AN AFL investigation into whether North Melbourne sent a concussed Lachie Hansen back onto the field has entered its second week despite denials from club officials and players.
The Age understands that Hansen's teammate Drew Petrie was summoned by AFL investigator Brett Clothier to head office on the eve of the Kangaroos' clash with Collingwood last Saturday to clarify an earlier media interview in which he claimed that Hansen had been throwing up during half-time of the North-Essendon game in round 20.
Hansen, who was interviewed by Clothier last Thursday, was reportedly unconscious after hitting the ground face-first following a head clash with Nathan Lovett-Murray. He returned to kick two goals in North's match-winning final quarter, which the club completed with 19 men available.
AFL football operations boss Adrian Anderson confirmed late yesterday that the investigation into the incident was ongoing. "We take very seriously the issue of concussion," said Anderson, whose medical officers have over the past two years intensified their regulations on the treatment of players following head clashes. "We haven't reach a conclusion at this stage.
"As a matter of course we follow up incidents concerning injured players following a round of games and in each one you look at the facts surrounding the incident. We have followed up several this year and in those previous occasions the investigation led to the conclusion that the guidelines had been followed.
"Clubs are prohibited from playing an unfit player and there are sanctions in place should that occur." The financial sanction should North be found guilty is understood to be set at $20,000.
While Anderson would not give details of the interview process he denied the investigation had been sparked as a result of the Petrie interview on ABC radio eight days ago, and replayed on Fox Footy last week.
North has since denied Petrie's claims that Hansen was vomiting but could not explain why Petrie had his story wrong. It is not known whether Petrie revised his version of events when interviewed by the AFL.
Clothier has also spoken with North Melbourne doctor Andy McMahon, the former Melbourne Storm team doctor, and football boss Donald McDonald, who said he would not comment to The Age while the investigation was ongoing.
But it is understood the Kangaroos are concerned they could be the victims of a subtle AFL backlash following some tension over the past month between coach Brad Scott and Anderson. The club was concerned at the move to interview Petrie at AFL headquarters after training late on Friday after he had already spoken with Clothier the previous day.
The club has told Clothier that Hansen returned to the field of play before Leigh Adams was substituted from the ground after injuring his left shoulder and also before Daniel Wells limped from the ground with a damaged calf muscle. But commentators on the day expressed surprise at the return of Hansen - who turned 24 last week - after he had appeared to lose consciousness and was then led into the rooms. He also played in North's big victory over Collingwood last Saturday night.
Anderson, AFL medical head Hugh Seward and AFL Players' Association boss Matt Finnis have all agreed in the recent past that it was best practice to leave the issue of concussion testing to the clubs themselves.
The Sunday Age reported two days ago that the new education program on concussion would be presented to footballers by retired and current AFL players who had suffered from the ill-effects of concussion.
The program would encourage players to be more honest with club doctors when those incidents occurred.