COLLINGWOOD’S hard-line decision to suspend Dane Swan for two matches was based on a season-long ban on drinking alcohol six days before a game. Swan’s indiscretion also violated a recent vow by the players to avoid alcohol completely until season’s end.
Swan was suspended after the Magpies found evidence that he had been drinking on Sunday night. Swan did not deny drinking, as has been speculated, but did deny that he had consumed a significant amount, the proverbial ”skin full”.
Collingwood’s director of football, Geoff Walsh, said it was merely the fact Swan had broken a team rule that cost him. ”Fundamentally a strict club policy was not adhered to, and we felt that couldn’t be ignored,” he told the club’s show on Fox Footy last night.
”There’s nothing more to the suspension beyond the drinking and beyond the breach. It’s a clear mandate from the playing group and supported by the entire football department that six days before a game you shouldn’t be out and about, let alone drinking.”
Walsh said the rules applied to every player. ”Like everyone, he’s subjected to and … agreed to certain rules and certain protocols. And when they’re breached, there are consequences.
”Dane’s disappointed, there’s no doubt about that. Disappointed that he’s let himself down, let his teammates down and let the football club down. There’s no doubt he’s remorseful and disappointed but entirely understanding that his actions have led to the consequences that are on the table.”
Walsh said the suspension sent a message. ”I don’t think we’re cutting off our nose at all. What we are [doing] … is reaffirming and endorsing that we have rules and regulations that everyone, whether they’re your best [in the] playing group or they’re No. 500 on your list, we all operate and live by the same standards because we’ve all signed off on them.”
Swan is likely to play in the Magpies’ VFL team in the second week of the ban.
Collingwood considered there was evidence that Swan had been drinking when he turned up at the club for training and meetings on Monday. There is speculation he was queried about his physical condition by a teammate on Monday morning.
In the past few weeks, a concerned Collingwood skipper Nick Maxwell and vice-captain Scott Pendlebury called a meeting at which players pledged to abstain from alcohol until the end of the season.
Even before the pledge, Swan would have broken the prohibition on drinking by 24 hours. But the players’ vow to eschew alcohol meant he had broken what the club called its ”protocols” on two counts.
The decision to suspend him was made at a meeting involving coach
Nathan Buckley, Walsh, the leadership group and several other senior players. It is perhaps the clearest sign of the expected tougher line on behaviour by Buckley.
As a result of the suspension, Swan will miss Collingwood’s critical games against Sydney and North Melbourne, as the Magpies, who play only top-eight sides in their last four games, seek to secure a top-four spot.
The two-match penalty, immediately the subject of debate given the potentially damaging effect it might have on Collingwood’s flag prospects, is consistent with the suspension meted out to midfielder Sharrod Wellingham, who was outed for the season’s first two matches after he missed a rehabilitation session and admitted he had been drinking the night before.
Collingwood’s official statement said: ”The decision was made after the club became aware that Swan had been drinking alcohol six days before next Saturday’s match against the Sydney Swans, a clear breach of club protocol. The suspension followed discussions between a number of parties, including the leadership group.”
Collingwood is 14-4 and in third spot, but has Hawthorn chasing hard and fifth-placed West Coast still seeking the double chance afforded by a top-four finish.
As matters stand, the Pies would have to travel to Adelaide in the first week of the finals, with a trip to Sydney another possibility. All this is to be determined over the last month, beginning with Saturday night’s blockbuster at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, where Collingwood has won the past six times it has played there, but will have to do it this time without its 2011 Brownlow medallist and three-time Copeland Trophy winner.
Swan’s absence may be keenly felt. He has had an outstanding two months since he missed two games with a hamstring injury in rounds nine and 10. In the eight games since, he has averaged 39 disposals and been dominant in at least three games, soaring to the top three in Brownlow Medal betting.
The three-time All-Australian has avoided club suspensions or sanctions for several years, despite a reputation for enjoying himself. His most serious blemish was as a youngster, from an incident in 2003, which led to a conviction for affray. Swan was ordered to perform community service and pay $100,000 to a victim in a Federation Square brawl with a security guard. The incident almost cost him his career.
The Pies did manage, arguably, their best win of the season without Swan, when they defeated the Crows in Adelaide in round nine.
His suspension adds to a bad week for the AFL. It came 24 hours after the Western Bulldogs stood aside young midfielder Tom Liberatore for the remainder of the season after he was found by police drunk and with an ecstasy tablet in his pocket in the King Street nightclub district in the early hours of Monday.
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