The familiar sounds of boots on leather and whistles blowing returned to Lakeside Oval this week, as the Sydney Swans trained in the shadows of the SCG.

It follows the AFL’s welcome announcement that the season will resume on June 11, with the first 4-6-week block of the fixture to be unveiled in the next week.

Teams are operating under strict protocols through the three-week build up to Round 2, including continued social distancing, regular COVID-19 testing, and limited staff.

Under the AFL’s return to play model, clubs are limited to a total head count of 25 staff in the football department, which includes everyone from the senior coach to doctors, conditioning staff, and IT support.

Sydney Swans GM Football Charlie Gardiner said it’s exciting to be back but there are still plenty of challenges to work through. 

“We’re embarking on a very different operating model on several fronts,” Gardiner said. “Firstly, there are the COVID-19 protocols that we must abide by both at training and away from the club. They’re clearly a necessary step to keep everyone safe, but it does mean doing things a little differently.

“We’re also working through a plan to ensure all players remain match-fit, given there will be no AFL involvement in second-tier competitions. It’s unclear what the season will look like and we need to ensure every player on our list is ready should we need to call on them.”

In addition to the impact on games and training, COVID-19 has significantly shifted the financial environment of the AFL industry. Stand downs, reduced hours and reduced pay are among some of the measures that clubs have adopted to ensure survival.

“Clearly one of the toughest things we’ve had to work through is staffing,” Gardiner said. “The restrictions on staff numbers, combined with the AFL’s reduced soft cap, means we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions.

“We have had to combine roles and look for efficiencies where we can find them to maximise the contribution of every role within the 25 head count. That has also resulted in the stand-down period for 10 full-time football staff being extended, along with the continued stand down of a significant number of our commercial staff, while a large number of part-time and casual staff are not able to be re-engaged.

“The staff members not reinstated include assistant coach Tadhg Kennelly and two other Sydney Swans life members in opposition analyst Stuart Maxfield and NEAFL and Team Swans manager Craig Holden. All have been wonderful servants of the club – we are feeling for them and their families.

“Unfortunately, we do not know what the future holds, as we continue to see the landscape change throughout this crisis. What we do know is the impact of these changes will be felt for some time to come.”