Coach Chris Scott says Geelong’s first premiership in 11 years was a reward for the supporters who financially backed the AFL club when it faced an uncertain future at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All AFL clubs stood down staff during the competition’s suspension in 2020, while players and coaches took pay cuts amid concerns over the league’s viability.
More than two years on, those dark days appear a distant memory but after the Cats thrashed Sydney in Saturday’s grand final, Scott reflected on the year Geelong and AFL “was on its knees”.
On Sunday, Scott elaborated, stressing the faith of fans who likely were struggling financially themselves in lockdown had helped keep the Cats afloat.
“It’s easy to move on from these things quickly with the benefit of hindsight but at the time it was dire – we were facing the prospect of no footy, members not hanging around,” Scott told the Nine Network’s Sunday Footy Show.
“No one could forecast in 2020 that members would hang around, but we had some ridiculous number, like one per cent, ask for a refund. They all paid their money for no footy.
“The viability of the footy club and the AFL was in question there for a little while.
“It’s another way of thanking the sponsors but most importantly the fans.”
Scott also hailed the AFL’s work to keep the game running, which included heavy cost-cutting and securing a line of credit from banks.
“I thought the AFL did an amazing job through that period,” he said.
“They get criticised enough but they don’t get the credit for the work they did over the last two years. I’m full of admiration for them.”
The COVID-19 shutdowns also had an impact on the development of young players, who were unable to play frequently at VFL level.
Scott said it made Sam De Koning’s rise this year all the more extraordinary.
De Koning was pick No.19 in the 2019 draft but didn’t play AFL in 2020 and had just one senior game in 2021 before exploding this season and starring in the grand final.
“His first two years of development were in COVID years where (at) the lower level, it was really, really difficult to improve your footy,” Scott said.
“Our coaches did a remarkable job with him.”