Regrets are an inevitable part of life. They come with the territory of breathing and are a part of the unwritten deal we all sign for the right to exist.

Although some contrition can feel enormous – such as the misery born when a relationship breaks down or after committing a far more criminal act – others are forgotten in the blink of an eye.

In terms of the unpredictable game of football, there are a plethora of scenarios that have made or broken careers.

What if your side picked a different player from a certain draft?

What if your star spearhead had kicked straight when it mattered?

What if the umpire had paid your team free kick during time on of a narrow grand final loss?

Well, for fans of every creed we have sought to answer the question that has rankled you for years and kept you up at night for far too long.

We can't promise that we won't open old wounds, as let's face it, that is the entire point of the exercise.

From Adelaide to the Bulldogs, from Fitzroy to the Bears, here are every club's biggest 'what if' moments since the dawn of the AFL era in 1990.

OTHER WHAT IFS: Adelaide, Brisbane Bears, Brisbane Lions, Carlton

As the Pies tackle the rigours of grand final week ahead of their date with the Lions, we turn the clock hands back to the last time the black and white army graced the last Saturday in September.

What if Brayden Maynard was paid a free kick late in the 2018 grand final? 

Having travelled back several decades for several of our previous sliding door moments, this jaunt into the past is a walk to the corner store by comparison.

Although Collingwood supporters – and Eagles fans for that matter – don't require a refresher as to what transpired late on September 29, 2018 at the Punt Road end of the MCG, you're getting one anyway.

With two minutes and 17 seconds left on the clock in a nail-biting decider, the ball – after being moved in a miraculous chain down the southern wing – found its way inside West Coast's attacking arc for the umpteenth time in the final stanza.

Now, we all know that Dom Sheed's blood runs cold, with his straight-as-a-die drop punt from Bay 13 acting as testament, but what if the bald Eagle was never afforded the chance to break black and white hearts? What if the umpire blew his whistle and pointed the other way?

Before Sheed could mark the Sherrin in the forward pocket, there were initially two players standing under the ball – former Eagle Willie Rioli and Pies stopper Brayden Maynard.

Following the then 23-year-old's fly and grab across the face of this two-man dance card, Maynard let fly at the officiating umpire, Brett Rosebury, motioning that his run at the ball had been impeded by Rioli.

Despite wild gesticulations, fervent howls and even the Channel 7 commentary in agreement, Rosebury was not buying what Maynard was selling, with the rest becoming history.

Still, did Maynard have cause for complaint? Did an umpiring decision rob the Magpies of their 16th AFL/VFL flag?

According to page 49 of the league's ‘Laws of Australian Football 2018' document, rule 15.4.5 part D states that an umpire will pay a free-kick if a player:

‘Unduly pushes, bumps, blocks, holds an opposition Player or deliberately interferes with the arms of an opposition Player, who is in the act of marking or attempting to mark the football.'

For anyone that has just returned from Mars or has hung their hat under a boulder for the past half decade, here is the video of the contest within the contest in question.

As can clearly be seen, Rioli clearly interferes with Maynard getting to the true drop of the ball, any argument against this is in bad faith.

However, what must be mentioned is the idiomatic notion that umpires tend to ‘put the whistle away' in the dying stages of tightly fought and important contests.

And with little more than two-minutes left on the clock, two-points the difference and the fact that this was the season's decider, Rosebury would have had to be the owner of granite intestines or a death wish to award Maynard the ball in this particular instance.

Still, this lack of a decision in a game with laws as ambiguous as Australian Rules Football only proves that Maynard was rigor mortis stiff in this particular instance.

In addition to Rosebury's initial non-call, another must also be further inspected: Did Sheed actually play on after plucking the pill?

A return to the rule book will show us that in 2018, umpires were instructed to ask a player to play on when:

‘The field umpire is of the opinion that a Player, who has been awarded a free kick or a mark, runs, handballs or kicks or attempts to handball or kick otherwise than over the mark'.

With this in mind, it makes it hard for us to critique the field umpire on this occasion, as we are incapable of either telepathy or time travel.

In any case, it was more than likely that momentum carried Sheed away from his direct line to goal, as who in their right mind would play on deliberately in that part of the ground with less than 180 seconds left on the clock?

So, with it decided that Sheed was quite rightfully asked to head back and take his kick, but only after Maynard had a case to be incensed, what would the remainder of the match have looked like if Brett Rosebury had rewarded the defender's pleas?

Prior to this moment in time, the Eagles undoubtedly held the upper hand.

With the Magpies' lead shrinking incrementally from their game-high standing of 29 points up in the 26th minute of the first quarter, West Coast had wandered inside 50 for seven scores in the last term - a total of two goals and five behinds.

However, since the opening of the fourth stanza, Collingwood had once again drawn a lead of 12 points following majors from Brody Mihocek and Jordan De Goey.

Although the Eagles were surging, if Rosebury had penalised Rioli and handed Maynard the ball, the Woodsmen's chances of victory would have surged.

Across the afternoon, Maynard had spent time on the bench following a collision with Liam Ryan. The defender had also been tasked with manning the high-flyer, as well as his small forward partner, the aforementioned Rioli.

Despite supposedly offering very little across the contest in terms of offense, had Maynard been afforded the opportunity to milk valuable time from the clock, conservative estimations suggest that upwards of 20 seconds would have elapsed by the time the former Sandringham Dragon had found a teammate with his kick.

Had this next link in the chain also taken their time, then another identical block of time would naturally have expired.

But with Adam Simpson's infamous web in place, a long kick down the line would have almost certainly eventuated from here. If any of Collingwood's talls could have plucked a grab from this hypothetical kick, then the game would have been as good as done. If a stoppage were created, and the masses of both side's bodies were dragged towards it, the same outcome would have also appeared likely.

Even if Jeremy McGovern, once again, rose like a colossus, an identically flawless chain of possessions would need to be replicated, only this time with almost every player on the field clogging the southern side of the ground and the Eagles' route home,

Even though this theory is grounded in reality, a lot can still happen in two minutes.

However, if the final siren sounded with Collingwood ahead, then the complexion of the entire club would appear different, at least on a surface level.

Firstly, Nathan Buckley – possibly the most tortured champion the game has ever known – would have finally got his hands on the premiership trophy.

Yes, we're choosing not to count his assistant's role in 2010.

Furthermore, the club that opposition fans delight in destroying for their plethora of September slip-ups would have drawn level with arch-enemies Carlton and Essendon as the proud owners of 16 AFL/VFL flags.

In spite of these two positives, the silverware would not have stopped the ‘Do Better' review into the club's past of racial indiscretions.

As this delve would have gone on irrespective of any on-field success, then the current lay of the land would also be the point that we would find ourselves at in an alternative reality, a reality that sees them on the verge of a record-equalling premiership.


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