Charlie Spargo free kick re-ignites AFL 'ducking' debate

The Melbourne Demons midfielder has fended off accusations he deliberately plays for free kicks after a controversial moment against Carlton.

Melbourne's Charlie Spargo is pictured left, with the free kick for high contact shown on the right.

Melbourne midfielder Charlie Spargo has defended himself from criticism that he draws free kicks for high contact after a controversial moment in the Demons' win over Carlton on Friday night. Spargo kicked a goal after a marginal free kick resulting from head-high contact against Blues defender Adam Saad.

While the Blues turned in an improved effort against the 2021 premiers, they were nevertheless consigned to a sixth loss on seven games against Melbourne. They weren't helped by Spargo's goal in the second quarter, which left AFL fans scratching their heads.

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Curiously, the free kick wasn't called by either of the two umpires closest to the play, with the non-controlling umpire in the centre of the ground instead paying the free kick. Blues fans were left outraged by the call, with contact from Saad to Spargo's shoulder considered marginal at worst.

Still, it resulted in a goal and left Spargo to defend himself once again from accusations that he puts himself in a position to win a high contact free kick. The 23-year-old admitted he had been working on that part of his game in a bid to simply win the ball on its merits, and said he was surprised to have earned the free shot on goal.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to get a free kick,” he told Fox Footy after the 17-point victory. “I know I have been labelled a ‘ducker’ in the past, but I don’t think I really played for that one. I sort of fell forward.

“It’s a hard one. It can sort of depend on what the umpires are paying on the night … It’s a tough gig with those ones. There was on (Sam) Docherty, there were a couple paid against us in our forward line as well.

“It’s really tough for the umpires to pick up in such a quick moment whether the player was intentionally ducking. A lot of the time, if you slow it down and look at it, they’re lazy tackles.

"There’s guys that come in and they’re swinging an arm across on smaller players. It’s not all the time that it’s the guy playing for a free kick."

Players ducking to earn free kicks for high contact as long been a bone of contention, with now-retired Geelong champion Joel Selwood at one point in time the poster boy for such a debate. The likes of Collingwood's Jack Ginnivan and Western Bulldogs small forward Cody Weightman have also drawn the ire of fans in recent seasons.

“To be honest, it’s probably not something for me I want to rely on is using that as an evasion technique,” Spargo said. “At times, I’ve gone to duck and got caught holding the ball, which has put me in a bit of trouble.

"Something I’m working on is finding other ways to get out of tackles and explode out of tackles. Especially now that umpires are onto it a bit more, you’ve got to be a bit smarter about, whether it’s a fend or something else."

Carlton competitive but fall to another loss in disastrous AFL campaign

Michael Voss's men were competitive against Melbourne on Friday night and twice got within two kicks during the final term. But they posted their lowest score of the season in an 8.13 (61) to 6.8 (44) defeat; their seventh in the last eight rounds.

The fifth consecutive loss will bring more heat on second-year coach Voss, who was expected to lead Carlton to a long-awaited finals berth this season. They are now in danger of being effectively out of contention at their mid-season bye, with games against Essendon and Gold Coast at the MCG over the next fortnight.

"Us as players need to take the brunt of it," Docherty said. "We're the ones out on the field, we do all the work during the week as a group to get us ready to play in these big games and it's on us to go out there and execute the plan and execute skills."

Carlton player Charlie Curnor rubs his head as players walk off the ground.
Carlton fell to a sixth loss in seven games against Melbourne on Friday night. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The Blues' on-field shortcomings have come amid off-field drama. Board member Craig Mathieson quit this week after a heated argument with club president Luke Sayers following the defeat to Sydney in round 11.

Captain Patrick Cripps hit out at an incorrect media report that he stayed away from the team hotel around that game, while key forward Harry McKay's wayward goal-kicking has been under an intense spotlight.

"There's obviously a lot of narrative around the four walls but we tend to speak about the stuff that's important to us," Docherty said. "I'll let (media) talk about the external narrative and everything that's going on outside of us.

"We've got a pretty strong focus on playing better footy at the moment and I think that's pretty obvious."

With AAP

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