Sydney Swans’ thrilling three-point victory over the Essendon Bombers on Thursday evening has been marred by a late umpiring controversy.
The round four match featured a tightly-contested arm wrestle throughout the second half, which set up a nailbiting climax at the SCG.
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Sydney was ahead by three points with less than one minute remaining on the clock when Tom Hickey caught a boundary throw near Essendon’s defensive 50.
The Swans ruckman took a couple of steps looking to handball before he was tackled by Bombers young gun Nik Cox, but the umpires believed Hickey did not have prior opportunity, and proceeded with a ball-up.
Several AFL fans voiced their frustration on social media, arguing that Essendon should have been awarded a free kick because Hickey had run a few metres before he was tackled.
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Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack, AFL reporter Tom Morris argued: “I think it’s holding the ball.
“If you get tackled straight away, fair enough. But he takes it out of the rough, takes a couple of steps, and had a chance to handball.”
Three-time All-Australian Gerard Healy disagreed: “I’ve always been of the view that you should reward the ball winner.
“To me, he’s had one-and-a-half steps, he’s been tackled pretty much straight away. I would have said play on.”
St Kilda great Leigh Montagna elaborated: “We don’t want to reward the tacklers. We don’t want to reward the negative play.”
Speaking to reporters after the match, Essendon coach Ben Rutten said he did not see the incident.
The decision would have gone unnoticed if it occurred earlier in the match, but every moment in the closing passages of a thriller inevitably comes under heavy scrutiny.
Regardless, the undefeated Swans secured a fourth consecutive victory to push their case as genuine finals contenders.
Sydney is the fifth team since 2017 to win their opening four games of the season — the other four all qualified for the preliminary finals.
The Swans will enjoy a nine-day break before facing the GWS Giants at the SCG on Saturday, April 17.