League changes on the table

Liam Durkin

WHILE players and some coaches returned to organised training this week, a number of football-netball leagues across Gippsland have been meeting recently to look at what the future may look like for clubs, particularly in south Gippsland.

A series of Zoom meetings have taken place in recent weeks facilitated by Phillip Mooney from ColganBauer, the city-based boutique strategy consulting firm which released the Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan in early March.

Representatives from AFL Victoria have also sat in on the meetings and are accepting feedback and submissions from people involved in Gippsland football and netball.

Naturally, given the report was tabled before community sport was put on hold due to coronavirus, it has since been largely forgotten about by the general football and netball public, as clubs look to formulate ways out of potential ramifications from a likely cancellation of seasons.

Talk of reviews has been met with a degree of grovelling in most corners, as the virtual merry-goround of seemingly talking about the same things as 12 months ago are brought up.

Ultimately, it appears the majority of potential changes centres around the best way to help the intrepid six-club Alberton Football-Netball League.

A number of suggestions raised in the review offer some feasible suggestions in theory, although frustratingly, some of the suggestions are exactly the same as the ones brought up previously, including aligning Alberton with the Mid Gippsland league.

Given MGFNL clubs fought passionately to stop a potential merger with the AFNL at the end of 2018 and won – it is unlikely their philosophy has changed since that time.

Similarly, the West Gippsland competition appears happy to stay as is, with a unified ‘leave us alone’ cry coming out of the camp.

Under one recommendation, two West Gippsland clubs would join Alberton. Geographic candidates to move from West Gippsland to Alberton are Korumburra Bena, Kilcunda Bass, Inverloch-Kongwak and Dalyston.

Given the Dalyston pub has shut down and the football-netball club is the town’s meeting place, the club has publicly said they will “die” if it goes back to Alberton.

Inverloch-Kongwak has enjoyed on field success in West Gippsland and may be too powerful to join Alberton, leaving Kilcunda-Bass and Korumburra-Bena potentially in the gun. A drive from Korumburra to Foster takes around 45 minutes and just over an hour from Bass.

To add to all of this is the conundrum facing Gippsland League club Wonthaggi Power, which sought to move from the major league to West Gippsland before the end of last season.

Given all West Gippsland presidents co-signed an agreement to not allow any new clubs to enter for 2020, and with the likelihood of this season being a write off, Wonthaggi’s application may be stopped in its tracks.

Like its time in the Alberton league, the Power could well be considered too powerful for West Gippsland as well, as it only missed the Gippsland League finals by a game last season.

There appear to be two proposals on the table for Alberton, one that appears to have lost favour of trying to get two West Gippsland clubs to join Alberton and a previous option for the six Alberton clubs to join Mid Gippsland but with two Mid Gippsland clubs departing for either Ellinbank or North Gippsland.

Suggested changes to Mid Gippsland will more than likely be fought off by clubs simply for reasons related to history.

Of the current nine Mid Gippsland clubs, seven have a more than 50-year association with the league and in that time have become stringent in the familiarisation of opponents as well as the convenience of travel. The longest trip in Mid Gippsland is only around 45 minutes, a far cry from the near two-hour drive from Boisdale to Orbost in the East Gippsland league.

Travel times have been raised in the review, but to some are a largely irrelevant argument given many players don’t actually live in the towns they represent and any player who is keen enough to play for their club is going to travel regardless.

Critics of the review have pointed to a lack of consideration for juniors as well as it being to football-centric.

For clubs such as Daylston, which may be struggling on the football field but is a powerhouse on the netball court, any changes could help one cause but compromise another.

North Gippsland FNL president David Kyle said his board held concerns surrounding juniors.

“From a NGFNL perspective we feel strongly about a number of things contained within the G25 recommendations,” he said.

“It seems irresponsible to conduct a football review and table recommendations which impacts many leagues and structures yet one league, the Gippsland-Latrobe remained unchanged and untouched which we find difficult to comprehend particularly when it comes to junior structures.”

“It seems ironic that the demise and deterioration evidenced in junior competitions became most notable when AFL Gippsland supported an under 16 division within the Gippsland-Latrobe league robing these junior leagues of talent and young men who possess influential leadership skills of their peers for the game.

“Our second greatest concern revolves around district leagues such as the NGFNL becoming under 17 competitions with the only option for young players outside of this age bracket to move into open age senior competitions and forced to play against men and seasoned footballers.

“We believe this is far from ethical and nor does this recommendation seriously consider the wellbeing of the individual.

“I acknowledge the narrow pathway into the Gippsland-Latrobe under 18 comp would still exist, but this is only for the gifted and select few, surely that strategy is not about the growth of the game and must have an underlying plot which has not been divulged to our league or any other.

“We cannot administer astutely nor complying with our fiduciary duties as league directors knowing many young men are not ready for open competitions and therefore we have genuine concerns for their wellbeing and potential loss to the game of Australian rules.

“I am confident my fellow administrators and many parents would share this view.”