Geelong star Tom Stewart has been handed a lengthy four-week suspension for his shocking hit on Richmond’s Dion Prestia, which reignited the debate around the AFL’s need for a send-off rule.

Stewart was referred directly to the tribunal, after his bump in the first quarter of Saturday’s match had been deemed as careless conduct resulting in severe impact and high contact.

Tom Stewart ‘breached his duty of care by some margin’ 

Prestia was left dazed from the stray elbow, with the premiership-winning midfielder having to be subbed out of the game, which the Tigers went on to lose by three points.

At the beginning of Tuesday night’s hearing, Stewart’s defence team appealed for a three-week suspension, while the AFL pressed for a month-long ban for the defender.

Geelong counsel, Ben Ihle, argued that Stewart had only a fraction of a second to make his decision and the sickening blow came by the way of a complete accident.

“From the point of Prestia tapping the ball to the point of contact with Prestia, 0.39 seconds elapse,” Ihle said.

He went on to defend his client by stating that it wasn’t a pre-meditated act, Stewart didn’t leave his feet in order to make contact and his elbow was tucked.

“The bump was delivered at speed after he had gone past the ball and Prestia was unexpecting and vulnerable to being seriously injured,” AFL counsel Nicholas Pane had earlier stated.

“The injury suffered by Prestia, concussion, is a serious injury in itself. This is the very type of action which can cause serious injury.”

More: AFL Injury List – Richmond star set for spell on sidelines after gruesome hit 

The hearing lasted just under an hour as both sides presented their case, with Ihe revealing his client refused to argue about the ‘severe’ classification of the grading, despite him advising Stewart to.

In the end, the jury deliberated for just over half an hour before delivering their verdict – forcing the star defender to miss upcoming clashes against North Melbourne, Melbourne, Carlton and Port Adelaide. 

“The bump was late. He (Prestia) was wide open, exposed and vulnerable,” tribunal chair Jeff Gleeson said.

“Stewart had sufficient time to see Prestia had not taken possession. He ran past the ball and made a conscious, albeit split-second, decision to bump Presita at speed.

“The degree of carelessness was high. He breached his duty of care by some margin,” he concluded.

Geelong coach Chris Scott defends Stewart post-match 

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Geelong coach Chris Scott leapt to the defence of Stewart.

“I’ve known Tom for a long time and he is a scrupulously fair player and just a fantastic, strong character – fundamental to what we do at Geelong,” Scott said. 

“When I spoke to him post-game, he just said: ‘I’ve just made a horrible error and I feel terrible about it … I ran past the ball and I chose to bump, I didn’t mean to do it, but gee it was terrible execution and I’m going to pay the price for it’. 

“I wouldn’t usually be this expansive, but I think it speaks to the man. He knows he’s done the wrong thing. 

“He’s made an error, and as people do that I admire, he’s prepared to stand up and say I was wrong,” Scott added.

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