Why Tom Stewart’s hit on Dion Prestia has reignited the AFL’s ‘red card’ debate

A Geelong player moves close watching as a Richmond player is helped off the field.

Tom Stewart’s visit to the AFL tribunal has resulted in a four-week suspension, which could deliver a serious impact to Geelong’s top-four chances in 2022.

However, the Cats defender’s MCG moment of madness where he hit Dion Prestia high and concussed the Richmond midfielder has raised more questions than just the length of the ban he faces.

The AFL has responded to the incident, with a spokesman saying there are “no plans” for a send-off rule nor a red card system. But should the league be considering the option?

There are two elements involved — safety, including protecting the head — and fairness.

Australian rules is a contact sport and there is acceptance that accidents will happen in the heat of a game, whether it be a forward having an awkward landing going for a pack mark, two players colliding while going legally for the ball or something else.

The AFL has introduced a medical sub to allow for these kinds of injuries — and already this season we have seen multiple occasions where teams use the subs and still end up one or more down on interchange rotations because another player or players cannot continue due to concussion or other injury.

This is accepted as part of the game. The big question arises where a player is injured or incapacitated due to an error or foul by an opposition player.

The attempt to take certain actions out of the game, such as sling tackles and high bumps, has been done in an attempt to protect players from head trauma.

Suspensions, like Stewart’s, are the main response to head-high contact.

A Geelong player moves close watching as a Richmond player is helped off the field.
Geelong’s Tom Stewart’s (left) bump on Dion Prestia (second from right) led to the Tigers midfielder being ruled out of the game.(Getty Images: Darrian Traynor)

Saturday’s incident came on the wing at the MCG, when Prestia leapt high to tap the ball inboard towards a teammate.

Stewart was intent on stopping Prestia. He did not slow down or deviate from his line after the ball had gone, and delivered a shoulder to his opponent’s head.


As play went on, Prestia appeared to be instantly affected by the hit, struggled to regain his equilibrium and took at least two minutes to even get to his feet as play went on around him. He then was assisted from the field with the help of two trainers and there was no surprise when he was ruled out of the rest of the game.

Stewart was clearly distressed and remorseful after the incident, and he reportedly spoke to Prestia the following day to apologise.

The problem is, from a game perspective, and from a human perspective, the damage had already been done.

Prestia a big loss for the Tigers

Prestia has been one of the Tigers’ most influential players, when fit and healthy.

The Richmond midfielder leads his side, on average, in contested possessions, clearances and stoppage clearances, and is second in overall disposals, centre clearances and goal assists.

He was on for less than a quarter against Geelong before being injured and ruled out of the game.

Despite his absence, the Tigers made a stirring comeback, hit the front late on and only lost to a last-minute goal. It is a reasonable assumption to make that their chances of winning the game would have improved with Prestia available for all four quarters.

Following the incident, despite his emotions, Stewart went on to play a vital role in the Cats’ win.

He racked up 29 disposals, 13 contested possessions, had six marks, two tackles, two clearances, 737 metres gained — more than 200m more than anyone else on the field — three inside 50s, five score involvements and an incredible 17 intercepts.

The last of these intercepts literally saved the game with less than 40 seconds left, as the Tigers kicked it to the hotspot in an attempt to get a mark to set up the winning goal, only for Stewart to deny them.

Author: Ivan Robinson