HOULI (Richmond) – four games, 2017
TOM JONAS (Port Adelaide) – six games, 2016
STEVEN BAKER (St Kilda) – nine games (total), 2010
DEAN SOLOMON (Fremantle) – eight games, 2008
BARRY HALL (Sydney) – seven games, 2008
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