FIVE BIGGEST TALKING POINTS AHEAD OF THE AFL SEASON RESTART
West Coast and Fremantle will reboot the season in Queensland, spending a minimum of four weeks in a temporary base on the Gold Coast. Adelaide and Port Adelaide will join them from round three, after kick-starting the campaign with a Showdown at home. How long those four clubs will be required to stay in Queensland remains to be seen, with border restrictions in Western Australia and South Australia still preventing clubs from flying in and out of those states for football matches without serving quarantine periods. The AFL has work to do on that front before releasing its next block of fixtures, which it will do after round three.
A shift to cut down on game time saw quarters trimmed from 20 minutes to 16 (plus time-on) in round one. Games were 21 minutes shorter on average across the opening week of the 2020 season compared to last year. The competition’s biggest names spent a greater percentage of time on the ground and while overall scoring was down, goal-kicking accuracy improved. Proponents of the concept in club-land believe shorter quarters led to a more free-flowing game. A lighter workload for players means their recovery time after matches will drop, allowing for greater flexibility in the fixture this season. The AFL insists it is not contemplating retaining the shorter quarters beyond 2020.
There are genuine fears of an injury spike when AFL matches return because of clubs’ relatively short preparations for the season restart after the coronavirus shutdown. It follows an investigation into the injury rate in German soccer, which climbed to more than three times the usual number in the Bundesliga when it returned from its shutdown period last month. AFL clubs will have only a handful of full-contact training sessions before round two and some high-profile players – including Lance Franklin and Adam Treloar – have already suffered soft-tissue injuries.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan is holding out hope of having a capacity crowd at this year’s grand final, but we won’t see any fans in the stands just yet. Instead, we’ll see some clubs using cardboard cut-outs of fans and bigger advertising banners, while broadcasters will experiment with canned crowd noise. The latter has proved successful in the NRL and overseas soccer. The NRL has convinced the NSW government to allow up to 50 people in corporate boxes from this week – in line with the state government’s rules for pubs and clubs – but the AFL is unlikely to have spectators at matches before July.
There is no doubt this year’s premiership come with some sort of asterisk. But the debate is about whether that is because the 2020 flag is worth less than usual or merely because this will be a season like no other. Either way, it’s going to be incredibly tough to win the premiership in these circumstances, with a range of unprecedented hurdles to overcome. Most coaches and players who have spoken publicly about the topic are united in the belief this year’s flag will mean as much as ever.