As it prepares to navigate another season that will likely be impacted by COVID, the AFL will continue to be wary of the impact placing its Victorian clubs in bubbles appears to have had on its coaching fraternity and their families.
There are countless reasons why marriages survive or fail and none but those involved know how critical being separated from each other for long periods of 2020 had on the relationships of Nathan Buckley, Damien Hardwick and a third AFL coach news.com.au has chosen not to name.
But as news of the painful separations continue to emerge, the numbers are getting hard to ignore.
If you throw in North Melbourne’s Rhyce Shaw, who was forced to leave a coveted senior coaching position at the end of the season to deal with personal issues of his own, four of the 10 coaches of Victorian clubs had their lives left in a state of upheaval last year.
It was the coaches and players of the Melbourne clubs, forced out of Victoria as it suffered the worst of the pandemic, that were placed under the greatest strain. All of the interstate clubs were stretched too but their periods of separation from their families were interspersed with regular periods at home.
The 2020 quartet join a disturbing list of senior AFL coaches to have suffered personal issues while trying to deal with the incredible pressure that comes with being a senior coach.
It’s a trend that saw long-time Hawthorn mentor Alastair Clarkson speak out after Shaw stepped down at the Kangaroos.
“I’m a bit concerned for our profession,” Clarkson told Fox Footy’s AFL 360. “Especially my 17 peers in the roles that we’ve got.
“We’ve always looked after everyone else in the club and put everyone else in the club before ourselves. It might be time for us to take stock ourselves of just what our workflow is and our schedule because it’s now getting to a point where we’re seeing some real casualties out of our industry.”
There’s no doubt the AFL prevented significant personal hardship by forging on with its season and ensuring as many in the industry as possible continued to earn a wage.
It also did everything within its power to make the revised season as comfortable as possible for all involved by inviting families that were able were to come to the isolation hubs in Queensland.
You could argue no one was forced to be involved either. But there is unspoken pressure in football and many working environments to continue to front up despite – as Collingwood player Travis Varcoe revealed last week – many hating the experience.
It’s all worth considering if COVID comes knocking again this season.