THE SIGHT of football being played in empty stadiums was eerie and underlined the value of the game's fans as the AFL pushed on to launch the season in round one. 

A star midfielder took his game to a new level and also features in the next instalment of's countdown of the year's biggest stories, while a free agency standoff makes the list from 10-6. 

2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 50-41 here
2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 40-31 here
2020'S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook's 30-21 here
2020’S BIGGEST STORIES COUNTDOWN Check out Nathan Schmook’s 20-11 here

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10. Victorian clubs forced into hubs with no return date 

As round five approached its close and the AFL prepared to release its next batch of games, it became clear that Victorian clubs would need to relocate for the season to continue. It was a major milestone in the season and arguably its most chaotic point, impacting the lives of hundreds of players, coaches and staff, and their families. They flew out to Queensland, NSW and WA, playing games in one hub and then relocating to the next, often sharing planes with rival teams. Property stewards and operations managers became the most important people at the clubs and were later lauded on best and fairest nights for their logistical feats. Victorian clubs left back in July expecting to be away for up to five weeks. Using premier Richmond as an example, that extended to more than 100 days by the time it won the 2020 premiership.

9. Cameron on the move despite Giants' free agency match 

Greater Western Sydney forced Geelong to trade when they matched the Cats' monster offer for gun free agent Jeremy Cameron in October. It was the first matched bid in the nine-year history of free agency and it was designed to get a maximum return for the player who had led the Giants' goalkicking for that same duration. Cameron made it clear through his management that he had no intention of returning to GWS, but the Giants matched Geelong's reported $900,000 a season offer regardless and were rewarded for their risk with an improved suite of picks in return. Instead of a compensation pick at No.11, the Giants received three first-round selections (No.13, No.15 and No.20) as part of the deal. The Cats, meanwhile, received the star forward who could catapult them from runners-up in 2020 to premiers. His talent and Geelong's positioning for a 2021 flag tilt made Cameron's move the most significant of the 2020 Trade Period.

8. Lachie Neale's awards sweep 

Brisbane midfielder Lachie Neale elevated himself to be the best player in the competition in 2020, taking every challenge in his stride to produce a dominant individual season. While some players struggled with hub life and others found the shortened matches didn't suit their game styles, Neale just got better. On Brownlow Medal night, he polled 31 votes from 17 games (at an historic 1.82 votes a game) to win by 10 votes, the equal-biggest lead since the 3-2-1 format was introduced. He added the Brownlow to his AFL Players' Association MVP and AFL Coaches' Association Player of the Year awards, was named All-Australian and won the Lions' best and fairest. The 27-year-old had more disposals than any player (26.9 a game) and ranked No.4 for contested possessions (12.5) and No.6 for clearances (5.4). The challenge now for Neale will be to hold his place at the top of the game as matches return to full length and with shutdown players focusing their attention on the gun ball-winner. 

17:16 Mins
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'I didn't think I'd get drafted' : Neale's rise to the top

Brisbane star Lachie Neale is crowned the 2020 Brownlow winner

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7. Rhyce Shaw stands down after difficult initiation 

A brilliant assistant coach with a gift for developing young players, Rhyce Shaw embarked on his first season as a senior coach in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. After a 2-0 start, he would lead the Kangaroos to only one more win before departing at the end of the season for personal reasons. The cracks were visible in a downcast press conference in August and Shaw was granted indefinite leave from the club post-season. Six days later it was announced he was parting ways with the Kangaroos. Shaw's brother Heath said the coach didn't receive enough support in the Queensland hub and CEO Ben Amarfio later admitted the club could have done more. Shaw was overwhelmed with messages of support after his departure and said his passion for football remains, although he will not be coaching in 2021. The Kangaroos appointed David Noble as his replacement, opting for the Brisbane football manager's broad experience at a time when the club is embarking on an extensive rebuild. 

Rhyce Shaw left the Kangaroos for personal reasons in October. Picture: AFL Photos

6. Round one goes ahead in empty stadiums 

Less than 24 hours before Richmond and Carlton were due to launch the 2020 season on Thursday, March 19, it was finally confirmed that round one would go ahead. Gillon McLachlan made the announcement the night before round one after phone hook-ups across the football industry and with government representatives and chief medical officers. Amid growing concerns around the spread of COVID-19, the players wanted to play and club CEOs gave the green light too. "Tonight, our industry is unified in making a decision to start," McLachlan declared. Mass gatherings of more than 100 people were banned, so matches proceeded without crowds, with the Tigers and Blues clashing at an eerily quiet MCG. The launch of a new AFL season is usually cause for excitement and a return to the rituals we love. But in 2020 it was a desperately needed distraction. 

08:45 Mins
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Gill: round one is on

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announces round one will proceed as scheduled

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