A relieved Hampden league player is free to suit up in a do-or-die final this weekend after receiving a suspended sentence at tribunal.
Warrnambool's James Chittick fronted the independent tribunal on Wednesday night ahead of his team's elimination final against Portland on Sunday.
The defender pleaded not guilty of carelessly or intentionally striking Koroit's Jarrod Korewha in Saturday's round 18 meeting at Reid Oval.
However after more than an hour in front of the tribunal, the independent board found Chittick guilty of the charge.
Chittick received a suspended one-match ban, which is in place until the end of 2023.
The incident was reported by a goal umpire and occurred early in the third quarter of Saturday's Warrnambool and Koroit clash.
The umpire alleged that Chittick hit Korewha in the stomach with a closed fist behind play. He said both players had been bumping and scuffling with each other prior to the incident and he had warned them to stop.
The play closer to the wing at the time, with the two players 10 metres out from the point post in Koroit's forward line.
The umpire said Chittick then "lashed out" and hit Korewha in the stomach with a right closed-handed fist.
The umpire said Korewha had his back to him at the time, with Warrnambool advocate Neville Wilson later questioning whether he could see the impact. He said he could not, but saw a round-house swing and closed fist from Chittick, before Korewha went to ground.
Korewha said it was a punch to the sternum with not a lot of force, but that he was winded as it "hit me in the sweet spot". Korewha said he went to ground for 15-20 seconds. A trainer attended to the forward, though he was able to play on for the remainder of the game.
Korewha said there was nothing untoward between him and Chittick that day, with just the normal pushing and shoving between forward and defender.
He said he wasn't surprised to see Chittick reported though, as it was a punch and he hadn't expected it.
Chittick said he did not hit Korewha with a closed-fist, and instead shoved with two open hands.
He felt there was no significant force to the push, and believed Korewha either "played it or it was in the sweet spot" to have gone to ground.
Chittick said he felt there was unnecessary contact by Korewha prior to the incident, but that play later continued with no issues.
Following the verdict, Wilson noted Chittick had 230-plus games to his name without being reported across three different leagues. He said Chittick was highly respected in the football club as well as in the community for his work in disability support.
Chittick was handed a one-week suspension, suspended until the end of 2023.
He will be allowed to play in Sunday's elimination final against Portland but will be automatically suspended for a week if he is brought before the tribunal on another matter.
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