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After 24 years, AFL launch party comes to town

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AFL boss Andrew Demetriou will host the official AFL season launch in Adelaide on Wednesday evening at the Oval he has described as his greatest achievement.

It will be the first time in the 24 years that such a major AFL function has been held here.

While Sydney has hosted a Brownlow Medal and two season launches, Adelaide has been unable to score a gig.

“It’s normally a case of getting ourselves on a plane and flying to the epicentre of the footy universe – Melbourne,” Adelaide Crows CEO Steven Trigg said with a smile today.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming the AFL captains, CEOs and AFL Commissioners to Adelaide Oval to start the season.”

The launch affair is a step back from the traditional full lunch or dinner function. Guests will be treated to cocktail food and a few drinks in the William Magarey Room at Adelaide Oval’s Riverside Stand, looking back at the city skyline.

Demetriou’s speech should be interesting; he may give an insight into the two years of machinations that squeezed more than $535 million out of the State Government to build the Oval after their public stance that West Lakes would remain the home of football.

At Monday’s landmark announcement that he will resign as AFL chief executive later this year, Demetriou said he considered the introduction of the two expansion teams, and the return of football to the revamped Adelaide Oval as two of the great achievements of his decade at the top.

Reaction to his announcement was varied. Depending on the person’s dealings with Demetriou, the AFL boss was described variously as a very caring person, a champion of multiculturalism, a leader of Australian sport, a benevolent dictator or an administrator whose worst work was horrific.

One of the key figures in James Hird’s camp last year said the Demetriou departure should be the catalyst for an overhaul of the culture at AFL headquarters.

Jeff Kennett wants AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick to go as well.

But even Kennett, one of the fiercest critics of the AFL chief, had to admit that Demetriou’s ability to work with politicians and gain funding for stadium deals around the country was stunning.

Wayne Jackson, Demetriou’s predecessor, said it was always apparent that Demetriou was a good, strong leader and a decent person.

“He’s a very caring, thoughtful person,” Jackson told SEN radio.

“That’s been manifested today in the AFL’s attitude to minorities, respect for women, people from other countries, indigenous people … (he) has great empathy for people.”

Ian Hanke was brought in by Essendon coach Hird’s legal firm last year to help with media strategy.

While Essendon are rebuilding bridges with the league in the wake of last year’s battles, the relationship between the Hird camp and the AFL remains broken.

“We’ve seen over the course of the past year instances of what I would term bullying, which I think is quite inappropriate,” Hanke told AAP.

“There are issues with the senior echelons of the AFL.

“This should be used as a catalyst for change.”

But Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who remains at odds with Demetriou over the league’s proposals for equalisation, said the outgoing AFL boss deserves plenty of praise.

“In sport and particularly in football, it’s a contact sport both on and off the ground,” McGuire said.

“Having a benevolent dictator is not a bad thing at times.”

Dave Smith, the NRL chief executive, went on Twitter to call Demetriou a “real leader in Australian sport”.

Demetriou was once chief executive of the AFL Players’ Association and Matt Finnis, the man currently holding that role, said the league boss always cared deeply about player welfare.

Former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas, a regular and fierce critic of Demetriou, went on Twitter to express his thoughts.

“His 90 per cent great was terrific. His 10 per cent bad was horrific and greatly affected his legacy and public perception,” Thomas said.

In the Adelaide Oval context, he was able to see a political opportunity combined with a football necessity that will, in the end, deliver long term certainty and viability for both SA’s AFL clubs.

– with AAP

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