CLUBS are beginning to recall list managers and recruiting staff to work as the AFL season resumption nears.
But there is a push for more scouts to be brought back into the fold with a 'competitive advantage' up for grabs.
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Recruiters and list managers were one of the game's hardest hit sectors by the sudden COVID-19 shutdown of the game, with the majority stood down in March.
It has left many battling with uncertainty as the AFL prepares for a cut to football department spending, with some clubs believing details on proposed financial changes for 2021 could come next week.
However, with AFL games set to resume in under three weeks, clubs across the competition have started to get the influential figures back on deck on varying hours as they prepare for a helter-skelter second half of the year.
Only two list managers are understood to be in their respective clubs' 25-person maximum group with access to the players, with Sam Power (Western Bulldogs) and James Gallagher (St Kilda) taking on other duties within the football department.
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Power, who has a legal background, is handling the Dogs' COVID-19 compliance protocols, while Gallagher, who played 38 games for the Crows, is having a more hands-on role with the players.
Carlton's Nick Austin, who was appointed in January, is working remotely, while Fremantle's David Walls, who is based in Melbourne, has also resumed in the role.
Gold Coast's list manager Craig Cameron and recruiting manager Kall Burns were redeployed into welfare roles during the game's shutdown but have stepped back into their primary positions, while football managers Jason McCartney (Greater Western Sydney) and Graham Wright (Hawthorn) control their clubs' list management so have retained those duties while juggling a multitude of issues.
Richmond list manager Blair Hartley also worked through the shutdown in a beefed up football department role, while Essendon's Adrian Dodoro has continued in his senior list management position.
The AFL's return to play date of June 11 will also signify the point many clubs reinstate their list managers, with a priority placed on watching the elite level ahead of what shapes as an unprecedented trade and free agency period.
North Melbourne's Scott Clayton and Glenn Luff, Sydney's Kinnear Beatson, Melbourne's Tim Lamb and Port Adelaide's Jason Cripps are expected to be back as the AFL season is rebooted, while Geelong is also anticipating a return for experienced list boss Stephen Wells soon.
Adelaide is expected to scale up its list management and recruiting staff in coming weeks with the club holding a strong draft hand this year with four picks in the first two rounds, while Brisbane, Collingwood and West Coast are also working through plans for their teams.
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Although there has been a freeze placed on new contracts by the AFL, list managers have been keeping in contact with player managers throughout the shutdown period, with some deals believed to be ready to be lodged when they are permitted.
While list managers generally focus on the 'pro-scouting' of other AFL talents and the retention of their own players, a lack of clarity over the return of under-18 games and state league competitions means there is less certainty for recruiting managers and fellow scouts who focus on the NAB AFL Draft.
Recruiters are hopeful that with schools systems in Western Australia and South Australia targeting respective returns in June, and the APS league in Victoria aiming to run a season in term three, clubs will reappoint more scouts to assess this year's draft crop. Leading draftees may also feature in the restarted SANFL and WAFL competitions, while it is hoped plans for the NAB League become clear by the end of June.
Many of the recruiters' returns to work are said to hinge on the scheduling of games. Richmond has brought back some full-time recruiting staff on reduced hours, while Hawthorn's recruiting manager Mark McKenzie is also set to get back to work with the club next month.
While many stood down staffers have spent some of their time digging into coded vision and keeping busy, clubs believe there is an opportunity to get ahead during this period by returning to work and getting a strong handle on the 2020 draft class, particularly given it is unclear when they will get back on the field.
Clubs are currently banned from interviewing prospects, with some calling for that to be lifted soon so prospects aren't overwhelmed with club discussions while many return to in-class learning at school.
There remains a hope for a condensed under-18 championships to be held later in the year ahead of a national draft potentially in December or January, although the AFL has not placed any guarantees on holding a national carnival.