The next AFL chief executive may well have been sitting within a couple of metres of Gillon McLachlan as he made his emotional resignation announcement.
Travis Auld, a long-time AFL executive who fits the profile of the men who have filled the role, was in the front of row of Tuesday’s media conference at Marvel Stadium.
Kylie Rogers, another key figure in the AFL administration, was a couple of seats to Auld’s left.
Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale is another name being touted as a prime candidate.
McLachlan predicted the AFL will take about six or seven months to decide his successor, with an external consultant to be involved in the process.
“There are a number of internal candidates, male and female, and I’m thrilled about that,” McLachlan said.
“There are a number of people whom I’m hopeful will apply and any who get it, will do a great job.”
History strongly suggests the league will stick close to home.
The closest they came to a left-field appointment was when Wayne Jackson succeeded Ross Oakley in 1996, and even he had joined the commission the year before.
In 2003 Jackson handed over to Andrew Demetriou, who in turn was succeeded by McLachlan in 2014.
Demetriou and McLachlan were long-time AFL executives by the time they settled into the CEO’s chair.
“I feel we have in that group, people who are more than capable of taking over from Gil,” AFL chairman Richard Goyder said of the potential candidates among current AFL and club personnel.
McLachlan will have the same advice for the next chief executive as Demetriou had for him – be yourself.
“What I do feel absolutely certain about is whoever replaces me will be completely different,” he said.
“They will have to bring their own style and bring their own person.”
McLachlan’s decision to leave the role has come earlier than Goyder and the commission would have wanted.
He is adamant there is no role awaiting him, saying his professional future for now is a “blank canvas – that’s terrifying”.
Goyder said McLachlan’s much-lauded management of the AFL through the COVID-19 pandemic had shown his skills.
“The ability to see around corners – that’s a great thing for a CEO to have, to see what might be coming when it’s not clear,” he said.
“Be prepared to make hard decisions when others are throwing their hands in the air and saying ‘gee this is hard’ – he did that.
“We owe him a debt of gratitude for that.”
Goyder remembered McLachlan’s presentation when he applied to take over as chief executive, calling it a superb outline of what he hoped to achieve in the role.
“He didn’t pick COVID, but other than that, most of it, he nailed it,” Goyder said.