AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has emerged from the tense pay dispute with the players convinced the new deal will ensure all 18 clubs will survive the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.
Despite the unedifying nature of the week-long stand-off, McLachlan and AFLPA boss Paul Marsh agree that the league and its 850 players will be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to re-launch the season when the time comes.
With the league bracing for a loss of revenue that could be as much as $1 billion, roughly 80 per cent of AFL and club staff were this week stood down without pay.
The players copped stinging criticism for attempting to soften their own financial blow before settling on the new arrangement late on Friday.
Under the terms of the deal, players have agreed to a 50 per cent pay cut until the end of May and are prepared for games until December to ensure the season is completed.
That pay cut will increase to 70 per cent if the season is delayed beyond May 31, but will revert to 50 per cent when games recommence.
The AFL is still hoping to have a 17-round campaign, with finals, this year following the season being postponed after just one round.
Most importantly, the financial meltdown that threatened the existence of some clubs has been averted.
“I know that we go into this hiatus with 18 clubs, we’ll come out with 18 clubs and we will have an industry to go forward with,” McLachlan told Fox Footy on Saturday.
“I’m absolutely confident.
“We might look a bit different but the core structures will be the same.
“We’re just going to get through some pain here and come out the other side.”
So much remains uncertain as the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, with the league to take its cues from the federal government and medical experts when deciding when and if the season can recommence.
“What I do know is that we’ll be ready (in a practical sense) because we’ll have a unified playing group, unified clubs and a unified industry,” McLachlan said of the return of premiership games.
That position seemed a long way off early in the week when the players were widely criticised, notably by AFL legend Leigh Matthews, for initially offering to take a 50 per cent pay cut for two months.
With jobs being slashed across the country, Matthews told 3AW that he had lost respect for the players.
“(Leigh’s) as respected a person in the game as there is, so I rang him to understand his perspective,” the AFLPA’s Marsh told Fox Footy.
“His view is that in a time of crisis we should’ve just done what the AFL told us to do.
“I respectfully disagree with that but what we did do is work through this over a period of five days to get to a point where we’ve now got a position that the AFL agrees with.
“I’d like to think that he’d respect where we’ve got to.”