Luke Beveridge in major call on Tom Liberatore ahead of AFL return from concussion saga

Liberatore has not returned to AFL action since his latest head knock in May.

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge admits his side is taking a very cautious approach when it comes to superstar Tom Liberatore, who is in line to play his first AFL game in a month after his second concussion of the season. Liberatore was ruled out of the AFL indefinitely last month after copping an accidental kick to the head by Conor Nash during an upset loss to Hawthorn. Liberatore had earlier copped a heavy blow to the head from Hawks star Karl Amon during a contest and was then seen stumbling on the field when his head was cut open by Nash’s boot.

Liberatore also collapsed on the field against Essendon in round five and has missed six games this season in the aftermath of his concussion incidents, including his side's last four games. The Bulldogs superstar cleared concussion protocols last month but the club has been understandably reluctant to rush him back into action, amid concerns around his wellbeing and long-term future in the game.

On the left is Western Bulldogs star Tom Liberatore and coach Luke Beveridge on the right.
Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says he's had discussions around changing Tom Liberatore's style of play after his recent AFL concussions. Pic: Getty

The Bulldogs have gradually ramped up Liberatore's workload at training and he will have to get through this week's sessions without complications to be named in the Dogs' side for Friday night's game against the Brisbane Lions at Marvel Stadium. While Liberatore's inclusion would be a massive boost to Beveridge's side, the coach admits they are discussing ways to alter his game so as to minimise the potential for further head knocks.

Liberatore is known for his aggressive approach to contests and is regarded as one of the best tacklers the game has seen. But his coach admits that discussions around the midfield gun's return have focused heavily on fine-tuning his technique in approaching contests.

Pictured left to right, Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge and AFL star Tom Liberatore.
Tom Liberatore hasn't played the last four games for Luke Beveridge's Western Bulldogs after being concussed against Hawthorn. Pic: Getty

"You see the commitment and the head-first stuff, we want him to do it a little bit differently," Beveridge said about his superstar. "(When the) instincts kick in, he might not be able to. The players are looking after each other a little bit more as the games continue to be ticked off. But we've done a little bit of work, and that'll continue."

Beveridge added that while Liberatore has had a tendency "to bounce back pretty quickly" from symptoms relating to head knocks in the past, the club makes no apologies for its "ultra-conservative" approach to the 32-year-old's return. "We've been conservative, been ultra-conservative, with him. But as far as head scans and all that he appears fine," Beveridge said.

"Historically, not many players have come back from concussions, even after missing the 12 days, and out-performed and played extremely well - it seems to be a pattern. So you're always a little bit nervous about how a player is going to reintroduce themselves on-field and how they're going to go. So he'll play, hopefully he gets through the session, but he'll play close to his usual game time. We'll probably be a bit conservative with him in his management."

While Liberatore looks set to return for the Bulldogs, Ed Richards will have at least another week off following his second concussion of the season. "He didn't perform as well as we thought he should have in his substantive testing," Beveridge said. "So we're just being a bit cautious, making sure he's OK. He seems fine, he's a bit frustrated - he wants to play. But we'll just hold him out for another week."


The 11th-placed Bulldogs may have to reshuffle their forward line against the Lions with Sam Darcy (suspension) joining Aaron Naughton and Cody Weightman on the sidelines for the next two games. Recruit James Harmes (hamstring) is out injured while Laitham Vandermeer (hamstring) will have to prove his fitness in time for Friday night's game.

with AAP