A jury of former players David Neitz, Paul Williams and Richard Loveridge on Thursday night found Mackay was within his rights to contest the ball with Clark – who was left with a broken jaw in two places – during last Saturday night’s match in Cairns.
In doing so, the jury rejected AFL legal counsel Jeff Gleeson’s argument that Mackay could have foreseen injuring Clark as he charged in at high speed and should have held back to tackle his opponent.
“It was not unreasonable for Mackay to go for the ball,” the jury said in a statement of its findings, concluding a three-hour hearing.
“Both players got to the contest at virtually the same time and both were seeking to collect the ball.”
Many high-profile football figures are relieved with the decision after widespread fears during the lead-up to the hearing that a suspension for Mackay would have changed the way players attack loose balls.
Adelaide’s legal counsel Andrew Culshaw called three witnesses – Mackay, Crows data analyst Chris Sheedy and biomechanics expert Dr Robert Crowther – in an attempt to prove the player’s actions were not unreasonable.
“You have two incredibly brave players going full tilt at a loose ball,” Culshaw said.
“This was a 50-50 ball. There is nothing unreasonable about a player going hell-for-leather for a 50-50 ball.”
Mackay, 32, repeatedly stated he believed he would beat Clark to the ball “right up until point of collision”.
“At no stage did I take my eye off ball,” Mackay said in his evidence.
The 239-game veteran rejected Gleeson’s argument that he knew Clark would get to the ball first and said he did not choose to bump the St Kilda player.
Gleeson did not suggest Mackay was attempting to break Clark’s jaw, but argued contesting the ball is not a licence to cause injury to another player.
“This wasn’t an accident in the sense that it was unforeseen,” Gleeson said.
On behalf of the AFL, Gleeson argued Mackay’s bump should be classified as careless conduct, high contact and severe impact.
Those classifications would ordinarily bring about a minimum three-match suspension under the AFL tribunal guidelines.
Gleeson also dismissed the notion put forward by many key voices in the industry that a suspension for Mackay would change the game dramatically.
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