Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell told The Age the AFL had been “excellent in the planning they’ve put around the competition” to deal with the “enormous challenge” of this season.
But Campbell said there was also a need for “flexibility and reasonableness [to be] applied, based on the particular circumstances a club may find themselves in because of COVID and the unique challenges of a year”.
The Bombers do not believe the weights session conducted by McKenna and his fellow defenders will lead to forced 14-day quarantine periods for those players.
But several of McKenna’s teammates could still have to isolate for two weeks if the DHHS find they were in close contact with the Irishman in last Friday’s main training session or at team meetings.
The AFL’s memo to clubs, which placed limitations on contact training, also said “provided a club has 24 players to select a team from, the match will go ahead”.
“It is probable that in the event of a confirmed case, the entire small group of nine will need to be isolated for 14 days. Therefore, we advise clubs to consider the make-up [of] these small groups strategically and not have all your best defenders or forwards with one group,” the memo read.
It added that the “quality of players isolated due [to] a confirmed case will not be taken into consideration in determining whether to postpone any game”.
Club officials remain mystified as to how McKenna could have contracted coronavirus, but admit the defender did attend an open house last week for a rental property.
All Essendon players and staff were tested for COVID-19 at Marvel Stadium late on Monday afternoon and the club expects the results to be given to them by Tuesday morning.
Both the club and DHHS are tracing back through McKenna’s steps last week, with Essendon providing health authorities with not only training vision but also with what the AFL said was comprehensive documentation of his movements.
It was originally thought that Friday’s gym session would automatically be met with 14-day quarantine periods for the seven teammates in McKenna’s group.
The Age reported on Sunday that Mason Redman, Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker, Adam Saad, Jordan Ridley, Matt Guelfi and Marty Gleeson – most of whom, like McKenna, are defenders – formed part of his group.
But The Age has since been told by senior club officials that the weights session shouldn’t be an issue for players potentially contracting COVID-19. According to Essendon, all eight players were socially distanced, wiped gym equipment in between sets and were careful not to complete exercises that would require a teammate to spot them, such as weighted squats or the bench press.
But those seven players, plus anyone else involved in Friday’s session, could still be forced to quarantine by health authorities if they are found to have come in close contact.
Close contact in the COVID era is defined as being face to face with someone for more than 15 minutes or sharing a closed space for two hours.
On Monday morning, Campbell was hopeful his team would not be forced to play against Carlton on Saturday if several players were ruled out due to quarantine.
“I’d expect common sense would [prevail],” Campbell told Triple M radio.
“When I say common sense, when the league worked through this … they created flexibility in the fixture to allow for this exact situation, where we can stretch out the season, where we could have potential breaks.”
Campbell said if there was a minimal loss of players, the Bombers’ preference was to play Carlton this week.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
Sam McClure is a sport reporter for The Age and winner of ‘best news reporter’ at the AFL Media Association awards.