Geelong's Tom Hawkins has sparked a fiery debate in the AFL after a controversial moment that proved crucial in his side's victory over the Brisbane Lions on Friday night.
Hawkins kicked five goals, including a contentious late sealer, as the Cats extended their 19-year home winning streak against Brisbane with a tense 10-point victory.
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Isaac Smith starred on a wing as the Cats won the territory battle on Friday night but wasted a string of chances in front of goal in a high-intensity contest.
It almost cost them as the Lions twice snatched the lead during a see-sawing third quarter and drew level in the last when Charlie Cameron kicked the second of his two brilliant second-half goals.
But goals to Hawkins and fellow key forward Jeremy Cameron in a low-scoring final term got the Cats over the line, the home side winning 11.14 (80) to 11.4 (70) at GMHBA Stadium.
Hawkins had a big role in the final term but there was debate over two marking contests where he appeared to push opponents in the back.
Neither push was called, allowing Hawkins to take shots at goal, with his fifth maximum giving the Cats valuable breathing space in the final ten minutes.
Tom Hawkins kicks is 5️⃣ but should it have been a push in the back?
📺Watch #AFLCatsLions LIVE on @Foxtel CH 504 or stream on @kayosports: https://t.co/7kNjUr3jTN
🔢MATCH CENTRE: https://t.co/armCGH27Bb pic.twitter.com/Qp5ebJsPwk
— Fox Footy (@FOXFOOTY) April 8, 2022
On that occasion, Brisbane's Harris Andrews - and many watching on TV - were left incensed when replays clearly showed Hawkins' hands in the back of his opponent before he took the mark.
Despite angry protestations from Andrews, the umpire explained to the Lions defender that Hawkins had merely held his ground in a fair contest between the two players.
“You’re both running forward and momentum took you forward. He’s held his ground,” umpire said.
St Kilda great and Fox Sports analyst Nick Riewoldt took aim at the official after the match over what he described as a "nonsensical" explanation.
“Umpires make mistakes and we have come a long way already this year in our non-bashing of the umpires so when an umpire makes a mistake, don’t give us that disgraceful explanation,” he said.
“That was nonsensical.
“That’s trying to dig yourself out of a hole with a completely absurd explanation.”
Four-time premiership player and Hawthorn legend Luke Hodge told Channel 7: “You can see why Harris Andrews was upset. He got one (paid against him) near the boundary line where he gave a little shove ... That (Hawkins one) was clearly hands in the back."
Former Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy was also perplexed by the umpiring during his analysis on Fox Footy.
“The push in the back rule has become a farce,” Healy said.
“How the umpires could miss that is beyond me, there was about three in the final quarter that was laughable.”
The controversy lit up social media during and after the match, with fans incensed that Hawkins and Geelong had gotten away with what many described as a "blatant" penalty.
It’s genuinely ridiculous how many push in the backs Hawkins gets away with every week. #AFLCatsLions
— Justin Dimieri (@JustinDimieri) April 8, 2022
Is Tom Hawkins the only player in the league that can push a player in the back without being penalised? #AFLCatsLions
— Paul Papa77 (@PaulPapa77) April 8, 2022
That is the definition of a push off by Tom Hawkins & the umpires explanation to Harris Andrews was just as bad as the decision was. Is that a game defining decision for the second consecutive year in a row in this fixture?#AFLCatsLions
— Carlton News & Stats 🇺🇦 (@UptheBaggers) April 8, 2022
Tom Hawkins obviously has invisible hands. Two blatant push in the backs missed in a minute. #afl
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) April 8, 2022
Brisbane Lions coach refuses to blame umpires
Lions coach Chris Fagan refused to blame the whistleblowers for the loss.
"It's a difficult game to umpire and I haven't had a chance to look at the replay so it wouldn't be a good idea to say anything at this point in time," Fagan said.
Fagan noted Brisbane were outgunned 38-33 in clearances and 60-42 in forward entries.
"I think that the right team won tonight," he said.
"Geelong were just a little bit better around the contest.
"They were able to break through our tackles better than we were able to break through theirs and gain territory from there.
"They had a lot of inside-50s and scoring opportunities."
Geelong rested captain Joel Selwood and lost deputy Tom Stewart to a bout of gastro pre-match, while stand-in skipper Patrick Dangerfield had a rare quiet night.
Sam De Koning, Max Holmes and Gryan Miers were among the lesser lights who stood tall, while Smith (29 disposals), Mark Blicavs (22) and Brandan Parfitt (22) were all important contributors for Geelong.
But the Cats were almost made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal.
"When you don't take your chances you get a little nervous that it might come back to bite you," Cats coach Chris Scott said.
"But for the second week in a row when the game was really on the line, the players just looked really organised when the heat was on."
Cats tagger Mark O'Connor had an absorbing duel with Lachie Neale, who had an influence in traffic with 30 disposals, 21 contested possessions and 11 clearances.
It was the Lions' 13th consecutive defeat at the Kardinia Park venue in a losing run that dates back to 2004.
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