OPINION

'This will be one of the greatest premierships ever won in AFL': But will it?

Fans celebrate Richmond Tigers' AFL Grand Final win last September. Will this year's premiership be tainted by the changes forced on teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Fans celebrate Richmond Tigers' AFL Grand Final win last September. Will this year's premiership be tainted by the changes forced on teams because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Step by tiny step, an AFL season aborted after just one round inches back towards a resumption.

We have an official date for a restart, June 11.

To that end, news stories about this or that injured player's chances of proving their fitness for round two have emerged.

Senior coaches are resuming their weekly media conferences.

All of which is making the beast which is the AFL industry these days just a little easier to feed than has been the case for the past couple of months.

In fact, one of those coach's news conferences on Monday produced an eminently quotable line.

But it wasn't the first time it had been uttered during the last eight matchless weeks.

And it's doubtful it will be the last, either.

Reigning premiership coach, Richmond's Damien Hardwick, asked about the challenges this unique season will present, had little hesitation in answering: "This will be one of the greatest premierships ever won in AFL."

That is already becoming a bit of a refrain. The cynic in me wonders whether clubs have been encouraged to get that message out there, not only to players they're trying to motivate as they pick up the tools again, but indeed to an entire AFL supporter base which, like all of us, has been pondering just how seriously we can take this season.

It's certainly a big call. Is it true?

Well, without dismissing whatever sort of season we end up with as a waste of time or even worthy of an asterisk, I'm not sure the hyperbole stacks up.

Implicit in that claim is that not all premierships are equal. And that on its own I can understand.

There are seasons when the heavyweight teams of the recent past may be in decline, other clubs succumb to a plague of injuries, the twists and turns of fate play a bigger role, and a flag may be "pinched".

There are others when great teams are at their very best, the depth at the top of the ladder is plentiful, and when winning a premiership may mean overcoming not just one but several highly credentialled opponents when the stakes are highest.

Hardwick refers more to the logistical and structural hurdles which will have to be overcome this year than the quality of the competition as such.

But you'd be donning the rose-coloured glasses to think the first factor isn't going to impinge significantly on the second in 2020.

There are degrees of disadvantage, of course, inherent in the AFL structure even in normal seasons, largely to do with the travel factor in such a large country and home ground and home state games.

But they have increased significantly with the demand that the two teams from both South Australia and Western Australia will have to be at least initially housed on the Gold Coast, playing games ordinarily scheduled at home far away.

Then there's the temporary elimination of second tier competitions for players not picked in the senior 22.

That impacts on all clubs, but surely harder on those with less experienced lists, not just robbing youngsters of serious competitive hit-outs and slowing down their development, but also working against senior players returning from injury.

Already, it's looking like this will be a particularly bad year for a club to have a poor run in the medical room.

It's not a good year to be a team based outside Victoria.

And it's not a good year to have a major influx of talent still becoming familiar with each other (eg. St Kilda) or to be attempting to overhaul a game plan (eg. Essendon or Fremantle).

So there are at least 10 clubs arguably starting from further behind scratch than usual even before adding those for whom injuries become a significant concern.

Call me simplistic, but doesn't that actually decrease the factor of difficulty for the favourites rather than make it harder?

And even if the logistics remain complex, unfamiliar and changeable, aren't they the same issues with which every club will be dealing?

If everyone is struggling similarly, the bar will be set significantly lower compared to other years in more normal circumstances. And someone still has to win.

Indeed, in 2020, it could well be the least-compromised rather than the best of the best as such.

None of which is to argue, by the way, that the 2020 flag should be disregarded.

I'm feeling a lot more comfortable about its status now we can be reasonably confident the schedule will look at least reasonably similar to normal, and that we'll have a premier decided at least by the end of October rather than the unthinkable late December timeframe which initially seemed a distinct possibility.

Perhaps there are plenty of footy fans out there for whom there will seem barely a difference.

And perhaps there are plenty, also, who might be more sceptical than me, or given the events of recent times, finding it hard to muster much enthusiasm for a mere game.

The AFL has to be prepared for that possibility and for the smaller TV audiences that implies, in the same way it is bracing itself for life as a smaller, leaner and less ambitious outfit even when the health concerns are over and we're left with longer-lasting economic problems.

In this climate, you have to make do with what you've got.

And if there really is a contrivance to the "one of the greatest premierships" line, it's hyperbole we can probably do without.

This story 'This will be one of the greatest premierships ever won in AFL': Really? first appeared on The Canberra Times.