THE AFL has given free rein to clubs to organise scratch matches between themselves from next week – but with a key criterion that will impact the two Sydney clubs most.
Teams will have the option to hold these games as curtain-raisers or curtain-closers to senior fixtures, and they must be played at AFL-approved venues.
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AFL.com.au understands League football operations manager Steve Hocking informed the 18 clubs on Wednesday of the conditions for interclub match practice between rounds two and five.
The motivation behind this was to keep non-selected players engaged, with AFL footballers banned from competing in second-tier leagues, because of the strict medical protocols in place to ward against the COVID-19 outbreak.
The likes of Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley and Gold Coast chief executive Mark Evans are among the prominent figures to advocate for overlooked players to have somewhere to play and impress beyond training.
AFL umpires are not available to officiate these games, and it's believed the teams involved will instead need to allocate staff approved to make contact with players to serve as umpires.
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This also means the footballers involved won't be subject to typical tribunal guidelines and can't be suspended, a policy that will rely on good faith between the competing clubs.
Club officials will need to lodge their game request with the AFL at least one week before the scheduled hitout, and they can only face teams based in the same state.
The Swans and Giants will be forced to play one another repeatedly during that one-month period if they want match practice outside of their own squad.
Gold Coast, Brisbane and the quarantine hub sides – West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide – have already discussed staging scratch matches against one another in Queensland.
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That leaves the 10 Victorian clubs to organise contests between them, with the AFL's preference being that they fall in line with the premiership season fixture where possible.
It's understood the AFL contemplated sending scratch match participants with the selected senior players on chartered flights to interstate games but opted against it for the first block of fixtures.
The length of quarters and number of players on each team can be mutually agreed upon between the two parties on a weekly basis.
This is important, given the likelihood of uneven playing numbers from club to club, because of injuries and other factors.
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In extreme scenarios, clubs could even pool players together with rivals to stage a match in the case of mass injuries or a desire to play a game closer to normal circumstances.
Suspended footballers, such as North Melbourne defender Marley Williams, who isn't eligible to return until round three, can play in these scratch matches.
As with AFL games, the practice matches will be closed to the public.