Hawthorn key defender Brian Lake has strongly denied sledging Mitch Clark over the Geelong forward’s depression during their Easter Monday AFL clash.
The Hawks contacted their rivals after Geelong captain Joel Selwood raised the allegation on Thursday night’s edition of The Footy Show.
Hawthorn are not revealing the player’s name, but media outlets on Friday afternoon said it was Lake.
“We are of the firm belief that Brian has not said anything in relation to Mitch Clark or to Mitch Clark,” the Herald Sun quoted Lake’s manager Marty Pask as saying.
“That’s plain and simple. That’s where it lies.”
It is a particularly delicate issue for the two clubs, given they play annually for the Beyond Blue Cup.
Former Hawthorn club president Jeff Kennett is chairman of beyondblue, which aims to raise awareness of anxiety and depression.
Kennett said if the allegation is true, he expects a public apology.
But he also stressed that at the moment, nothing had been proved.
Given Kennett’s role at beyondblue, Hawthorn chief executive Stuart Fox has kept him informed of the issue.
When the Hawks contacted Geelong, they were given a name and it is understood the player has denied the allegation vehemently.
“I have said to Stuart … if anything like that was said, I would be terribly disappointed,” Kennett told AAP.
“If it’s found that someone has made those comments, I would expect a public apology.
“But at the moment, we have an accusation – apparently no one else heard it; no one else was there.
“I don’t know where you take it from there.”
Hawthorn said in a club statement on Friday they had reminded their players the club did not condone any sort of on-field vilification.
“We have found it difficult to get clarity on what was said and by whom,” the Hawks said.
“However, both clubs agree that any comments made regarding a person’s mental health issues are completely inappropriate and out of bounds on the footy field.”
Clark has returned to the AFL with Geelong after spending 12 months out of the game because of clinical depression.
Earlier on Friday, AFL football operations manager Mark Evans said the league had not received any complaints from Clark or Geelong.
Geelong host Fremantle on Sunday and Dockers coach Ross Lyon said the sledging allegations were not a focus for his team.
“I saw the headline and I am not interested in the detail. I can’t speak to that,” he said.
“As an opposition coach, we want to minimise his effectiveness as a power forward.
“It’s all hearsay – just because it’s in the media doesn’t make it right or accurate.”