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Regular testing, new training set-up and 'intimate partners' - Conor Nash getting used to new AFL landscape

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Conor Nash was close to agreeing a new two-year deal before the Covid-19 crisis. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images

Conor Nash was close to agreeing a new two-year deal before the Covid-19 crisis. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images

Getty Images

Conor Nash was close to agreeing a new two-year deal before the Covid-19 crisis. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images

At Hawthorn's training facility in Melbourne yesterday morning, Conor Nash submitted to his second Covid-19 test in a week.

The Meath native had returned a negative result seven days earlier but as much as weights and running programs, testing for the virus is set to become a part of his everyday life as the AFL takes tentative steps towards a return to play.

AFL chiefs are taking extensive measures to get their competition back up and running. They have more than a billion reasons to get it right, with revenue of between Aus $1.2bn and 1.5bn (€718 - 898million) on the line if they can't get back to some form of action this season.

They've already taken significant steps and secured a Aus $500m (€300m) line of credit, using the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne as collateral. Players salaries have been slashed by 50 per cent, a figure that could grow to 70 per cent if the scheduled return to action next month doesn't materialise. The size of backroom teams has been cut too, as witnessed by Tadhg Kennelly's uncertain future with the Sydney Swans.

Entire clubs are moving base with Western and Southern Australia outfits set to relocate and quarantine at the Gold Coast to avoid having to cross some state borders which remain closed.

Players will be tested regularly following this week's return to their clubs for non-contact, small-group training.

"We all got tested on Thursday last week in Marvel Stadium in Melbourne and they all came back negative," explained Simonstown Gaels clubman Nash. "I think everybody in the AFL, players and staff, came back negative so we are good to train in groups of eight with no more than three sessions a week.

"I'm in the first group, so I'm in at 7.10 in the morning. We have prep first, then out on the pitch by 7.30, back up by 9.0 and straight into weights for 45 minutes and out of there before 10.0. There are six or seven groups throughout the day and the last one is around 3.40 or 4 o'clock."

The same training pod will remain together for the duration of the week to avoid any potential for cross contamination.

"You can have two groups training on the one oval, you just can't cross over. There's people watching and media watching so the club are very strict on not crossing over, even for coaches.

"Our main coach is over all the groups but he doesn't come in contact with any of them. So he has to stand back, you can take the p**s out of it a bit, he has his own little quarantine box out on the pitch, watching everyone. So it's very different.

"Even when we go upstairs in the club, we go in one door and leave through another - they have taken every measure.

"That is what has gotten us the exemption to be able to play so we are going to do everything we can to play."

Some of the Irish players opted to head home when the AFL was postponed after round one in March. They're set to head back in the coming days but they'll be forced to quarantine before rejoining their clubs. Nash didn't fancy that process as he'd had a complicated visa issue last year.

On his way to Greece and Italy for a holiday after the conclusion of the season, an official at the airport pulled him aside.

"I was stopped and this lad says 'you do know your visa has expired by six months?' I was oblivious to it. I'm not usually the one who looks after it but it was a bit naive on my part. It had expired by six months so I was allowed to leave - I had to leave the country that night - and I went on holidays.

"I was due to fly back from Italy to Australia for a week for our best and fairest, but I had to fly back to Ireland because the visa wasn't done in time. It took a while, as you can imagine. The authorities weren't too happy but I was forgiven, it really was just a lack of concentration by a few people, including myself. The club were great. They got things done, but it took some time."

On Monday, the Hawks' 45-strong playing group, which includes Derry's Conor Glass, will train together and return to full contact.

And while the AFL have been given permission to gather in larger groups than the general population for training and playing purposes, the quid pro quo is that, away from the action, the players must remain in effective lockdown, interacting only with their housemates and what has been termed 'intimate' partners - the definition of which has been the cause of much amusement.

The rules mean that hobbies like golf and surfing are out, though Nash has kept himself busy by pursuing extra modules in the commerce degree he is studying for.

On the field, Nash was close to agreeing a new two-year deal before Covid-19 struck and derailed the season after his best year to date in 2019 that saw him feature 14 times.

"Last year was a good year, I played the first five, I was dropped and was injured and I got back playing two VFL games until the mid-season break - and pretty much after that I got back in to the AFL.

"So pretty much the whole year I was in with the seniors. It was a good year for my development and to finish the year strong was good too and I was looking to carry that on into this year."

Irish Independent