Quiet start for AFL on eerie night at MCG

Jason Phelan
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AFL TIGERS BLUES

Patrick Cripps leads Carlton on to a barren MCG for the AFL season -opener with Richmond

The Rolling Stones 'Gimme Shelter' blasts out of the PA system, Mick Jagger's iconic voice echoing around the cavernous MCG, as a small group of Richmond players stand in the centre circle taking in the scene.

Welcome to the 2020 AFL premiership season.

A season like no other.

It's a bit over an hour before the first bounce and the place should be abuzz with excitement and anticipation as thousands of fans pour into the ground.

But with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe there won't be 90,000 supporters on hand for the traditional season opener after the federal government banned gatherings of over 500 people.

Jack Riewoldt warms up with a few set shots at goal then wanders over to chat to AFL football boss Steve Hocking.

The smiles are warm but there is no handshake in the time of social distancing.

Outside the ground, the few forlorn Tigers supporters peering through the glass doors are outnumbered by passing joggers.

The Richmond team runs but onto the ground, the club song blares but there is no banner.

The players run toward the Punt Road end where they are met with a large banner covering the seats that reads 'We Are The Tiger Army' instead of the actual Tiger Army.

Skippers Trent Cotchin and Sam Docherty arrive at the centre circle for the coin toss and do shake hands, perhaps out of habit, with Cotchin's win greeted by silence.

Even more surreal is the eerie quiet as Ivan Soldo and Matthew Kreuzer line up opposite each other for the opening bounce.

There is some level of normality restored as the reigning premiers jump out of the blocks against the Blues, but little oddities keep bobbing up.

The sight of the balls being disinfected at quarter-time, the clear sound of the impact from over 100m away when Liam Baker and Riewoldt mug Liam Jones for a free kick that ended in a goal to Kane Lambert.

The balls positioned strategically around the ground for players to pick up instead of chasing errant balls into the stands.

It was an odd night, no doubt, but at least the footy - different as it may be - is back.