The announcement came almost five hours after it was due, but AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan made the right call on the 2020 season, Mark Robinson believes. Picture: AAP
The announcement came almost five hours after it was due, but AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan made the right call on the 2020 season, Mark Robinson believes. Picture: AAP

Robinson: Gill, you got it right on season start

D-Day was Gill-Day on Wednesday and the most confronting decision in AFL history - to play or not to play - got the green light.

It was the right decision.

Others will vehemently disagree.

But as the national coronavirus crisis grows by the day, McLachlan determined the show must go on, a decision that perhaps will define his legacy as chief executive.

It is a momentous and brave decision.

In some ways, it seems unreal.

 

Watch every match of every round of the 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership Season LIVE & On-Demand with KAYO. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

 

Yesterday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a series of wartime type announcements, headlined by the declaration of a human bio security emergency.

Then last night McLachlan said today's match between Carlton and Richmond would be played at the MCG.

No crowd. No food. No touching. Other than the players, who will be bumping, tackling and competing.

It flies in the face of every major sporting code in the world, but the AFL should not be held up as international virus criminals.

Clearly, McLachlan and the AFL Commission did not make this decision over a glass of red and a medium rare steak at Caterina's in Queen St.

The best medical and government advice was sought and dissected.

The danger to the health and safety of the players and their extended families was downplayed by expert advice that transmission of the virus within the game was extremely low.

Yesterday's decision, though, may not be final.

The Blues-Tigers match is scheduled to start at 7.25pm.

But the coronavirus situation is moving so quickly that the match could be cancelled at 10am today.

 

The Tigers unveiled their flag in Round 1, two years ago. Picture: Getty Images
The Tigers unveiled their flag in Round 1, two years ago. Picture: Getty Images

 

As always, McLachlan's leadership has been criticised and praised in equal measure.

Those close to him say he has caught four or five hours of broken sleep a night in the past three weeks as he contemplated the cataclysmic fallout if the 2020 AFL season were not played.

The cost, in the vicinity of $500 million, could bankrupt clubs and the game itself.

McLachlan believes he has the answer in a proposed 17-week season, although his consultation with the players and the clubs could've been better.

Most people loved it. But the players didn't. They wanted a 22-week season. Never mind AFLPA boss Paul Marsh's claims; the players' issue is about money.

It's OK to admit that, because McLachlan's decision yesterday is also absolutely about the money. And lots of it.

McLachlan's job is to keep the code and the clubs alive while facing the greatest threat in the history of the game.

Patrick Cripps will get the chance to strut his stuff on an albeit empty MCG. Picture: AAP
Patrick Cripps will get the chance to strut his stuff on an albeit empty MCG. Picture: AAP

 

He has weighed health and safety concerns against hundreds of millions of dollars in media rights, gate receipts and sponsorships.

The burden of responsibility has taken its toll on McLachlan.

In an interview on Fox Footy's AFL360 on Monday, he looked liked he had just tagged Nathan Fyfe in a football match. He is 47, after all.

One chief executive noted yesterday, after a group hook-up with the boss, McLachlan sounded weather-beaten.

Yesterday, he was up early to be briefed by the federal government ahead of Morrison's press conference and then held the phone hook-up with all 18 club chief executives.

They unanimously told him the season should start this weekend.

He addressed the commission from about 2pm and made the announcement at 7.45pm.

One person close to McLachlan said yesterday the decision whether to play and the immediate future of the game weighed heavily on the boss.

Players — and the AFL — they were desperate for the season to get underway. Picture: AAP
Players — and the AFL — they were desperate for the season to get underway. Picture: AAP

"He has never been more concerned in his life, outside of decisions relating to his family, than he is right now," the friend said.

"He is concerned and consumed by the magnitude of the mountain in front of us.

"Everyone's got their opinion and analysis, but he's thinking about the fans, the players, the coaches and the entire sport."

In the end, the fans wanted them to play, the players wanted to play, the clubs wanted to play and McLachlan and the Commission allowed them to play.



Police launch new operation across regional NSW

Premium Content Police launch new operation across regional NSW

Operation Summer Safe is a high-visibility operation which will be in place for the...

$20 million grant program open for fishing in the Clarence

Premium Content $20 million grant program open for fishing in the Clarence

‘If you’ve got an idea that will support fish habitats and recreational fishing in...

Nominations extended for Clarence Australia Day Awards

Premium Content Nominations extended for Clarence Australia Day Awards

If you want to see one of the Clarence Valley’s unsung heroes get recognised for...