Push by players for extra bye set to fail
Matt Finnis. Photo: Supplied
THE AFL is on a collision course with its players over the push to reintroduce two byes next season - a push that Andrew Demetriou has conceded appears doomed.
The AFL chief executive conceded yesterday it was ''highly unlikely'' an extra week's rest would be available to clubs in 2013 despite growing concern among the playing ranks and the prospect of an increasing trend to rest star players during the season.
''We can't start the season a week early without major stadiums and specifically the MCG being available,'' Demetriou said. ''And we have issues at the other end of the season as well.
''We know how important this is to the players. We heard from the captains on the eve of the season but there are contracts in place we can't change.''
The 18 AFL captains placed the extra week's rest - something they enjoyed in 2011 because of the temporary 17-team competition - as a top order priority when they met the AFL in March.
The AFL had hoped to find an alternative venue for Cricket Victoria to host - if necessary - the Sheffield Shield final but no suitable first-class venue has emerged.
AFL Players Association boss Matt Finnis said footballers remained determined ''something has to give'' in balancing the increasingly heavy physical toll of professional football while maintaining the game's high on-field standard. He said it would be unfortunate if resting players became more prevalent.
''This position hasn't been put to us although we are meeting the AFL this week,'' Finnis said. ''I foresee that the players would be concerned at that position given the importance they place on the initiative as voiced by the captains at the start of the season.
''We'd have to look at what other kinds of measures can be taken to ensure the players maintain their high standards. No one wants to see the best players being rested.''
Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive Stephen Gough said the stadium had some sympathy with the AFL adding: ''History says there's not the demand at the other end of the season where cricket is concerned.''
The AFL executive in charge of fixturing, Gillon McLachlan, said the league had been looking at several ways to appease the players but that solutions were proving difficult. ''We understand the players' issue,'' said McLachlan, ''and we understand one of the biggest concerns of the players is an additional week's rest.''
AFLPA vice-president Matthew Pavlich said on the eve of the season: ''The players have been strong on that - the two byes and the opportunity to have quality games at every juncture, rather than there being some games of football of lesser quality. That can be because there is no second bye or because the game length has increased. That's something the AFL can look at.''
Geelong's success last season was in part attributed to a willingness to rest key players. Only four played as many as 24 of the club's 25 games. Carlton is another club that has shown a willingness to do the same.
Chris Judd said in March: ''That will come more and more into AFL footy, which is probably a bit of a shame. If you have good players resting, that effectively weakens the product.
''I think two byes would be good. I don't think we will have players resting more than two or three games. There is resting because you are really sore and there is resting 'cause you are having a game off.''
Essendon skipper Jobe Watson said: ''I feel now we will probably only play 18 to 20 games rather than the full 22,'' he said. ''That just means the body can't carry that kind of extra condition for a whole season. That is where the players' bodies will start to give, they will be rested more often.''
Had the John Brumby Government remained in power a pre-election promise to redevelop the Junction Oval could have provided a solution for all parties given the AFL's view it cannot launch the season without the MCG being available. The Baillieu government has not yet indicated a willingness to fund a new home for cricket in this state although the AFL is said to have investigated the prospect of a drop-in wicket at - among them - Visy Park.