Each AFL club has two delegates, and it is their role to represent the rights and views of their club and the AFL Players’ Association. Being a delegate provides a player with the chance to complete a professional certificate which is a two-year, executive level course that recognises the contribution a club delegate has the opportunity to make. Tom McDonald is in his third year as Melbourne’s club delegate, and he took some time out to share his story upon completing the delegate development program last year.
Becoming a delegate for the Melbourne Football Club was an easy decision for me. For starters, I’ve always been interested in understanding what goes on behind the scenes and why things are the way they are around footy clubs, around businesses and in general.
My thinking was, how can I find out these things? How can I be involved a bit more? So I spoke to Lynden Dunn who was a delegate at the time, and Marissa Fillipou from the AFL Players’ Association to see how I could be involved, even if it was just in a small way.
Lynden Dunn has now moved onto Collingwood so this year I’ve shouldered more responsibility, and Dom Tyson has come on board and has taken up my role as the under study.
I’m not sure what I expected before taking over, previously I had been curious around certain aspects like the CBA and how that comes into fruition and the discussions that went into it, plus issues like the bye week and how that evolves with the AFL.
I was interested and wanted to see how I could influence change. I’ve always had a personal policy to be fair to everyone and I don’t think Melbourne had a great relationship with the players to management and to the Players’ Association and I thought that was an area of growth that could be improved.
I thought I could bridge that gap and believe I have done so far.
In order to be a delegate, you’re required to have some conversations with the playing group that perhaps you don’t want to have, but need to have.
There could be someone who is upset or annoyed at a particular issue taking place and it’s my role to stick up for the players and voice my opinion to the club and the Association.
Like with all roles, there’s pros and cons, but it’s something that has to be done and I put my hand up for it. It has been eye-opening so far.
The biggest challenge is finding the balance between working with the footy club and management in the most efficient way. That’s a challenge because you want there to be a good relationship, but you don’t want to feel like they’re holding power over you or you’re holding power over the club. You want to work together.
It’s about creating a harmonious atmosphere where all needs are met, even if there’s a difference in opinions, beliefs or philosophies.
The most exciting thing about being a delegate is being involved in and providing a good outcome for all players. Completing the CBA will result in a better future and outcomes for the next six years and beyond, and it’s exciting to know that we’ve had an impact on thousands of future AFL players.
I’ve certainly noticed that my communication with other players and the ability to have honest conversations has improved over the course of my time as a delegate.
I’ve also been able to delegate things to other people rather than trying to do it all myself. I’ve gone by the old adage that if you want something right you’ve got to do it yourself but it’s almost the opposite sometimes — you need to have the trust that someone else can do things and to work with them. They’re the two main skills that I’ve worked on.
Now I feel there is an open and honest dialogue between the Melbourne Football Club and the AFL Players’ Association. It would be fair to say that it wasn’t very strong for a while and the fact that we now work together is the thing I’m most proud of since being a delegate.
It has opened up doors for me, and not just with the opportunity to develop as a leader and to complete my professional certificate. Through the program I have also completed a unit of credit against La Trobe’s Master of Sports Management degree, which for someone who isn’t entirely sure what they want to do post-football is invaluable.