Carlton defender Chris Yarran collected Paul Chapman with a left jab seconds after thinking the Essendon veteran had tried to headbutt him.
The AFL tribunal handed Yarran a three-match ban for the solid punch, thrown in the early minutes of Saturday’s match at the MCG.
The blow left Chapman with a cut above the right eye that needed stitches and gave him blurred vision.
But he is expected to play in Saturday’s Anzac Day blockbuster against Collingwood.
Yarran will miss Saturday’s game in Wellington against St Kilda, followed by matches against Collingwood and Brisbane.
It is another blow for Carlton who are in big trouble at 0-3.
While the Blues were hoping the backman would only miss two games, they will accept the penalty.
The incident was deemed serious enough for direct referral to the tribunal, giving Yarran no option of taking an early plea.
It was the first time the panel has sat this season.
Yarran predictably pleaded guilty, but his counsel Marcus Clarke argued there were compelling and exceptional circumstances leading up to the striking incident.
Vision of the lead-up to Yarran’s punch showed Chapman first pushing him and then grappling between the pair.
That’s when Yarran said he felt contact to his chin.
“I actually thought he was trying to headbutt me – that’s when I got a bit agitated,” he said.
Yarran later conceded it might not have been a direct headbutt.
But he added that Chapman also made solid contact with an elbow to the ribs.
“I thought I’d give a bit back – I didn’t want to be pushed around,” he said.
After Yarran’s evidence, Chapman also spoke to the tribunal on a telephone link and emphatically denied trying to headbutt the Blues backman.
“There was no headbutt thrown by me – if there was head contact, it was unintentional,” the Bombers hard nut said.
“It escalated pretty quickly – you don’t expect a punch to the head.”
Tribunal advocate Jeff Gleeson QC argued for a four to five-week ban.
“Mr Yarran is balanced and squared so he could deliver the blow with some force,” Gleeson said of the punch.
But Clarke successfully compared this incident to Ty Vickery’s four-match suspension last season.
The Richmond player’s roundhouse that took out West Coast opponent Dean Cox was also sent directly to the tribunal, with no option of an early plea.
Clarke noted that the Vickery incident was severe, but Yarran’s contact was deemed to be the lesser level of high.
Yarran said during the hearing and afterwards that he was sorry for the incident.
“I accept the tribunal’s sanction – it wasn’t my intention to hurt Paul, who I respect enormously,” he said.