A spotlight on player mental health and careful rehabilitation from injury has been the focus on the Gold Coast during the COVID-19-imposed AFL shutdown, according to Suns footy boss Jon Haines.
With on-field action shuttered for the foreseeable future, the Suns have turned their attention to ensuring players are in the best possible physical and mental shape ahead of a competition restart.
And for a club which has been plagued by player retention issues, Haines said the break has brought about the silver lining of allowing younger players -- such as touted draft selections Matthew Rowell and Noah Anderson -- to return home to be with their families, lessening the impact of homesickness among the playing group.
"During such a challenging time, we've said to all our staff and players that they need to be where they feel most comfortable, and for most of us that's around family," he said during a press conference on Friday. "We've encouraged the players to go back to be with their families in their home states if they think it's appropriate.
"We've got, I think, 41 players on the Coast at the moment who decided to stay. So the bulk of the group is here and doing what they need to do."
Haines also said that in light of the Lachie Hunter news, whereby the Dogs' vice captain was involved in a car accident while driving under the influence, it was important to ensure players are kept motivated and stimulated, and for the club to be aware of how individuals are handling the unprecedented shutdown.
"We've got a massive focus on [mental health]," he said. "We did a parents' Zoom discussion last night and on Tuesday, and one of the key topics was what processes and protocols do we have in place to not only monitor but act if there are any health issues with our playing group.
"That was our overarching focus ... and will continue to be."
The Suns' footy boss said one of the other difficulties to come out of the isolation period was ensuring injured players -- like Anthony Miles, who is recovering from a chest injury, and Wil Powell, who is nursing an injured knee -- are still treated by the club's medicos.
"It's been a challenge; no doubt. It's been something new for our medical staff to get their heads around - as well as the players," said Haines. "We are allowed to have physical contact with players, so long as it's in a clinic environment. So if we've had to do that for particular player, we've been able to do so, but the majority of the feedback and the treatment has been via [Zoom] and over the phone.
"In the case of Anthony Miles, he's a really experienced player and an experienced and measured thinker, so he's pretty independent with how he handles things and touches base with [physiotherapist Lindsay Bull] as he requires it.
"But for a younger player, like a Wil Powell for example, it becomes a bit more complex. Coming back from his knee surgery and going back to Western Australia (for the isolation period), you've got the issue of distance, and you can't, from a treatment perspective, get your hands on him.
"That's been challenging at times, but we feel that when the players do come back, they're all going to be in good condition and we should have great health across the list."
Haines said the AFL community was handling the COVID-19 curveball magnificently, praising the league and the clubs for coming together to discuss the best interests of the game, with a restart date set to be announced by Gillon McLachlan in the next fortnight.
"The level of collaboration between clubs and the AFL has been outstanding," Haines said. "I think all the clubs are keen to work together to make sure we can play the remaining 144 games, but all under the premise that the health and safety of players and staff is paramount."