Footy will be back.
Footy will be back.

AFL announces season return plan

AFL-starved fans are unlikely to be served up a feast of footy in an expanded 2021 season after league boss Gillon McLachlan poured cold water on the idea during his season return plan announcement on Thursday.

McLachlan is adamant the league will be able to deliver definitive details around the competition's resumption date in the next two weeks - before the start of May.

Despite an ever-changing landscape amid the coronavirus pandemic, McLachlan on Thursday told reporters the AFL would soon set dates for players to return to training and the next round of matches to be played.

His announcement comes after the NRL walked into a minefield with its decision to announce a return to football on May 28 and a resumption of training on May 4.

"The decision we make will have the support of the relevant government authorities and their medical officers," McLachlan said.

"We're better placed every day to make that decision, I think, as things become clearer and the more we're able to consult with key government and medical partners who have a greater level of data and insight into what's going on."

The AFL campaign is suspended until at least May 31 but McLachlan is confident the shortened 153-match home-and-away season, plus finals, will be completed this year.

That plan involves the AFL squeezing in another 16 rounds of games before a finals series would be played in 2020.

Including the round already played, the season will see the 18 clubs play each other once across a 17-game season.


Gillon is a believer.
Gillon is a believer.

He said the AFL wanted to settle on a return date that would allow it to push through the rest of the season uninterrupted from that point.

"When the exact start date is, I don't have an answer, other than we're committed to being out informing our supporters and the public and others by the end of April," McLachlan said.

The AFL has not settled on the proposed plan of returning to play in quarantine hubs but has conceded matches will resume without fans in the stands.

"It's incumbent upon us to look at every option and that ranges from playing the way we have historically to various levels of quarantine," McLachlan said.

"We are working with the right people ... to get a considered view about the right way to take us forward."

His commitment to a shortened season kills off suggestions for the AFL to consider a radical 28-round season model be adopted for the next three years to help the league and clubs recover from the financially-crippling COVID-19 shutdown.

The plan was first trumpeted by legendary Essendon coach Kevin Sheedy.

"I think it is challenging to think of going beyond 22 rounds ... it might be possible, we'll have a look at it, but instinctively there are some structural challenges to doing that," McLachlan told reporters on Thursday.

McLachlan said there have been no conversations at league headquarters to suggest the 2020 Draft would not go ahead as planned, and suggested there could be a "different configuration" of lists moving forward.

"There's 22 players playing every weekend under a new list size or the current list size. There is the same amount of (players in reserve)," McLachlan said.

"There's not less jobs, it's just a different configuration to put your list together."

- with AAP