The AFL may be moving past the idea of regional hubs to restart the 2020 season, but at least one coach believes there’ll be big changes for the game going forward.
Federal sports minister Richard Colbeck says the AFL season will be able to resume without quarantine hubs if COVID-19 cases continue to decline.
The season was put on hold in March after just one round and now looks set to resume by the end of June.
The AFL’s hubs scenario has not been received well by players, who have baulked at the prospect of up to 20 weeks locked away from loved ones.
But Mr Colbeck has given the best indication yet that games will recommence in a more traditional home-and-away format.
“Things have changed a little bit since the early days of the discussions of the hubs. We’ve almost moved past that model now,” he told SEN.
“If we continue the trajectory we’re on and maintain the discipline that we have as a community I think that is quite conceivable (games will be played without hubs).
You saw Queensland last week make a very quick decision to allow (NRL) teams to come in under a structured method of transport.”
It comes as Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley says international recruiting programs will be one of the casualties of AFL cost-cutting measures.
American ruck-forward Mason Cox has been a success story under Buckley’s watch, playing 59 games for the Magpies, who have also dabbled with Irish recruits.
Current rookie-listed pair Mark Keane and Anton Tohill are following in the footsteps of countryman Marty Clarke, who retired at the end of 2014.
But Buckley tipped reduced football department spending amid dire financial circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic could spell the end of international recruiting for the foreseeable future.
Expected reductions in AFL playing-list sizes will reduce clubs’ willingness to take chances on project players, while the Category B rookie system and Next Generation Academy programs could also be in the gun.
“Appreciate your international players because it’s probably going to be a lot harder for them to get into the top level and a lot harder for us to find them than it may have been in previous decades,” Buckley told fans in a live chat through Collingwood’s social media channels.
“We spent a bit of money to do that and maybe the industry may not be able to afford it because we have to look after first things first, but that’s yet to be seen.”
Cox has stayed in Melbourne during the AFL shutdown period while Keane and Tohill returned to their home country.
Buckley said the Magpies were working with AFL and government officials to get the Irish pair back to Melbourne ahead of a possible return to training this month.
“Getting the boys back from Ireland is a logistical challenge at the moment,” Buckley said.
Most clubs are calling players back from interstate breaks in readiness for a possible season restart.
Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon said his club had stressed to its players to make their way back to Melbourne.
“There’s certainly, across the industry, the suggestion that we should get organised,” Gordon told SEN Breakfast on Monday.
“That’s true for the Bulldogs’ interstate players as much as anyone else’s.”
Brisbane and Gold Coast have told their players to head back to Queensland after the state government last Friday eased COVID-19 restrictions.
North Melbourne’s interstate contingent will return to Victoria this week and Hawthorn have called back their relatively small group.
Carlton is set to deliver instructions to their playing group on Monday.
West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide face possible disadvantages because of Western Australia and South Australia’s tighter interstate travel controls, with concerns that returning players might have to spend 14 days in quarantine.
As clubs eagerly await an official restart date, Gordon backed the AFL’s decision to limit all clubs to training in groups of two for the time being.
It follows consternation from some clubs based outside Victoria, including Port Adelaide’s Tom Rockliff accusing the AFL of bias toward the Victorian clubs.
The two WA clubs had been hopeful of training in larger groups after the state government last week lifted the local limit on outdoor gatherings to 10 people.
Clubs in South Australia and Queensland are operating under similar local rulings.
But the AFL stepped in to ensure the 10 Victorian clubs were not disadvantaged by different restrictions in different states.
Clubs are hopeful that further easing of government restrictions could allow them all to train in groups of six to 10 players next week.