MRP got 'pretty willing' over Trent Cotchin call

Richmond captain Trent Cotchin holds the AFL premiership trophy. Cameron Spencer/AFL Media/Getty Images

In a season full of difficult decisions, the Trent Cotchin grand final call proved the toughest of all for the AFL Match Review Panel.

It turns out the MRP meeting on the Monday after the preliminary final, to adjudicate whether the Richmond captain should be suspended for the grand final, was a very tense and testy affair indeed.

The four-man panel was apparently locked at 2-2 over whether to sanction Cotchin for his high hit on GWS's Dylan Shiel early in the preliminary final, and the deadlock remained that way for 90 minutes or more.

The arguments raged back and forward, sometimes quite heatedly.

"It got pretty willing in there at one stage," someone close to the case told ESPN.

It was only when one member was eventually persuaded by the merits of the other side's argument that a decision was reached: it was an accidental clash, Cotchin did not deviate from his line as he ran at the ball and he therefore didn't have a case to answer.

The ruling was criticised by many within football who felt expedience had won out over common sense, especially given the 'head is sacrosanct' mantra so often repeated by the AFL.

For many, it smacked of the 'nothing to see here' attitude that prevailed when Sydney's Barry Hall was controversially allowed to play in the 2005 grand final after whacking St Kilda's Matt Maguire in the preliminary final.

But if there was any nudge, nudge, wink, wink edict from AFL HQ that there was to be no grand final suspensions this year, it didn't reach two members of the MRP who fought long and hard for Cotchin to be banned.

Shiel was stunned by the contact to his head, reeling backwards, and left the field at quarter time complaining of concussion symptoms, never to return.

For GWS, it was a bitter blow because they had lost one of their leading playmakers for three quarters, in a contest they were to lose by six goals.

For the MRP, which comprised former players Jason Johnson, Nathan Burke, Michael Jamieson and Michael Christian, it presented them with a nightmare scenario.

They had to sit in judgment on Richmond's much-loved skipper ahead of the Tigers' first grand final appearance since 1982.

If they had cited Cotchin - and remember, he had been fined twice already through the season, so only needed a third fine to tip him over the edge - would their effigies have been burnt outside Punt Rd? Would any suspension be appealed by Richmond (as surely it would) and dominate the news through grand final week?

In the end, behind closed doors, a decision was finally reached but for a while there it looked as though an independent fifth party - perhaps AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan - might have to be brought in to deliver the deciding vote.