ANDREW Demetriou has admitted that the AFL has made mistakes and had to take some blame for the troubled birth of Greater Western Sydney, saying that several issues in the club's establishment should have been handled differently.
Accepting responsibility for some of the club's problems, the AFL chief executive said the competition's 18th club would struggle to retain its list of gun young footballers unless it could offer them better facilities than other clubs.
The league chief strongly defended the decision to fixture the undermanned Giants in Saturday night's stand-alone Sydney derby at ANZ Stadium and said he hoped last year's sacking of the club's first CEO Dale Holmes had not affected their friendship.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou. Photo: Pat Scala
AFL mistakes included:
■A failure to secure a permanent training base for the team.
■The ongoing lack of football experience and expertise on the GWS board.
■Taking too long to appoint a financial controller to the Giants' executive team.
With GWS working overtime and battling injuries to key players for Saturday night, Demetriou said: ''If we had our time again we would have done things differently.
''It was very important that this club had somewhere to train in the summer. There was a list of new recruits and it's very important to retain them so not only should we have provided comparative facilities to the rest of the competition, we should have provided better facilities.
''Breakfast Point is a good starting point and a great home base for the club's young players. Blacktown's training facility has been good for first-up headquarters, but the ground wasn't available over the summer and there was too much travel.
''That's not a good thing to be telling young guys when you're trying to retain them. Particularly when it's a group of the best young footballers in the country.''
Demetriou described the establishment of GWS as ''a massive challenge'' and the code's expansion as the No. 1 priority for 2012, a priority that will cost the AFL $220 million. ''It's not going to be an easy year,'' he said, ''and we could see a let-down with the Gold Coast after a pretty successful start in 2011.''
Predicting a crowd of 35,000 on Saturday night, Demetriou said it was wrong to suggest the round-one clash would hurt the season-opening round and that it was important to give the new club some clear space whatever Saturday night's result.
The game was fixtured in part to take some attention from rugby league, including the scheduling of tonight's AFL launch at the Sydney Town Hall, which will include a tribute to Jim Stynes.
Demetriou said the fact the GWS board still had no football director was a crucial problem. He said the club and the AFL had approached several candidates without success.
''With hindsight, we see the director of football as a very important appointment,'' the AFL boss said, ''and it's very important that a person is appointed soon. We've seen that at the Gold Coast with Malcolm Blight, who has been a terrific asset.''
Several candidates, from Leigh Matthews to Danny Frawley, had been approached, but all have refused the position, which is being filled by Gus Seebeck.
Demetriou conceded that the club's executive had also been undermanned. ''We should have put a chief financial controller in earlier,'' he said. We have done so now, but for most of last year that was being done between the club CEO and ourselves.''
Demetriou denied the AFL had failed the new club in operational terms, saying both he and several other executives had spent significant time ''on the ground'' at the club last year as it struggled with the bureaucracy involved with setting up its infrastructure. ''By building two new football clubs the AFL has a better understanding of how difficult it is in club land,'' he said.
In October last year, Holmes, the Giants' first chief executive and Demetriou's friend and former North Melbourne teammate, left after struggling with several off-field issues insetting up the club. Demetriou revealed he had attended the meeting at which Holmes was sacked.
''I still regard Dale as a friend,'' he said. ''My view was that this was entirely a board decision. I was there when the decision was conveyed to Dale but [Giants' chairman] Tony Shepherd spoke to Dale and explained the decision. Hopefully Dale doesn't hold a grudge. I certainly don't.
''We sent in a lot of our people to assist Dale. The chief executive position was a difficult challenge and not having worked at an AFL club like [Gold Coast CEO] Travis Auld had was hard for Dale.
''That is not to say he was responsible for some very important achievements.''