Collingwood free kick controversy leaves AFL world fuming as 'inconsistencies' panned

Fremantle surged home to tie up the game after the head-scratching moment.

Collingwood coach Craig McRae admits he was baffled by a contentious free kick to Fremantle that helped spark a game-tying surge from the Dockers on Friday night, despite the AFL declaring on Saturday that the right call was made. The Magpies played out their second draw of the season and the third in the AFL in 2024 after Fremantle stormed home to snatch a share of the points in a 10.15 (75) to 11.9 (75) stalemate at Optus Stadium.

Bobby Hill's goal with seven-and-a-half minutes left gave Collingwood what looked to be an unassailable 25-point lead. But the Dockers responded with goals to Bailey Banfield and Hayden Young, before being given a massive leg-up when Sean Darcy was gifted a goal in front after Collingwood's Lachlan Sullivan was pinged for apparent time-wasting in front of goal.

Fremantle stormed home to snatch a draw against Collingwood after a controversial free kick incident late in the final quarter of their AFL showdown. Pic: Getty/Fox Footy
Fremantle stormed home to snatch a draw against Collingwood after a controversial free kick incident late in the final quarter of their AFL showdown. Pic: Getty/Fox Footy

Umpire Mathew Nichols pinged Sullivan for handing teammate Nick Daicos the ball instead of returning it to him after a ball-up was called near the goal square. "You gave the ball to him, you have to give it to me," Nichols told Sullivan, before addressing other confused Collingwood players. "He handed the ball to a teammate, you're not allowed to do that."

Darcy nailed the resulting set shot from 15m out in what proved to be a huge turning point, as the Dockers surged home and almost snatched victory. Fremantle skipper Alex Pearce took a brilliant sliding mark and slotted a nerveless goal to reduce the deficit to one point with less than two minutes to go. And Jeremy Sharp had a chance to win it for the Dockers but his 25m shot on the run with just 47 seconds left sailed agonisingly wide of goals for a behind.

Collingwood had one final push into Freo territory but the home side hung on to claim a share of the spoils. But the big talking point after the match was the controversial free kick late in the fourth quarter, which McRae admitted left him confused and requiring clarity from the AFL. On Saturday, the AFL released a statement confirming the “free kick was officiated correctly,” despite much backlash.

"I'm looking forward to what the AFL tell us about that, because I wasn't aware that's a free kick," McRae said. "But maybe clearly it is because they don't pay things that aren't there... At that moment, I was confused because I was told that he (Nick Daicos) touched the umpire. I was unaware of what actually happened until afterwards."


Fremantle coach Justin Longmuir felt it was a fair free kick. "I've seen that paid before," Longmuir said. "It's time-wasting it isn't it? That's why the umpire would have paid it." That explanation simply did not fly with fans and AFL greats Jordan Lewis, Jonathan Brown and Garry Lyon though.

Pictured here is Collingwood's Lachlan Sullivan.
A contentious free kick against Collingwood's Lachlan Sullivan helped Fremantle kick on to salvage a draw in the AFL. Pic: Getty

“I think a lot of our rules are left for interpretation — we see that with free kicks and everything that happens in and around the ground — I don’t think you’d find a person that would agree (on) gut feel that is a free kick,” Lewis said on Fox Footy’s post-game coverage. Brown added: “It’s a big call — they don’t pay obvious holding the ball free kicks in front of goal, and he (the umpire) plucks that one out...

"It’s just common sense — you can see what young Sullivan was doing, he was obviously very man-conscious in (his) defensive 50 at a stoppage.” Melbourne legend Garry Lyon added: “What sort of game would we have if everything was adjudicated as fastidiously as that was?”

Herald Sun journalist Jon Ralph went on to explain that the AFL had vowed to crack down on time-wasting tactics from players but admitted the "problem" is the rule is not "consistently applied", sharing several examples to back up his point. You see so often players who take the ball over the boundary line, and before a throw-in they drop the ball — they dump it there — they don’t hand the ball back," Ralph said.

“No one believed that Sullivan was wasting time there. No one has seen this decision been paid in so long. By the strictest interpretation it’s correct, (but) there has to be some level of common sense or a shade of grey.” Lewis agreed and said the umpire should be disappointed with his performance upon review.

"There was one (incident) later on during the game where (John) Noble put it on the ground to get back to his position," Lewis said. “There were countless times when it was a boundary throw in and the player just dropped it and didn’t throw it back to the boundary umpire ... I think he (Nicholls) would be disappointed with the decision.”