Footy league merger rejected

Liam Durkin

THE Mid Gippsland and Alberton football-netball leagues will remain for the time being, following a successful appeal against the proposed merger.

Amid a great deal of public backlash and campaigning in the Latrobe Valley, the much anticipated verdict from AFL Victoria on the appeal was handed down on Friday.

At its most basic, the two leagues will remain as they are for the time being, with further investigations to be made throughout the course of the 2019 season.

“The panel felt that further consultation, research and options be pursued and clearly enunciated to all parties in relation to the Alberton FNL clubs and that any future changes be put on hold until the 2020 season.” AFL Victoria stated in its verdict.

The decision comes after a groundswell of public outcry from Mid Gippsland league clubs, virtually all of whom felt their league would suffer if the proposal went ahead.

Yinnar player Brendan Chapman led a player-driven union during merger talks, which threatened to boycott matches if the Alberton proposal went ahead.

“We understand that the Alberton league needs fixing, however destroying one league and risking clubs in our league folding isn’t the way to do it,” he said.

The union garnered support from emotional players, supporters and club members, with the slogan ‘AFL Gippsland go away, Mid Gippsland is here to stay’ becoming prominent on anti-merger posters that started appearing on shop fronts throughout the Latrobe Valley.

“It was going to be a takeover, not a merger,” Yallourn-Yallourn North player Owen Budge said.

Of the eight recommendations made by AFL Gippsland into the review of football in the region, six were given the green light, including the transfer of Yarragon to the Ellinbank and District league, which now leaves Mid Gippsland with nine clubs.

The Alberton league currently has six clubs, with another, Devon-Welshpool-Won Wron-Woodside, in recess.

In a statement, AFL Gippsland said there was still a great deal of work to be done.

“Whilst disappointed with the outcome, the AFL Gippsland Region Commission respects the appeals process and duly accepts AFL Victoria’s decision.

“The commission remains steadfast in its support of all clubs in Gippsland and its commitment to the development,

design and implementation of a competition structure that offers long-term sustainability and viability for all clubs.”

To a large degree, it would appear AFL Victoria have put a number of clubs on notice to sort themselves out in the next 12 months.

Neither the Mid Gippsland nor the Alberton league is run under the administration of AFL Gippsland.

Among the recommendations that were accepted with the East Gippsland league replacing its under 18 and 16 competitions with under 17s. This will be used as a case study for other leagues to potentially implement a similar change for their junior structure.