There is one rule in football which has always done my head in. It’s not the handball interpretation or the offside rule (although those can irritate me). It’s the high foot rule – not to be confused with the low head rule, because they’re completely different right? Right?
Roy O’Donovan is about to be hung out to dry.
Yes, he was careless…reckless even. But I’m going to suggest that his eyes were only on the ball and that he had no intention of hurting Lawrence Thomas. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong…but everything in this article is based on the presumption O’Donovan did not intend to injure Thomas.
Corkman Roy O’Donovan has been given a straight red card in the A-League Grand Final for this... pic.twitter.com/G9EgWet4aB— Back Page Football (@bpfootball) May 5, 2018
Q: When is a high foot not a high foot?
A: When it doesn’t injure someone.
There is an additional complication. A person can also be penalised for ducking their head too low and thus imperilling themselves. I’m not at all suggesting that might have been in play in the Thomas/O’Donovan incident but I’ve seen plenty of times in football matches when a foot went high as a head went low – how does the referee decide who’s to blame?
Usually on the basis of damage. The more damage to the head, the more likely the kicker will be blamed – notwithstanding the actions of the two parties.
That doesn’t entirely apply to the Thomas/O’Donovan incident, with the exception of damage. No damage – no crime – no penalty.
Let’s compare O’Donovan’s action with Besart Berisha’s overhead a couple of weeks earlier. Berisha…desperate to help his team in the dying minutes of a semi-final…went for an overhead and connected. He scored a goal and was rightly lauded as a hero.
But what if his marker, Jordan Elsey, had tried to stick his head in to clear the ball. And in so doing, what if Berisha had connected with Elsey’s head instead of the ball? He would have been red carded, even though he only had eyes for the ball.
Compare that now with O’Donovan (and don’t forget my entire premise is based on the assumption that O’Donovan was only looking at the ball). In the dying minutes of the game…desperate to help his team…O’Donovan launched himself at the ball. If Thomas had not quite got there and O’Donovan did just get his toe in, we might have been talking about one of the great A-League goals. Not quite a McGree Scorpion but, you get my drift.
Instead, we’re talking about one of the great A-League crimes.
I just hope that when O’Donovan’s case is judged, those hearing the case are swayed not by the damage but by the intent. If he tried to hurt Thomas, or was at least recklessly indifferent as to whether he hurt Thomas, he deserves a long time out of the game.
But if he was just going for the ball, didn’t see Thomas coming and the damage was entirely accidental, he ought to be exonerated. (That’s how it would work in a criminal court.)
Obviously, the A-League tribunal is not a criminal court but it ought to proceed in accordance with general principles of culpability and evidence. I sincerely doubt O’Donovan will be exonerated (and his form will be seen as an aggravating factor), because it looked very bad – there was damage – and there are already personalities in the game (who know nothing of legal process) calling for a long suspension.
Let the punishment fit the crime, but let’s just make sure there genuinely is a crime before it gets punished.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.