GANMAIN-Grong Grong-Matong forward James Lawton will be free to play next year.
Lawton will only be deregistered until May 23 next year after a successful appeal at AFL House on Monday night.
Former AFL operations manager Adrian Anderson represented Lawton and GGGM teammate Adam Cullen at the hearing.
The three-man independent panel found Lawton and Cullen guilty but deregistered them until May 23, 2017, under the code of conduct instead of issuing suspensions.
The penalty will not add to Lawton’s 15-game suspension total, so he will be free to play from about round four next year, pending the 2017 draw.
GGGM president Kent Steward was pleased to get the outcome the club was after.
“We’re happy we got a fair hearing and we accept the decision,” Steward said.
“The main reason behind the appeal was that they got it wrong so we made sure we appealed to get the right result.
“The club’s happy, the boys are happy, it cost a few dollars to do, but at least we got a fair hearing.”
The hiring of Anderson was a masterstroke from GGGM.
Anderson, who resigned from the AFL at the end of 2012, knows the rules of the game like few others.
During his time with the AFL, he undertook a major review of the AFL Tribunal and implemented major reforms.
Anderson had little to say after Monday night’s ‘victory’.
“I don’t really want to comment other than to say that I felt the club got a fair hearing,” Anderson told The Daily Advertiser.
“It was a good process and we have accepted the outcome.”
Monday night’s hearing overturns the original five-game suspension for Lawton, and six-game ban for Cullen handed down by AFL Riverina’s Code of Conduct Committee last month.
Lawton and Cullen were suspended at the first hearing for their roles, striking a spectator, in the quarter time brawl at Ganmain Sportsground, in the Riverina League game between GGGM and Leeton-Whitton.
The Lions accepted all the penalties handed to the club, Jed Lawton and John Lawton but appealed the suspensions of players, James Lawton and Cullen, on the grounds procedural fairness was denied.
GGGM wanted Anderson to represent the club at the initial Code of Conduct Committee hearing but the request was denied by the chairperson.
The chairperson of Monday night’s hearing allowed legal representation.
Both hearings were closed to the media.
Lawton’s initial five-game suspension took him past the 16-game suspension limit and had him deregistered under AFL’s national Deregistration Policy.
Now, after Monday night’s hearing, he will remain on 15 games suspension and be deregistered until May 23.
The availability of Lawton, at age 25, and arguably the best player in the Riverina, is a huge result for the Lions.
Lawton told The Daily Advertiser last month how much the game meant to he and his young family.
“Football is my whole life. I wouldn’t be where I am, or the person I am, without it,” Lawton said.
“I would definitely be a lot worse off.”