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AFL coaches on the run

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Coaches fear the AFL is determined to ram through changes to restrict the use of runners in games this year and offered only lip service to the coaches' views on the matter.

The concern arose after 16 of the 18 AFL coaches met AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and footy boss Steve Hocking on Wednesday before the official season launch. 

Many of the coaches were frustrated and disappointed the issue they consider the most important to be addressed by the AFL before the season was the last item on the agenda and given little time for discussion.

The AFL trialled a restriction on the number of times runners can enter the field of play during games during the JLT community series. In the JLT games runners could only enter the ground after a goal had been scored and during breaks in play.

The AFL had said a restriction would be likely for the home-and-away season and coaches were keen to give feedback before a final decision was made. Little time remained for discussion at the end of the meeting when the issue was raised.

Coaches were initially told at the end of the meeting that a memo would be sent to clubs yesterday afternoon confirming the rules for this year. That left coaches disillusioned that a decision had already been made and even their limited feedback would be ignored.

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The AFL later changed the timing of the memo to coaches, which is now expected to be sent out by the end of the week.

Several coaches don't see the need for restrictions and fear they could disadvantage their teams if introduced.

At least two clubs had suggested to the AFL that if restrictions were to be introduced the number of opportunities for runners to enter the field should be extended.

Games with fewer goals kicked - such as those played in wet weather - obviously provide fewer chances for feedback and directions for players.

Coaches concerned about the change think it may lead to blowouts in games as instructions from runners can help players halt the momentum of opposition clubs while other clubs believe there are times when players need guidance on the ground to reset themselves.

There is concern that new coaches and coaches of young teams need access to their players more often during games than seasoned coaches with already well-drilled game plans or those with experienced teams.

Clubs have trialled sending out messages via players but some have found that players find it difficult to pass on specific instructions to teammates when they are focused on their own job on the ground. It was also difficult to ask younger players to tell senior players what to do in the heat of a game.

Several coaches said they would be forced to coach from the bench to be able to communicate more with their players. The AFL replied that the broadcasters would be happy with that move.

No coach spoke up in the meeting in favour of reducing access to the runner in games.

Some coaches believing restricting access to a runner is an over-reaction to a minor problem. They believe it is more effective to punish the runners who often stay on the ground too long or trying to fill space in a zone by issuing a red card to ban them from the ground for a period of time.

The coaches were understood to be more favourable towards the AFL's proposed super panel which Fairfax Media revealed last week with coaches believing they would have representation on that panel.

Runners were first introduced in 1955 when trainers were allowed to pass on instructions to players during the game.

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