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In Defence Of Gillon McLachlan

Gillon McLachlan is under pressure. Serious pressure.

Or at least, some would have you believe he is. The spinning web of the media and its claims of unrest from within the AFL and succession plans being designed, in this Mongrel’s opinion, are complete folly.  The demise of Ol’ Gil has been greatly exaggerated.

Gillon McLachlan is a smooth operator. You don’t become the CEO of the biggest sport in the most sporting country in the world by being a slouch. He is proven administrator and despite the media continuously ramming fact that he has come from a wealthy family down our throats, he has a better understanding of the common person than most of his predecessors.

It’s true that Gillon comes “from money”. He plays Polo (he’s even a national selector), takes luxurious trips away, he had the benefits of a private school education. He has enjoyed the advantages. However, he has also worked hard to prove himself. He completed two bachelor’s degrees (with Honours for his law degree from Melbourne Uni). Ask any university graduate about the difficulty of completing that task. Of course, there will be grandstanders amongst the respondents, but outside of their false bravado, that is no easy feat.

Gillon has done a mountain of work to reach the peak of his AFL career. He oversaw the introduction of the GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns in a very hands-on role, he negotiated the now vaunted $1.25 Billion TV Rights deal, he handled the Melbourne Tanking Saga and the Essendon Supplements Saga - two of the biggest scandals to have ever rocked our great game. It has not exactly been “calm waters” to navigate. We know he wasn’t alone in those fights. He had some fairly powerful men alongside him in Andrew Demetriou and Mike Fitzpatrick, however it can’t be understated the amount of “coal-face” experience Ol’ Gil has.

Unlike most AFL CEO’s he started off in local football. He played over 200 games in the VAFA, captained the club, served on the committee (including as President). He knows what local footy looks like. He has been there. The cold June and July nights around a small table, debating the key issues of social functions, volunteer roles on game days, the halftime lunch. By this time of year, most clubs are beginning to look to secure their coaches and players for next year, already.

But McLachlan has been under a lot of fire recently for some things that he can’t really control.

Firstly, the thought police were out in force. In what can only be described as a homage to George Orwell himself, the AFL did the best Big Brother impersonation I can remember since the CIA was busted for domestic espionage. Gil was slammed for not recognising the issue sooner. Then he was slammed for not doing more.

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Let’s be clear for some people. The AFL does not run Marvel Stadium themselves. They hire a management group. And although their relationship would be close, the AFL cannot simply “Just tell them to ditch the vests and leave the fans alone”.

The CEO was slammed on Monday this week by the Herald Sun for the fact on holiday, celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday, while the whole saga went down. He even had the audacity to do a regular interview, that he does on a consistent basis, while over there. It was described as a secret getaway during the football season, leaving our game utterly leaderless and in a quandary with the fans (Someone think of the Children!).

God forbid the AFL CEO has a friend having a life milestone that conflicts with what is likely to be the quietest time of year for him, outside of the five days of the Boxing Day Test. The AFL is a 12-month-a-year business. If you’re stuck in the stone ages thinking that no one in the AFL should have any holidays between March and September, have I got news for you…

If you’re in the AFL media, the busiest times for you are between September to November, and February to April (not the other months). The draft, free agency and trade period now rule the media landscape, outside of the obvious finals series which will always hold sway, but that is mostly for the fans of competing clubs. The off-season offers something for every fan and is therefore much more valuable to the media, because everyone is interested, especially with the increasing amounts of trades taking place each year and players being more accepting of their time in the game being a career and not a gift. They have worked bloody hard to make the cut; they are absolutely entitled to get the greatest benefit to themselves… But back to Ol’ Gil.

It seems there isn’t much blame the AFL media won’t throw at the feet of the leader of our game. Two of his employees caught in relationship with their subordinates and it was Gil’s fault for allowing a poor culture to fester. Fan violence goes up (or is simply more highly reported. Thanks, social media) and McLachlan isn’t doing enough to protect the common fan. An adjustment is made and Ol’ Gil is Big Brother, suddenly stripping away the rights of rusted-on fans, who have enjoyed generations of degrading those who would dare excel at our game, or attempting to facilitate the spectacle as an official. There is no winning.

And sure enough, if he made a wrong step along the way, such as an incorrect answer to a question during a live interview, the knives really came out. The media can sense the slightest scent of blood in the water. It has been said that some journalists in bygone eras have boasted about their power to sack a coach, even boasting “I got him sacked” at sportsmen’s luncheons and the like. Something seems all too familiar about this situation. The situation is a little off and it seems to this Mongrel, that a few in the media (perhaps with attachments to clubs that have been on the end of some of Gil’s investigations) have an axe or two to grind and are hoping to notch an AFL CEO’s head on their belt.

They only have one major issue - the game is actually doing better than it has in years. Revenue is up, attendances are up, TV audiences are up, the AFLW is a raging success despite the nay-sayers and is continuing to expand. The growth of Women’s football has been unprecedented in the local community and can’t be understated how hard McLachlan pushed it to his executive team, and he has been more than proven correct (over and over). The new issue is trying to build/upgrade enough facilities to cater for the huge expanse in teams. The players are paid more than ever. We have scrapped the rules committee for something far more sustainable and representative of the AFL community. Tickets and concessions have not risen in price too greatly.

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A LOT has gone right for the boss. He won’t be stepping down at the end of the year in disgrace as some would wish. In fact, Gillon could see a nice little increase in his pay packet due to his exemplary work. Like it or not, Ol’ Gil is there to ensure the game to continues to make money, and thanks to some of his initiatives and his ability to relate with the common person through his experiences, he continues to fill the AFL’s coffers.

One can only hope that Ol’ Gil has a couple more roles of the dice in him. A team in Tassie perhaps (he’s on the record stating he wants to introduce one), or maybe one in New Zealand? Something tells this writer that the defining moment of his tenure hasn’t arrived yet and that when it does, it’s not going to be some sporadic three-week issue culminating in some fans spitting form the third tier of Marvel Stadium (Why hasn’t anybody thought of the children!!!).

McLachlan’s defining moment is going to be something long-lasting that will reflect the impact he has already had on our great game. And of course, he’ll still have his detractors.

It’s the way of all things.

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Cheers
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