Finally AFL Commission is about to get a fresh football voice

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Andrew Ireland, the former Magpie who was a pioneer for Australian rules football in Queensland and New South Wales, looks set to play a new and pivotal role in shaping the game by joining the AFL Commission.

Ireland has emerged as the unbackable favourite to join Richard Goyder’s board with an announcement expected in the coming weeks as outgoing CEO Gillon McLachlan is replaced by his deputy Andrew Dillon.

Experienced football figure Andrew Ireland.Credit: Eddie Jim

The move comes after Goyder pledged to fill at least one commission vacancy with a director boasting elite playing experience, experience the commission has not boasted since West Coast and Sydney premiership player Jason Ball stepped down in early 2021.

The pressure on chairman Goyder to add football expertise to his commission has mounted over this season after Dillon was appointed CEO-elect in May, also leaving the game without a full-time head of football.

Ireland, with his four decades’ wealth of club experience, is seen as a fitting appointment accompanying Laura Kane’s ascendancy into the top football job. Kane’s impressive rise through the ranks sees her at 33 as the youngest football boss in AFL history.

The commission move is expected to be the first in something of a shake-up at the AFL’s board level. The ongoing tenure of Professor Helen Milroy, the game’s first Indigenous commissioner, remains unclear and two more commissioners, Andrew Newbold and Gabrielle Trainor, complete their current terms before the 2024 season.

Ireland is the deputy chairman of the Australian Sports Commission and has remained on the Sydney Swans board after 17 full-time years at the club, first as the general manager of football and then chief executive. The Swans won their first two Sydney flags during the Ireland era and became the template for succession planning at presidential, executive and coaching levels. He handed over the CEO reins to then football boss Tom Harley in 2019.

Previously Ireland, who played pivotal roles in Collingwood’s string of heartbreaking grand final losses between 1977 and 1981, was a pioneer for Australian rules football in Queensland throughout the 1980s and became CEO of the Brisbane Bears in 1990, overseeing the Brisbane Lions’ first premiership in 2001.

For the first time since the presidents took a stand against West Australian commissioner Terry O’Connor in 2001, the clubs are threatening to force further change at board level, although the prospective appointment of the widely respected Ireland is expected to be well received.

He was one of a series of candidates canvassed by a group including Goyder, fellow commissioner Simone Wilkie and presidents Andrew Wellington (Brisbane), Andrew Pridham (Sydney) and Kylie Watson-Wheeler (Western Bulldogs). Fremantle’s outgoing chairman Dale Alcock and Port Adelaide’s David Koch were also part of the commission nominations committee.

Another commission candidate Leigh Matthews recently removed himself from the process while Patrick Dangerfield, who was approached by McLachlan, chose not to pursue a role while playing, a decision supported by the presidents. Former Fremantle and GWS footballer Matt De Boer has also impressed as a future commission candidate.

It has also emerged that the 18 club presidents, who called a special meeting late last month because of their concerns surrounding concussion, have called a second gathering independently of the AFL on the eve of the September 25 Brownlow Medal count.

Looking to legally indemnify themselves and their clubs against potential concussion claims and keen to join forces to seek and collectively fund independent legal advice the presidents had become frustrated with the AFL’s response to their concerns.

The clubs have told Goyder they plan to hold independent gatherings before all future meetings with the AFL hierarchy. Three club presidents who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue confirmed that at least one president had put forward Port Adelaide’s Koch as an alternate chairman.

Former Richmond president Peggy O’Neal has also been mooted by another president as a possible replacement for Goyder, who has also came under fire for his handling of the lengthy McLachlan-Dillon handover. A commissioner since 2011, Goyder is also chairman of Qantas and Woodside Energy.

However, removing Goyder appears less likely given that there has already been a significant series of leadership changes at executive level and the fact that the presidents voted him in for a new term in March this year.

Goyder was absent from the launch of the 2023 finals series at the MCG over this weekend because of his son’s wedding in Western Australia.

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