By sports editor Russell Bennett
Divisional football and netball could be hitting Gippsland in 2020 after all – though not quite in the way some might have imagined.
The Gazette has been informed of a meeting that took place last night (Wednesday) involving the Alberton Football Netball League and its current member clubs.
As the situation currently stands, they’re awaiting the outcome of their appeal to join the Ellinbank and District Football League (EDFL) and Netball Association (EDNA) from next season – after they were initially knocked back.
But the Gazette understands that, should they withdraw their appeals, one of their options is to join a neighboring league, and there is the potential for them to apply to join the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) in a second division.
One notion is that it would also include some of the struggling, southern clubs in the current 12-club WGFNC set-up. That would mean the bulk of the original 10 WGFNC clubs, in addition to Tooradin-Dalmore and – as the Gazette understands – the Warragul Industrials, would make up the first division of a new two-tier WGFNC.
There are rumours circulating that many within the current Alberton competition would prefer that (should they join West Gippsland) their division would be stand-alone, and not part of a promotion-relegation scenario.
Some in the current WGFNC have indicated they would be in favor of a new two-tier competition, because it would at least provide them with stability moving forward.
The Gazette has had discussions with the vast majority of clubs recently and each of them feels as though there’s a great working relationship that exists amongst them. Effectively, they want to stay together as a collective. Dalyston Football Netball Club president Andy Thomas confirmed as much to the Gazette.
“I could ring up Dan Crowley (from Kooweerup), Dene Missen (from Nar Nar Goon) or any of the other guys out that way and talk with them,” he said.
“They’re good, strong clubs full of great people and it’s easy to work with them.
“When we had the tragedy with the car accident recently, for example, Kooweerup was just fantastic to us. There’s a great respect amongst all the clubs at the moment and I’d be surprised if everyone isn’t a bit disappointed in the AFL (AFL Victoria).
“We started off being promised we’d have two or three years where they weren’t going to change us and everything was going to stay the same, and then we had an extra couple of clubs put in, and now they want to change us again. You just wonder where it’s all going to end.”
But in Thomas’ opinion, two divisions of the WGFNC in a promotion-relegation format wouldn’t work.
“I don’t think it’s got a hope in hell of working, to be honest,” he said.
“If, let’s say, you had a Cora Lynn finish on the bottom of Division 1 one year and Toora winning the flag in Division 2 that same year, then imagine all the Garfields and Bunyips of the world having to travel to Toora.
“Divisional football might work in the south-eastern suburbs, but I don’t think it’ll work in a country area (like this).
“Travel is a huge issue, and here we are talking about two divisions of West Gippsland. I don’t think it has a future. I think it’s an AFL Victoria thing where they’re trying to force the issue.
“It’s nearly a backdoor way of forcing clubs back into the Alberton league to prop it up.
“We don’t want to go. We’re happy with where we are in West Gippsland. We’re not happy with our performances, but every club has its cycles.”
Thomas said that if Dalyston was forced to head back to a kind of de-facto Alberton division, it would feel railroaded into doing so.
“It would threaten the viability of our club,” he said.
“It doesn’t take into consideration our netballers – for example. We’ve won the past two A Grade flags, we’ve won a B Grade, we’ve won a C Grade, and one in the under-17s. They’d be given no consideration whatsoever.”
While Thomas admits his club has struggled on the footy field this season, he takes pride in Dalyston being able to put under-16s and under-18s out on the park.
The Gazette understands that, should any Alberton clubs withdraw their appeal to join the EDFL/EDNA, and instead apply to join the WGFNC, a written application must be made to the AFL Gippsland commission.
The commission is currently made up of interim commissioners after AFL Victoria unceremoniously dumped John Schelling, John White, Greg Maidment, John Brookes, Cayte Hoppner, and Paul Buckley last month.