A big win to come from the new CBA is the improved travel and accommodation conditions that have been negotiated for players by the AFLPA.
When the new CBA comes into effect, the Dockers and Eagles will have access to an allowance of business class tickets on interstate trips to help reduce the impact on performance and recovery.
Flight upgrades will also be provided for all players travelling overseas to play an AFL or International Rules match.
The cost of single hotel room upgrades has also been taken out of the club football department soft cap to remove the barrier to clubs providing this for their players.
Reducing the travel burden on interstate clubs, particularly the Perth-based teams, was one of the key priorities identified through the negotiation.
In an era where clubs invest so much into their high performance programs, these changes will go some way to leveling the playing field.
Every non-Victorian club travels roughly every second week, but factoring in the distance and change in time zone faced by WA clubs then it becomes a significant competitive balance issue.
The impact of travel on recovery, performance and longevity is evidenced by the fact that just one player — my old teammate Matthew Pavlich — has played 300 games for Fremantle.
Incredibly, Pav clocked up more than 850,000 kms in his 353-game career across 17 seasons, making him the most travelled player in the history of the game!
All 18 clubs would fly business class in an ideal world, but there were a number of objectives to achieve through this CBA and this is certainly a step in the right direction.
I kept a diary in the week of Fremantle’s recent trip to Brisbane in Round 11 to provide an insight into what we go through on the road every second week.
Monday was a heavy recovery focus from the weekend before, but with quite a bit of movement. We call it an acid flush where we have a bit of a run around, run a few laps and get some 150s out of the way. It’s always smart to get the body moving again so that we can identify parts of the body that are sore that have gone under the radar after the previous game.
Tuesday was the first training session of the week, so we got the footballs out and did some individually paced training — so it really depends on how everyone is feeling. You make the decision whether you want to push yourself or manage your body a little bit more.
Wednesday was a day off so I focused on my own individual recovery and tried to work that around study and family time.
Thursday was the main session, but it was short and sharp one ahead of the flight to Brisbane. It was at a high intensity and was basically a match simulation in terms of the speed with which we approached it.
That was followed by a lower body lift and a little bit more recovery, then it was time to get on the flight and head to Brisbane which took us longer than usual because there wasn’t much tail wind on the way over.
Our strength and conditioning coaches came on the flight and prowled up and down the aisles. They made sure that people kept moving and didn’t go to sleep because of the time difference we were set to face in Brisbane.
After all, you don’t want to be awake at 2AM when you need to be up in five hours, so you need to do everything in your power to acclimatise.
Spending so long sitting in an economy seat is not ideal when you’re a bigger body and carrying a couple of niggles.
A lot of the players upgrade their flights quite regularly. If we were coming to Melbourne it would cost around $800 return to upgrade, which is quite a lot of money when you’re traveling every second week.
On Friday, we woke up early and had a team walk that involved some ball work, followed by some more time in the water and then returned to our hotel rooms.
In my early days traveling interstate to play, I would pay the extra money in order to have a single-room hotel, but that isn’t required anymore.
When Matt de Boer (now at the Giants) and I took over as Fremantle’s AFLPA delegates, we managed to get the club to absorb those costs so that players could have access to their own single room.
One of our arguments was that we wanted to replicate the home environment, but in a hotel. When we’re playing a home game in Perth, I don’t have players coming over and staying in the same room as me!
Not every club provides this for its players and some even ask them to pay for it out of their own pockets. Now this cost has been excluded from the soft cap it’s hoped that clubs will ensure single rooms will be available to every player. The ability to stick to your own routine has a big impact on performance.
After the game finished, we had to get ready to leave the GABBA pretty swiftly. It feels like we lose a day when we’re traveling, and having a young family, you begin to understand the toll that time away has.
We didn’t get back into Perth at 2AM on the Sunday morning and then you’ve got to try and re-adjust to the time difference and get some sleep.
It takes that much longer to recover from an away game and I was still feeling quite sore five days after the game, so we’re quite fortunate this year that the game led into a bye.
There’s been numerous occasions where our flight has been delayed by a couple of hours and often our stretching and post-game activities are compromised in order for everyone to pack up and change and leave the venue so we can make a flight.
It can also occur before a game, too. In 2014, we were delayed in Perth on our way to Sydney and had to depart the next day in the end. That severely compromised the preparations for a significant final, and we ended up being belted.
A lot of time and effort has been put into educating the new players when it comes to travel. There’s already a lot to think about leading into a game, so it’s important to give them tips on how to reduce the impact. Wearing compression tights, staying hydrated, stretching and getting up every half an hour on the plane are little things that can make a big difference.
Thankfully, things will be that little bit easier under the new CBA.
I’m sure the bigger guys like Aaron Sandilands will be putting their hand up for a business class seat and fair enough! Economy is no place for a 211cm and 120kg professional footballer on his way to work.