The start of round one is just two days away, and at Freo, today is a players’ day off. With everything that’s going on at the moment, the advice to all AFL players is to isolate ourselves and minimise as much risk as possible.

That means reducing contact with almost everyone. As a result, our training base has been moved to Optus Stadium for the next two days before we hope to fly out for round one, and our contact with people in the club outside of teammates has restricted to essential football department personnel.

To be honest, my head is still spinning. The measures that are in place now seem to be the new normal but it’s been a hectic last four or five days.

These measures first came in place on Thursday and since then, the seriousness of the message from the club and AFL has been consistently ramping up.

I was at Uni on Thursday and so missed the club’s initial meeting about the coronavirus. I got a call from the club in between tutes with an update on what the meeting was about.

The advice then was to avoid large gatherings and to even to start to rethink uni attendance, if it was not compulsory.

I joked to a friend that this might be the last time I’m ever at uni. This is my last semester in my finance degree, but at the time, I didn’t really think it could be true.

Then Saturday came around. We had a meeting before training where the severity of the measures ramped up. An interrupted season began to seem like the reality, rather than a small chance.

After training I made the call to my girlfriend Julia and told her that based on current advice, I may not see her for potentially a few weeks as we went into isolation as a club.

She has to live her life and she’s just started a new job in the city and has to catch public transport into work.

The concern was that any interactions with people or potentially contaminated surfaces would cancel out my self-isolation. It would be a risk for the whole club.

Bailey with partner Julia

Some boys with partners have asked their partners to make the sacrifice to self-isolate with them, which means working from home and not having physical interactions with people.

It’s not the easiest thing for them to do and everyone is in slightly different situations but with Julia’s new job, continuing to see her was not an option.

Things are changing incredibly quickly, but at the time of writing this there still hasn’t been a person-to-person community transmission in WA. Yet these are the measures in place.

It all seemed a bit overboard when I first heard about it. But the rationale from the club, and the AFL, was to minimise risk as much as possible in the best interest of the game and all the stakeholders involved - the players, the fans, broadcasters, clubs, state league comps, anyone who works in footy.

Left: Banfield and Sam Sturt celebrate a goal in the Marsh Series. Right: Banfield's housemates Sturt and Tobe Watson relax on lockdown.

Everyone in the football community will be affected by a club shutdown, and that could start with just one player getting sick.

Local footy and state league footy will need support if they have to cancel their seasons or suspend them for a period of time, something that the AFL might not be able to provide if it’s struggling to stand on its own two feet.

The AFL is a big business, but Fyfey described it as being like a river. The water is the money, it flows into the river and it flows out. There’s no massive hoards of money being stored up on the side. If that money stops flowing, the river can run dry.

These extreme measures aren’t obligatory. We are being asked by the club and AFL to go to these lengths to try and minimise the impact of coronavirus on our season and also to ensure that when - or if - games do go ahead we are putting ourselves and each other at the minimum risk possible by playing.

I wouldn’t say I’m happy with sitting at home being isolated from the people I love and doing nothing on a day off, but with what is at stake, I think it is a small price to pay. It’s also something many people around the world are going through right now. 

As I write this, it looks like the season is going ahead.

We had an AFLPA conference call last night discussing the current state of the situation and also heard from a medical expert about the potential risks of playing and travelling.

I am firmly in the boat of wanting to play. For all the reasons and implications to the game if we don’t, and also because I just want to play footy. 

We’ve been through a massive pre-season, we’ve got a new coach and had a chance to implement our new game style in the Marsh Community Series but I want the opportunity to test myself, our style of play and the connection that our team is building in the heat of Round 1.

There’s nothing like running out with 21 other blokes knowing the hard work you’ve put in to get to this point, and knowing the hard work you’re about to put in together over the next two hours.

The roaring crowd makes it that much better but even without that, we definitely know that we’ve got the support of everyone at home.

If we play, we know that you will be cheering us on through your screens and we will try to play just as hard as if you were at the ground with us.

We’re also feeling for the AFLW girls right now. They're undefeated at the moment and their season is now up in the air. They're just as uncertain as us about how their season will play out.

They had a separate meeting with the PA just after us last night and I'm sure they discussed similar topics to us.

Who knows what the rest of their season will look like? They deserve the chance to play finals and potentially for a flag after doing so incredibly well up to now.

The advice from the AFL’s medical advisor was that there is no greater risk in playing than there is in potentially contracting it from your social life, and maybe less so if everyone is going to these measures.

The AFL have organised travel so that we are minimising every risk possible so I am confident that we aren’t taking unnecessary or unreasonable risks in travelling or playing.

My feel from the conference call was that many players were in a similar boat to me regarding playing.

If we can get as many games in as possible before a shutdown and before the risk of playing becomes too high, it could have a massive impact on how interrupted the season ends up being.

The game isn’t bigger than our society, or more important, and at the end of the day it is a game.

There’s a lot going on right now in Australia and the world. Loved ones are sick, small businesses are struggling and people are going through tough times.

But there’s a lot of people with their livelihoods tied to AFL and there’s plenty of fans out there stuck at home that want to watch some footy!

If the experts say the risk is too high, or that it would be irresponsible to play, we won’t play, simple as that.

But in discussion with the Freo boys, we want to get the season started and hopefully get some wins on the board early.

It is going to be an interrupted season, and one with challenges that are unprecedented, but I think as an industry and club we are well placed to deal with them.

04:25 Mins
Published on

'The boys are helping each other through' | Conca

Reece Conca provides an update to the fans on how the playing group is operating amidst the COVID-19 crisis - and a look ahead to a possible Round 1 start this weekend.

Published on