Gillon McLachlan
Gillon McLachlan

How the AFL season was saved in an hour

It took just one meeting and one hour for Queensland to save the AFL season.

As AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan urged Queenslanders to share in the history of Saturday night's Gabba grand final - even without the Brisbane Lions playing - he also revealed the extraordinary moment Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saved the competition from the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking exclusively to The Courier-Mail, McLachlan admitted the season sat "on the edge of the abyss" as the pandemic ravaged AFL heartland in Melbourne, before an inspirational conversation with Ms Palaszczuk in early July.

"It was looking more and more apparent that we needed to get out of Melbourne and South Australia had closed to us and other states were closing, the whole season looked in real trouble," he said.

 

AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan says Queensland saved the competition’s season when it was plunged into crisis by coronavirus. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
AFL Chief Executive Gillon McLachlan says Queensland saved the competition’s season when it was plunged into crisis by coronavirus. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

"I rang (Queensland Tourism Minister) Kate Jones and she called in the Premier and she was just decisive.

"She said she was on-board and she wanted to announce it in the next hour.

"I didn't even have a chance to contact the clubs, it happened that fast.

"She really made a commitment to us and without that, I'm not sure we would even be here (in grand final week)."

In the months since, the AFL has pumped an estimated $70 million into the Queensland economy, taking over entire hotels and resorts, booking more than 100,000 room nights at a time when the state's tourism industry was on its knees.

Brisbane's loss to Geelong on Saturday outrated the ­Panthers versus Rabbitohs match, with the AFL preliminary final drawing 165,000, compared with the NRL match 151,000.

While the exit of the Lions has ­deflated the excitement around Brisbane, McLachlan urged Queenslanders to embrace the occasion as "the biggest-ever sporting event in Queensland".

"It would have been an amazing build-up with Brisbane in it, but the grand final is the biggest event in Australia," he said.

"This one is even more special - the first one outside of Melbourne, the first-ever night grand final.

"It's a chance for Queenslanders to see how passionate our people are about our biggest game."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the AFL would be played in Queensland before some of the clubs even knew. Picture: NCA NewWire / Dan Peled
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the AFL would be played in Queensland before some of the clubs even knew. Picture: NCA NewWire / Dan Peled

He said officials were resigned to the Gabba's capacity remaining at 30,000 for the decider, despite the low coronavirus case numbers.

Tickets will be available to Richmond and Geelong club members on Monday, with any unused allocations to go on sale to the public in the coming days.

About 4000 of Richmond's 100,000 members live in Queensland.

Members based in SA, WA, the NT or ACT would also be eligible to skip quarantine measures to attend the game.

McLachlan suggested Queenslanders pick a team to invest in.

Retiring Geelong legend Gary Ablett Jr was a long-time Gold Coast resident and captain of the Suns, as was Richmond's Tom Lynch.


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