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All-Star representative game unlikely in 2014

All-Stars concept quashed The AFL doesn't see representative football taking off
AFL Deputy CEO Gill McLachlan addresses the media during an AFL media conference to announce the 2014 fixture, at AFL House on October 31, 2013. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Gillon McLachlan says lack of club support means the mooted pre-season representative game is unlikely to go ahead
A PUSH to play a pre-season All-Star representative game that was backed by the AFL Players Association and considered by the AFL looks set to fail with AFL deputy CEO Gillon McLachlan saying the idea has not gained industry support.

The players had expressed a desire to play representative football and the AFL considered including an All-Star game in the revamped pre-season format, but many clubs had vehemently opposed the idea.

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On Thursday McLachlan admitted such a game was unlikely in 2014.

"We won't do anything unless we have everyone on board, and that's looking increasingly unlikely. That's just the reality of it," McLachlan said.

The AFLPA remains committed to the concept despite the likely knockback. 

Acting CEO, Ian Prendergast said on Thursday, "We understand that there are issues that need to be sorted out before this game can become a reality and that it will only be successful if we have 'buy in' from fans and general support from the AFL clubs. 

"While we are disappointed at not getting this concept up for the 2014 season, we believe that the discussions have been worthwhile."

When a possible format was raised at the CEOs and presidents' meeting in Grand Final week, many clubs expressed opposition to the idea.

Most were concerned about injury and there was also cynicism about whether players would want to appear when the game drew closer.

It was proposed that the number of players selected from each club would be limited and the minutes played monitored according to club requests. It was also pointed out that clubs in any case would be playing intra-club matches on that weekend.

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However opposition to the game from some clubs appeared to be growing rather than receding and although the AFLPA remained confident the majority of players wanted to play the game, the AFL was not prepared to schedule a game without industry support.

"I think the players are on board, but again we have this problem with clubs just not buying into it," McLachlan said.  

"And I get that. It's a hugely fierce, competitive contest, our home and away season, now over 25 weeks plus the finals, and it's a war of attrition and it's super-serious, and 30-odd thousand people go to every game. So that's the fans' priority as well."

He said that without industry buy-in, it was doubtful that the public would embrace it.

AFLPA acting CEO Ian Prendergast said the association was committed to getting the game up in coming seasons. 

“We understand that there are issues that need to be sorted out before this game can become a reality and that it will only be successful if we have 'buy in' from fans and general support from the AFL clubs," Prendergast said.

“While we are disappointed at not getting this concept up for the 2014 season, we believe that the discussions have been worthwhile.”

AFL.com.au understands the broadcasters and sponsor NAB are comfortable with the pre-season format that will see 18 games played on 18 consecutive days.

The clubs would be expected to organise their own schedules with AFL approval in the lead-up to round one.

The game was not expected to make a profit, with McLachlan saying the motivation for considering the idea was more to create an occasion.

"In spite of what might be said, there's no money in it for us. It's a cost for us to put it on. There's no television money and there's no great sponsorship windfall.

"It's something that we're putting out there for discussion because our players want it. For we, the AFL, the thought of having the best players playing on the field at the same time, celebrating their greatness, competing against each other and testing themselves, is a great idea."

Although a game next year looks unlikely the debate looks set to be ongoing with Adelaide CEO Steven Trigg saying representative football can't be taken off the agenda completely. He said, however, the result needed to mean something to participants and spectators.

"I think for the game to mean something it needs to be a State of Origin game. I know there is a lot of push back against that … if the competition is supportive of it, it could be something special," Trigg said.

"Historically the resistance to it has been the higher risk to your elite players, [but] if every other player is playing in an intra-club or interclub trial that weekend, you've actually got no greater risk on your players. There's no extra workload, there's no extra risk [and] it's not in a bye-round."

He said that while he understood club and coach resistance to the idea there were times when clubs needed to take a broader view.

"As clubs we need to rise above it and say, 'This is for the good of football to play a representative game'. We are genuinely supportive of the notion of playing a celebratory game of some sort," Trigg said.

McLachlan said that reality was working against the dream.

"But maybe, now, where we are, with the brutal, tribal nature of our competition, maybe it's an idea that we can't get up, because we're not going to do it unless everyone's on board, and it doesn't feel like everyone is."