The MCG's opening game between Richmond and Carlton may be impacted by the Sheffield Shield final
This will be the shortest turnaround in recent times
TEAMS that play at the MCG in round one could possibly be running out on grass shorter than the ideal length for football should Victoria host the Sheffield Shield final the week before.
Arena staff are facing a window of as little as 48 hours to transform the MCG from a cricket ground to a football oval if the Bushrangers – as expected – host the final beginning on March 22.
The Bushrangers are currently on top with two matches remaining – one against the sixth-placed New South Wales, starting on March 7, and the other against the fifth-placed Tasmania on March 14.
There is a strong possibility the final will run to five days, given the home side only needs a draw to win the Shield, meaning it will end on March 26.
The MCG's first football match of the year is two days later on the night of March 28 between Carlton and Richmond.
The grass will continue to be cut until the end of the final and it is expected to take between seven and 10 days for it to return to optimal AFL length, given normal weather patterns.
However, the AFL is unconcerned about the possibility of this occurring.
"Our view is that the MCG is a world class stadium and they'll be able to turn it into a football stadium in time for round one," AFL spokesperson Patrick Keane said.
The AFLPA has been concerned since October about the prospect of a two-day break between the shield final and the season opener.
While it has been assured the ground will be ready, it believes the only long-term solution is Cricket Victoria having access to a first-class cricket venue at the Junction Oval.
The short turnaround between cricket and football seasons at the MCG has been a concern for several years and will continue to remain an issue until a second showpiece cricket ground is established in Melbourne.
There are plans for a redevelopment that would transform the Junction Oval into a 7000-seat boutique cricket stadium capable of hosting first-class matches, but the Victorian government has yet to provide its share of the funding.
It is believed the AFL will also be asked to make a contribution in exchange for gaining access to the MCG up to one month earlier each season.
Meanwhile, the MCC are planning to host the final and will start removing seven of the 10 portable pitches on the night of March 11; the day after the Victoria-New South Wales clash ends.
"Although there are only two days between the final and the first football game, we won't be leaving everything until the last minute," MCC communications manager Shane Brown told AFL.com.au.
"We'll be doing what we can to make it easier for us.
"There is a lot involved in getting the ground ready."
Portable pitch removal includes the MCC getting a permit from VicRoads to close Brunton Avenue overnight to allow access for equipment to move them back to their winter home in Yarra Park.
Three or four pitches can be moved in one night, which will give the arena staff enough time to shift the remaining pitches if the Bushrangers host the final and play to five days.
Sight screens will also have to be removed, lines painted, goal posts installed and the dressing rooms converted from cricket to football, leaving staff with an interesting challenge.
Each pitch weighs 30 tonnes, with the machine required to move it weighing the same.
"This will be the shortest turnaround in recent times," Brown said.
"We've known for many months, the fixture, and the possibilities of this happening.
"They're ready and in place if it happens. We're backing the Vics to make the final and we are preparing that way.
"I think it will be great. It will show off our versatility to host a cricket final and three footy matches [in 11 days]. Anybody who uses the ground won't know any different.
"It's a good challenge."