THE sudden retirement of Kyle Anderson might have caught East Perth off guard, but coach Jeremy Barnard was happy to hand the sole captaincy to Patrick McGinnity as he now prepares to have the Royals firing for the WAFL season to open on August 1.
Barnard is entering his second season as senior coach at the Royals following on from his decorated playing career as a triple premiership winning captain during the 221 matches he played at East Perth between 1993-2004.
When the Royals broke from their partnership with the West Coast Eagles, Barnard put his hand up to return to the club he has such a rich history with and now despite the delayed start to the 2020 season thanks to COVID-19, he can't wait to see his team back out on the park.
Like the rest of the clubs in the competition, East Perth was ready for its first pre-season hit outs when a halt to action was called thanks to the global pandemic and there was concerns for a time there might not be a WAFL season at all in 2020.
That made it challenging for Barnard to know what instructions to give his coaching staff and players in terms of what to get ready for, but once the WAFL confirmed a start date for Saturday August 1 it suddenly gave them just what they were looking for to work towards.
It was a feeling of relief at the time for Barnard to get that official start date and since then it's all been about doing what's needed to ensure the Royals are ready to go for that season opener.
"Firstly was a feeling of relief and you don’t know what you are missing until it goes away so it was fantastic to get a start date for the season, and the boys were overjoyed," Barnard told 91.3 SportFM.
"When there was a lot of uncertainty around it was hard to do much planning and all the strategic planning you do in whatever you are doing is always with a date in mind to work toward.
"So it was fantastic that the WAFL and the steering committee were able to arrival at that date to give us something to plan for. Quite frankly, us coaches and the players are jumping out of our skins.
"Footy means a lot but especially the WAFL means a lot to a lot of people in the community, and it plays a great role in keeping the community together. We're really looking forward to it starting."
And short of that August 1 start date, WAFL clubs are preparing for two practice matches prior to that and Barnard sees them as being extra important given the fact of how important starting well will be given the shortened season when things become official.
"They will be fantastic. We are the same as every other club, when COVID-19 hit unfortunately we were ready for our practice matches," he said.
"Now especially with the season essentially being a sprint, those two practice matches will really get all players in the WAFL I would imagine game fit to make sure they are ready to go for those first four games.
"Everyone will have to be at the top of their games straight away because you won't want to be 0-4 I can tell you that right now."
While the fixtures haven’t been announced yet, Barnard sees no reason at all that East Perth's season shouldn’t begin on August 1 against arch-rivals West Perth especially if crowds are allowed into the venue – whether it's HBF Arena in Joondalup or Leederville Oval.
"I would have thought it was a straight up monty, I don't know if the WAFL would even hesitate for one second about it," Barnard said.
"There are other rivalries as well like Perth-Swan Districts and Claremont-Subi at least when I was playing so those rivalries will still be there.
"To get people back to watching footy and my initial thought is people are desperate to get back there to games whether it's WAFL or AFL. So we would want to give them the opportunity to see the best contests that they can."
One side effect that is unfortunate for East Perth that has happened during the break thanks to COVID-19 has been the retirement of inspirational defender and co-captain Kyle Anderson.
While he has never had a free run of injuries through his career which meant he only managed to compile 127 matches over a decade having come from Margaret River, he built a reputation as one of the fiercest competitors and one-on-one defenders in the competition.
That led to him playing state football and becoming a leader at East Perth. He even for a brief stint in 2015 went forward and was lively including kicking a bag of seven against the hapless Perth at Lathlain Park.
In fact his only two games of multiple games of seven and three came against the Demons in 2015.
It was as a defender he will be fondly remembered, but he has decided to call time on his career and from there, it was a relatively easy decision for Barnard and the coaching staff to appoint McGinnity sole captain with Jackson Ramsay his deputy.
"Unfortunately with the break in the season due to COVID and just a few injury concerns, Kyle made a decision with his family that he probably couldn’t go on and he decided that enough was enough," Barnard said.
"That sort of put us into a bit of a strategic decision about what we thought the leadership group would look like and whether it would be a transition year or whether it would be a support year or if we just continue with just Pat.
"We thought Pat had done a fantastic job for us as a leader the last three or four years and if I really had my own thoughts, I don’t like dual captains at all. I think just having one leader works the best and he was the natural fit.
"Jackson is really developing nicely as well with his leadership and we thought he would be the best fit as the official vice-captain albeit any organisation that is elite all the time has a number of people within its leadership foundation to drive the high standards."
While McGinnity began his WAFL journey with Claremont from where he was drafted to the West Coast Eagles, he began playing with the Royals while listed at the Eagles and has thrown himself into everything at East Perth ever since.
His father Kevin did play 59 matches with East Perth in the 1970s as well so he's not quite as old as Barnard thought, but the coach found it an easy choice to name McGinnity sole captain nonetheless.
"He does have history of course, his dad played for East Perth in the 50s and 60s and we were lucky enough to be the beneficiary of the environment that Luke Webster managed to procure when he was coach," he said.
"Pat has been fantastic for us the whole time, he's really bought into it and especially for where our great is at right now, we really need those mature leaders who have been in the system a long time to help our younger players really develop quickly."
The decision to then make Ramsay vice-captain was an easy one too. He returned to his original WAFL club after his time in the AFL at Collingwood and unfortunately ruptured his ACL at the start of the 2018 season.
But he was back in 2019 to deliver some tremendous football averaging 30 disposals a game and winning the FD Book Medal as East Perth's fairest and best. He might also be the natural next fit as captain, but not quite yet.
"We see Jackson as a really natural leader and a progressive leader," Barnard said.
"He has been fantastic for us considering he had a couple of years of bad luck. Fingers crossed he will now be able to continue on his way."
While it has taken some juggling acts at training to get back on the field for the Royals while following the COVID-19 guidelines, everyone has just been happy to be back and Barnard can't wait now to ramp up preparation further for Round 1.
"Logistically our footy manager Warren Parker has done a great job making sure that we've had delineation on the oval, making sure there's transition points where you come into the club and out of the club, and all of that," Barnard said.
"We sort of drifted away from the WAFL's recommendations of three zones and went with the Town of Vincent's recommendation of two zones. So we only had, including the coaches, 20 people were zone so that meant we had plenty of room out on the oval when we got back training.
"The players are always drawn inside the social distancing bubble so we were always pulling them up to make sure they stayed within the guidelines, but all in all we all adjusted to it pretty well and it allowed us to transition our players slowly and carefully back into this next phase which is what a normal pre-season would look like."