UMPIRING decisions were a major talking point following last year's grand final between the Western Bulldogs and Sydney Swans.
And it was again the case when the two teams reconvened almost six months later, highlighted by a controversial fourth-quarter call against young Swan Callum Mills that swung the momentum of a seesawing game in the Bulldogs' favour.
The Bulldogs ran out 23-point winners, but only led by four points halfway through the final quarter.
But a controversial rushed behind call - a rule that has been changed over the summer - against the Swans might have proven costly.
With the ball dribbling towards the Bulldogs' goalline, Mills opted to punch the ball through over the line. While there were a few Bulldogs in his vicinity, he was under no immediate pressure - but was inside the goalsquare when he made contact with the ball.
As the ball trickled over the line, Dogs players and fans called for a deliberate rushed behind, more out of hope than anything else.
And to everyone's surprise - especially that of the Bulldogs faithful - the umpire paid the free kick against Mills.
Hard-nosed defender Liam Picken was the recipient of the free kick, taking the ball near behind post and snapping a classy left-foot goal that extended the Bulldogs' lead to 10 points.
Mills and other Swans players were clearly left bemused and frustrated by the call.
A frustrated Swans coach John Longmire bit his tongue at the post-match press conference, saying: "Was it a free-kick or not? I don't know.
"Was he under pressure? I don't know. I'm the wrong person to ask."
Few were more critical of the call than premiership coach David Parkin.
"A shocking decision has turned the game on its head," Parkin told ABC Grandstand.
"I'm disappointed that the game might be remembered for the wrong reasons."
Brisbane legend Alastair Lynch was less incensed, believing Mills "had time (and) he wasn't under immediate pressure".
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge said post-match that he wasn't sure on the rule's entire interpretation.
"I think we're all trying to work out what is deliberate and what isn't," Beveridge said.
"Whether there's direct pressure or no direct pressure, whether it's before or within that nine metres of the square - I'm not sure which way it goes. I'm not sure if it's there or isn't there."
Geelong champion Cameron Ling said it was the wrong call.
"You could argue he's not under enough pressure ... you have a bloke closing in behind you, call that a metre and a half away. You're inside the goal square, late in the last quarter (that's pressure)," Ling told Channel Seven.
North Melbourne great Wayne Carey also wasn't happy with the decision.
"We're going to see a lot of those not get paid," he said.
"Mills clearly knew that Picken was there, that's pressure. A tough penalty."
The Mills free was one of 31 free kicks the Bulldogs won on Friday night, whereas the Swans were awarded 18. The 13-free discrepancy was one greater than last year's grand final differential, which was plus-12 in the Bulldogs' favour.
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