Carlton great Brendan Fevola has led the criticism of the AFL’s decision to cut the final two rounds of the women’s competition amid the coronavirus crisis.
The AFL announced on Wednesday night that the men’s competition will start on schedule this Thursday with reigning premiers Richmond to host Carlton at the MCG.
‘POOR DECISION’: AFL fans divided over massive season announcement
However the AFLW's final two rounds have been axed with the competition to enter an eight-team finals series this weekend.
It follows a marathon meeting at AFL House on Wednesday, with league boss Gillon McLachlan confirming men's and women's games would proceed amid the pandemic.
With 14 sides in this year's competition - including newcomers Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast - a six-team, three-week finals series was introduced for the AFLW's fourth season.
But the AFL announced late on Wednesday that four teams from the two conferences will qualify for the post-season.
North Melbourne finish top of Conference A while undefeated Fremantle claim Conference B after the first six of the eight planned rounds.
GWS Giants, Brisbane and the Suns will join the Kangaroos from Conference A, while Carlton, Melbourne and Collingwood are also through.
It was a rollercoaster ride for Magpies players, with The Age reporting they were in tears watching McLachlan's announcement believing they would miss the finals.
Collingwood AFLW players sat in tears in their club rooms watching the press conference which ended their season.— Daniel Cherny 📰 (@DanielCherny) March 18, 2020
Miscommunication from AFL, it will be an eight team finals series pic.twitter.com/ozPtyP5E5B— Daniel Cherny 📰 (@DanielCherny) March 18, 2020
Many were upset that the final two rounds had been cut, denying a number of teams a chance to fight for a finals push.
“How can the AFL play and the AFLW be brought to a halt and wipe the final two rounds?” Fevola wrote on Twitter.
“If one plays the other plays — absolutely ridiculous and unfair for the teams fighting for a finals spot that are now finished, season over.”
Journalist Erin Delahunty agreed, tweeting: “It’s almost as if the AFL doesn’t actually give a flying suitcase about the women’s game”.
How can the @AFL play and the @aflwomens be brought to a Halt and wipe the final 2 rounds?? If one plays the other plays absolutely ridiculous and unfair for the teams fighting for a finals spot that are now finished season over 🤦♂️— Brendan Fevola (@BrendanFevola25) March 18, 2020
It's almost as if the AFL doesn't actually give a flying suitcase about the women's game. Surely not!?! https://t.co/nss44iICRH— Erin Delahunty (@della79) March 18, 2020
aflw players sacrifice so much to be there to have the end of their season taken away from them is atrocious— andie (@anndeejam) March 18, 2020
But men’s gone ahead???? Makes no sense!!!!— David (@AFLNow) March 18, 2020
However, former AFLW player Meg Hutchins attempted to put the furore into context.
“I know there are a lot of AFLW players and supporters out there that are heartbroken and angry — but please please please put it into perspective,” Hutchins tweeted.
”There are people out there losing their jobs, their homes, and worse — their lives.”
I know there are a lot of #AFLW players and supporters out there that are heartbroken and angry - but please please please put it into perspective.... there are people out there losing their jobs, their homes, and worse - their lives.... 😢🙁— Meg Hutchins (@hutchy_25) March 18, 2020
Not ideal, but 🤷🏼♀️#COVID19au
Veteran reporter Richard Hinds didn’t have much sympathy.
“Our seasons have ended in heartbreak due to miracle goals, slow boundary umpires, incredible comebacks, historic behinds, unfeasible collapses, balding Tigers, sight-impaired goal umpires and ... coronavirus,” Hinds tweeted.
“Sorry. Get used to it ladies.”
Our seasons have ended in heartbreak due to miracle goals, slow boundary umpires, incredible comebacks, historic behinds, unfeasible collapses, balding Tigers, sight impaired goal umpires and...coronavirus. Sorry. Get used to it ladies.#AFLW https://t.co/3kRGBxJ6GF— Richard Hinds (@rdhinds) March 18, 2020
Seasons to proceed behind closed doors
“We would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to all 14 clubs and players in our competition, who have worked incredibly hard across the season,” AFL women's boss Nicole Livingstone said.
“They should be extremely proud of what they have achieved.
“We look forward to the next three weeks of finals, and wish all eight teams the best of luck.”
All games will continue to be played behind closed doors due to the federal government's initiatives to contain the spread of coronavirus.
After Adelaide won the 2019 grand final against Carlton in front of a record 53,034 fans, this year's premiership will be decided without spectators.
Full details, including match-ups, venues and times, will be released on Thursday.