Tom Barrass ‘good guy’ defence fails at AFL Tribunal

Justin Chadwick |

Tom Barrass has failed to beat his one-match ban for his tackle on Fremantle’s Michael Walters.
Tom Barrass has failed to beat his one-match ban for his tackle on Fremantle’s Michael Walters.

West Coast defender Tom Barrass has failed to overturn his one-match suspension for a dangerous tackle with the club’s Charlie Cameron-like ‘good guy’ defence falling on deaf ears at the AFL Tribunal.

The Eagles’ first line of defence was to argue Barrass’s sling tackle on Fremantle veteran Michael Walters should be graded as low impact instead of medium impact.

But if that failed, West Coast counsel David Grace argued Barrass’ clean on-field record and exemplary work in the community should invoke the AFL’s “exceptional and compelling circumstances” clause and reduce the ban to merely a fine.

The AFL Tribunal sparked huge debate last week when it downgraded Cameron’s one-match ban for a dangerous tackle to a fine, citing the Brisbane forward’s clean playing record and off-field character assessments as reasons behind the move.

But that decision, led by tribunal chair Jeff Gleeson, opened a can of worms for other players attempting to escape suspension.

Given the similarities between the Barrass and Cameron incidents, West Coast also went down the ‘good guy’ defence at Wednesday’s hearing, given Barrass has never been suspended during his 138-game AFL career or 33-game senior WAFL career.

After deliberating for more than an hour, the tribunal’s three-person panel found Barrass’s tackle constituted a medium level of impact.

And tribunal chair Renee Enbom said there weren’t enough compelling or exceptional circumstances to reduce Barrass’s ban to a fine.

“That (Cameron) decision turned on its own facts. The facts here are different,” Enbom said. 

“The difference here are the aspects of the dangerous tackle.

“The combination of excessive force, pinning of the arm, and forceful rotation created significant potential for a head or neck injury.

“Barrass has a commendable record. But we don’t consider his record, as good as it is, makes it inappropriate or unreasonable to apply a one-match suspension.”

Barrass’s work at the McGovern Foundation, which assists indigenous people to obtain and retain their driver’s licence, was heavily discussed when he gave evidence.

The 28-year-old’s advocacy work in the battle against domestic violence was also highlighted.

Barrass also detailed his work at Hale School, where he teaches meditation to year-eight students.

References from teammate Jeremy McGovern, who founded the McGovern Foundation, and former West Coast chairman Russell Gibbs were also included.

Barrass said he had two interactions with Walters after tackling him and both times the Fremantle forward played down the incident.

“The first one we ran past each other on the ground and hi-fived each other,” Barrass said.

“The second was after the game, shaking hands, and I said, ‘are you all good bro?’ and he said, ‘Yeah I’m all sweet’.”

In Barrass’s defence, Grace argued Walters’ head had actually hit the ball first before making contact with the ground.

“That is a significant impediment to the level of impact,” Grace said.

“The football is made of leather. If an object falls on it, the object can cause an indentation on the ball.

“The ball as we know is full of air.”

AFL counsel Andrew Woods challenged that theory.

He also pointed out Barrass’s 138 AFL games without a suspension shouldn’t constitute compelling circumstances.

Woods said the impact was clearly medium instead of low.

“You can see the collision of the head to the ground,” Woods said.

“Walters opens his mouth, his hands go to his head. 

“There was some frank evidence given about the force being used and it was excessive.”

Barrass will miss Sunday’s clash with Gold Coast in a major blow to West Coast’s hopes of posting a third straight win.