On Saturday I saw something on the TV that made me rethink my previous stance on capital punishment. I’m a pacifist at heart, a man who prefers to think things through from the side of the offender, to judge whether we have the right to judge based on our ability to understand that which has been done and the person who has done it. I have previously felt that I can not judge someone whose acts I can not understand, whose upbringing I have not experienced and whose mindset, as a result of their upbringing, their experience and their genes, I can not comprehend. I have always felt that we should not judge people who break our rules, who transgress our moral codes, but rather we should act in a manner that will keep society safe from those we can not understand.
All that I’ve said was all fine and dandy and simply flew out the window the moment I saw Adam McPhee strike Robert Harvey. Ok, I wasn’t in the best of moods when I saw it, I had just played a full game in unbelievable conditions (constant rain and a ground that looked like a large serving of mud soup gone wrong) and my side had suffered its first loss of the season. I was sore, tired, hungry, angry and I think a little concussed when I got home, rang Dad to talk about my game and sat down to watch the afternoon’s game which, of course, featured Essendon and St Kilda.
I’m not exactly sure what Dad and I were talking about at the time, but it was interrupted by my outraged voice saying something like, “Some mug’s just whacked Robert Harvey!” His response was, “Yeah, McVeigh.” Slightly angrier, I said, “He’s an animal.” I didn’t change this statement when I discovered that the offender was McPhee and not McVeigh, it didn’t change anything, McVeigh was still an animal, the new information was that McPhee is a dirty thug.
I quickly ended my conversation with Dad and rang my brother Martin. Mart’s affiliation with any AFL team ended at the end of 1996 when Richmond sided against the proposed Fitzroy/North Melbourne merger. He instead follows three things, which are comprised of two individuals and his footy Dream Team, “I Am Larry.” The first individual wears number 29 for Geelong; Gary Ablett Jnr is fun to watch, he reckons, because he looks like you’re watching his Dad play on a little TV. The second individual, of course, is Robert Harvey.
I think his fascination for Harvey started at the Big V versus SA clash in 1994. It was the day that Teddy Whitten did his lap of honour, the Vics thumped the Croweaters, Tony Lockett played alongside Gary Ablett and Robert Harvey starred for the Big V again. That day Mart said that Harvey would one day win a Brownlow, he was wrong, he won two. Regardless, it was a good call.
I’ve often wondered what made us relate to him so well that day. I think it has something to do with the way he is an obviously flawed genius. Not in the way Ablett was, it has more to do with his style of play. He is a brilliant runner who, in his prime was as good or better at avoiding tackles as Chris Judd. He pushes himself, even now, more than any other player in the league to get to that next contest, or simply run to make himself an option on the other side of the ground deep into the last quarter. His flaws are obvious: he’s not a great kick, nor is he a good overhead mark or a terrific tackler. But he works within his limitations.
He isn’t great at those things, but he does the best he can every single time. His kicking is unbelievably good over 35 metres and I, personally, believe that Nick Riewoldt has a lot to thank him for because some of the delivery to him from Harvey is simply outstanding. His tackling isn’t strong, but he still puts himself on the line, even at 35 years of age. And as for his marking, well, he was marking the ball when McPhee broke his nose.
Mart and I appreciated him for the above reasons but it is, mostly, the humble manner with which he holds himself that endears him to us. We prefer your more honest, goes about his job sort of bloke than your dyes his hair and whacks champions in the face, lairizing sort of footballer. We often wonder what has, seemingly, kept his head so level, perhaps it is the weight of his hair, we’re not sure, but he’d certainly rather put the ball on the chest of Riewoldt than have a shot himself.
Needless to say my brother was as outraged as I was, how could someone whack the great man? Why would someone strike someone who, over a career spanning eighteen seasons and 330 games, has only ever made the ball the object of his attack? He has attacked someone who would never attack him. I don’t give one whit for Brian Taylor’s statement that McPhee’s actions were negligent and not intentional, that there was little else he could do whilst making his attempt to spoil. I care even less for a system that deems McPhee’s actions worthy of a one week suspension only. He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it with a fist to a champion’s head.
I do wonder why he would do such a thing. Perhaps it has something to do with Harvey carrying all those extra years as well as significantly better form than him. Maybe he was frustrated that he looks like Riewoldt but can’t get as many kicks as him and he wanted to shut out the supply. Regardless, it was an ugly enough act that I bet that if Aaron Hamill could have freed himself from the cotton wool the club has him wrapped in he would have jumped the fence to remonstrate with him. Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever understand why he did it.
And there it is, I can’t understand why he would do it, so there I am back at square one. For that fleeting moment I would have strung McVeigh up in the desert and then put McPhee up next to him when I realized who had actually done the striking, then I would have left them there. But the rage has diminished and I once again find myself possessed of my faculties. Capital punishment is dead in this country and hopefully will be forever. What needs also die a horrible death is our current review panel.
There is no doubt in my mind that McPhee should have got more weeks because of who the person was that he hit. Call me biased, but our better players should be protected and Harvey certainly qualifies as that. The current review system needs reviewing because there is more to what makes suspendable actions what they are than just how much force there was, whether it was in play and whether or not it was intentional. Much like our legal system, we should be doing what we can to protect people, in this case our players, our champions.
What I hope lives on is Robert Harvey’s career into next year. He’s playing good footy and he always seems to be playing at his peak in the important moments. He always seems to be doing the thing the team needs right when it needs to be done. A prayer each night for each hamstring and it might happen, let’s hope it does because the league needs men like him.
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28