Former Essendon and Geelong coach Mark Thompson has been handed the honour of presenting the Jock McHale Medal to this year's premiership-winning coach on AFL grand final day. The AFL announced on Monday that former Carlton and West Coast champion Chris Judd will present the Norm Smith Medal, while former Sydney Swans captain Josh Kennedy is this year's premiership cup ambassador.
But it was the appointment of Thompson that raised eyebrows considering his troubled past. The three-time premiership player with Essendon and dual flag-winning coach of Geelong, was convicted for drug possession in 2019.
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He was fined $3000 and ordered to undergo rehabilitation, while a drug trafficking charge against him was dismissed. Thompson was also fined $30,000 for his part in the Bombers' infamous supplements scandal in 2012.
The 59-year-old has worked to rebuild his life after leaving the AFL fold following a stint coaching Essendon in 2014. He will now present the McHale Medal to the premiership-winning coach on stage after the grand final at the MCG on September 30.
"In our game, I think people make mistakes and I think we have an ability to actually welcome people back and continue to celebrate their place and their role in the game," outgoing AFL chief executive McLachlan said on Monday. "That is certainly where Mark is. He was a great player and a significant coach, and I'm really pleased that he's going to be presenting the (medal) to the premiership coach. I hope it's significant for Mark and I think it's significant for the game."
Thompson was announced as this year's McHale Medal presenter at the official AFL finals launch on Monday. "Mark has a long list of accolades in his career as a player and then as a coach ... we are really thrilled that Mark has accepted our offer," McLachlan said.
— Jamal_The_CricketUmpire (@Jamal_UmpireWA) September 4, 2023
Judd presenting it to Nicky D 🔥
— Tom (@TMELOMAGPIES) September 4, 2023
— Rasputin Quince (@QuinceRasputin) September 4, 2023
Great move by the AFL to bring Bomber Thompson back publicly into the fold through the medal presentation. Always be deeply grateful for what he did for the Cats. @rohan_connolly
— Iain Ferguson (@IainFergo) September 4, 2023
The AFL also confirmed that American rock band KISS will headline the grand final pre-game entertainment show. McLachlan said the evenness of the competition throughout 2023 meant one of the teams in the bottom half of the eight could wind up winning the flag.
That feat has only happened once under the current finals system, which was introduced in 2000. The Western Bulldogs claimed their drought-breaking flag from seventh spot in 2016.
"Whether that's possible, I think, is the story of the finals," McLachlan said. "We've got a great final eight that came down to the wire and I'm very confident that the footy will deliver on the home-and-away promise.
"The best team generally wins and the great players come to the fore ... and I reckon we've got eight teams whose supporters are going to feel confident they can go deep into September."
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McLachlan also expressed his confidence in the league's ARC system after a recent goal review howler saw the Adelaide Crows miss out on a top-eight berth. The AFL has since added an extra supervisor to work in the ARC throughout the finals series.
"It was a mistake that had brutal consequences but we've reviewed every part of that," McLachlan said. "It was a set of circumstances that are hard to mitigate against.
"We've made a change for the finals where there will be two score reviewers in the ARC with a very definitive mandate for one of them to stop (the game) if there's any risk. I feel it's in good shape."
The goal umpire at the centre of the Adelaide-Sydney controversy was stood down for round 24. "Whatever (shape) the accountability took, I don't think the goal umpire was going to be in a position to be umpiring regardless," McLachlan said.
"People expect support and he has had endless support - I spoke to him and he's had people treating him - but I think people also expect accountability. That's what it is. You can support an individual and hold accountabilities, and I'm very confident in all that as well."
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