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West Coast flag hopes take a hit as Gaff pays price for his

The full ramifications of his punch to an opponent’s jaw begin to sink in for Andrew Gaff during West Coast’s win over Fremantle. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

West Coast flag hopes take a hit as Gaff pays price for his

West Coast’s chances of seizing premiership glory this season were dented when star midfielder Andrew Gaff was handed an eight-game ban for intentionally striking an opponent.

Gaff shattered Fremantle teenager Andrew Brayshaw’s jaw and caved in his teeth with a haymaker that sparked widespread disgust, anger and condemnation across the country.

He learned his fate this week as the AFL Tribunal took just 13 minutes of deliberation to ban him for the rest of the season and the start of the next campaign. Bookmakers responded by pushing the odds on West Coast winning the Grand Final out to $7.

The Sunday Times’ annual VIP list rated Gaff as the sixth most important player to the Eagles this season. Josh Kennedy stands out on his own in front, but Gaff is part of an elite, experienced group of players that are vital to West Coast, along with Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey and Jeremy McGovern.

Gaff is their most prolific ball winner, a former John Worsfold Medal winner, and a senior figure in the team. His loss is a real blow, and he has let his team down badly.

Check out a review on a selection of online sports betting sites and you will find that leading bookmakers now make West Coast distant third favourites for grand final glory.

GWS has leapfrogged the Eagles in the bookies’ estimations, while Richmond is now well out in front. Some bookmakers now give Melbourne an equal chance of winning the grand final. That is despite West Coast sitting second on the ladder, with two more wins than GWS and Melbourne.

“First of all I just want to say that I’m so, so sorry to Andrew and the Brayshaw family for the pain that I’ve caused them over the past 48 hours,” Gaff told reporters after the hearing.

“I respect the Brayshaw boys so much and the way they go about it. I’m really disappointed. I own my actions, and it really hurts a lot.

“The last 48 hours have probably been the toughest couple of days of my life. The people that I’ve spoken to and who have seen me in that time know the world of pain I’m in and how much I’m suffering. I see myself as a caring, gentle and measured person and that’s why it’s disappointing so much more.

“I’m disappointed for Andrew, I’m disappointed in myself, I’m disappointed I let my teammates down at an important time of the year and I’m disappointed I’ve let the supporters down as well.”

Gaff did not seem anywhere close to caring, gentle and measured when he flattened his young opponent in what Brayshaw’s counsel called “a cowardly assault”.

The midfielder’s mention of the pain he has suffered was given short shrift by fans, ex-players and pundits on social media.

“Off the top, reckon that’s probably about right,” pundit Rohan Connolly said. “Might be goodnight for Eagles’ flag hopes, too.”

Fellow journalist Jack Hudson said it was the right decision, while ESPN’s Steve Smith said 10 weeks would have been more appropriate.

The sport is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, as the Gaff ruling came on the same day former North Melbourne premiership player and Norm Smith medallist Shannon Grant appeared in court for assaulting his former partner on three separate occasions between June and December in 2017.

Gaff is unlikely to face criminal charges over his punch that broke Brayshaw’s jaw, but legal experts say it is only a matter of time before an AFL player is prosecuted over an on-field act.

It is now up to all teams, particularly West Coast, to deliver a clean, entertaining denouement to the season and begin the process of restoring the damage done to the game’s reputation.

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