AFL under fresh fire as Craig McRae and Damien Hardwick call out 'unfair' farce

The introduction of the Opening Round in the AFL has reignited the debate.

Collingwood coach Craig McRae and Gold Coast coach Damien Hardwick have taken a dig at the AFL for the fixtures not being 'fair' as the new 'Opening Round' has changed the equation for clubs in 2024. This year the AFL introduced an 'Opening Round' where eight teams took to the field a week early in New South Wales or Queensland.

However, these eight teams were granted a second bye as part of starting early. The change to the schedule has now reignited the argument around the AFL fixture list with teams outside of Melbourne needing to undertake extra interstate travel throughout the season.

Collingwood coach Craig McRae (pictured right) and Gold Coast coach Damien Hardwick (pictured left) have taken a dig at the AFL fixtures for not being 'fair'. (Getty Images)
Collingwood coach Craig McRae (pictured right) and Gold Coast coach Damien Hardwick (pictured left) have taken a dig at the AFL fixtures for not being 'fair'. (Getty Images)

The Magpies will play 14 games at the MCG this year, but five are considered away games. This still limits their travel. Fremantle and West Coast play 12 games each at Optus Stadium. The Swans will play 11 games at the SCG this year. And Collingwood coach McRae has admitted certain teams do benefit from playing less away fixtures throughout the season, which limits their travel.

“There’s no way that you could look at the draw and say it’s fair anywhere,” McRae said on Fox Sports' AFL 360 on Monday night. “Everyone understands it, it’s just (about) which bit (advantages you). That’s reality, isn’t it? We play more games at the MCG than anyone else. Is that fair? Clearly not. And then how much West Coast and Fremantle have to travel and the others. There’s no way it’s fair.”

Craig McRae speaks to the players.
Craig McRae (pictured) has called out the AFL fixture list.

Damien Hardwick admits shock at Gold Coast travel

The Swans had a bye heading into their win over the Gold Coast last weekend. Hardwick was asked if this helped them leading into the match. Hardwick joined the panel on the show and was honest when he played it straight over his team's loss to the Swans. Although he did point to the bye as a great round to work on training.

"What you can do is you can get some coaching in...that's the thing...within training, at the moment, you probably only get an hour to two hours to train the players," he added. "A lot of it is doing it on tape. By having the bye it does enable you to have a couple of extra sessions in to train a little bit harder." McRae agreed with the break the bye afford you, it allows more training.

Hardwick did take a light-hearted dig at the fixture list, having since joined an interstate club from Richmond, over the toll it takes week-in and week-out. “It is what it is,” Hardwick said. "We know the draw is going to be compromised ... look, trust me, coming from Victoria up to Gold Coast — all of a sudden, I’ve realised where the airport is. From that point of view, there are some benefits. Frequent flyer points are going up," he said in a light-hearted dig at the schedule.


McRae added that it all 'balances out' throughout the season. “But we all understand it is what it is. We’ve never (had a bye this early) ... but it all balances out. There’s unfairness, but we all have to do with what it is," he added.

The Swans did bounce back to their early season form on the weekend in front of 35,649-strong crowd having smashed the Suns at home. "We just gave them the ball back, that was the reality," Suns coach Hardwick said. "We tried to hit kicks that weren't in our repertoire, and we just gave them easy goals."