There may be a hidden advantage for the Eagles and Dockers as the AFL restarts

Australia Health World

The AFL season finally has a restart date in a year that will look like no other for football.

After months of speculation, expectation and confusion, Australia will take another step down the road to emerging from the coronavirus pandemic with games to resume on June 11.

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But that normality will be limited in Western Australia, with West Coast and Fremantle relocating to the Gold Coast for the first rounds of the resumed season.

The two sides will endure their biggest-ever road trips, playing away from home for at least a month before returning to Perth.

With the actual fixtures to be released over the coming weeks, it remains unclear if games played in Queensland will count as home or away matches.

Rory Lobb comes under pressure from Tom Barrass as he tries to mark the football.

Rory Lobb comes under pressure from Tom Barrass as he tries to mark the football.

Fremantle’s Rory Lobb comes under pressure from West Coast’s Tom Barrass in a pre-season match.(AAP: Gary Day)

WA Premier Mark McGowan has repeatedly accused the AFL of disadvantaging WA’s two sides, including by taking a swipe at an apparent unwillingness from Victorian clubs to move to Perth as part of a hub arrangement.

“It appears to me the Victorian clubs aren’t willing to leave their comfort zone and come over here and hub in WA, yet they expect our teams to go over there,” he said.

“I think some of these Melbourne teams that just aren’t willing to put themselves out or do anything remotely difficult … is causing the problem.”

The hidden advantage of an east coast hub

But there could be an advantage to the Eagles and Dockers being located on the east coast for an extended period of time.

The obvious one is a dramatic reduction in travel.

Dockers player Michael Walters gets away from Eagles opponent Elliot Yeo while carrying the ball during a pre-season game.

Dockers player Michael Walters gets away from Eagles opponent Elliot Yeo while carrying the ball during a pre-season game.

Michael Walters gets away from Elliot Yeo during the AFL pre-season match between the Eagles and the Dockers.(AAP: Gary Day)

At least the first four matches will all be played in Queensland, meaning travel will be no more demanding than a bus ride to Brisbane.

If the clubs remain in the east longer and have to play matches in Victoria or New South Wales, most of their flights will be no longer than about two hours.

Considering a flight from Perth to Melbourne is three and a half hours, that difference is considerable.

But any apparent advantage has to be tempered by factors such as unfamiliar surroundings, strange living arrangements and different equipment, as well as playing at less familiar grounds.

Jessie Hogan celebrates kicking a goal at Perth Stadium

Jessie Hogan celebrates kicking a goal at Perth Stadium

Fremantle’s Jesse Hogan celebrates after kicking a goal during Round 13 last year.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

The second advantage — and this is one that has been widely considered — is that both WA clubs, along with South Australia’s clubs, could end the regular season with a run of home games.

Last year, Richmond played its final seven games at the MCG thanks to a quirk in the fixtures, which saw the Tigers face other Melbourne sides which also use that ground as their home.

The advantage for the WA sides would even be greater because every visiting side would be required to travel.

Whether this eventuates remains to be seen, but the Perth clubs remain hopeful of at least some football at home.

No planning beyond ‘three to four weeks’

West Coast is keeping a fairly tight timeframe around its plans for the season — not least because interstate travel bans in Western Australia show no sign of easing any time soon.

“Hopefully there will be some change in direction from the Government at some point, but obviously we need to work within the guidelines, and with the Western Australian health and the public being the critical factor,” Eagles football manager Craig Vozzo said.

“We are not planning beyond the next three to four weeks, things are changing rapidly in this climate.

Craig Vozzo, wearing glasses and an Eagles hoody stares into the camera in front of a blue wall.

Craig Vozzo, wearing glasses and an Eagles hoody stares into the camera in front of a blue wall.

Craig Vozzo says the Eagles aren’t planning too far ahead.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“Hopefully they continue to change for the better, which means potentially we can fly in and out of Perth and so can other teams.

“We need to be flexible and sensible in the hope that at some stage, in the latter part of the year, we get a reasonable run of home games.”

Problems won’t vanish with return to sport

When West Coast ran out on the ground at Perth Stadium in round one, it had been decided that was to be the last AFL match for at least eight weeks.

Since then, the AFL has slashed salaries, stood down staff and borrowed about $500 million against Docklands Stadium just to survive the shutdown.

The bleak financial situation has been mirrored across the sporting landscape, with A-League clubs standing down players, while the National Basketball League saw star players turn their back on the competition following league-wide salary cuts.

A headshot of Bryce Cotton looking worried.

A headshot of Bryce Cotton looking worried.

Bryce Cotton quit the Perth Wildcats after the NBL imposed pay cuts across the league.(ABC News: James Carmody)

With elite winter sport closing in on a return to play, it is important to note the financial problems will not miraculously disappear.

West Coast chief executive Trevor Nisbett told ABC Grandstand his club would probably not be able to afford a licence for its WAFL team, despite being among the richest clubs in the country.

Clubs could be told to reduce list sizes and cut coaching roles for coming seasons to help the code’s economic recovery.

The enormous salaries paid to the game’s stars could also well be a thing of the past.

The resumption of one of Australia’s favourite winter pastimes will be a welcome step towards emerging from the coronavirus pandemic — just don’t expect it to be the same as it was.

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