By David Nagel and Nick Creely
Several clubs from the AFL Outer East competition are exploring the option of moving to neighbouring leagues as they assess the best competition fit for their clubs.
Narre Warren Football Netball Club has put forward a formal expression of interest to the governing body of the Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League (MPNFL) – AFL South East (AFLSE) – to join the MPNFL from next year, while Beaconsfield, Cranbourne and Doveton are also considering their options moving forward.
The Gazette understands that Frankston Dolphins – who currently play in division four of the Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) – have also lodged a formal expression of interest to join the MPNFL.
While Beaconsfield, Cranbourne, Doveton and Narre Warren have had group discussions, they are keen for each situation to be dealt with independently.
They are four of the eight clubs that played in the former South East Football Netball League (SEFNL) in 2018, before seven of those clubs – including Berwick, Officer and Pakenham – transferred to the AFL Outer East competition in 2019.
The eighth SEFNL club – Tooradin-Dalmore – found its new home in the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC), also in 2019.
Berwick was a member club of AFL Outer East for just two years before switching to the Premier Division of the Eastern Football Netball League this year.
MPNFL clubs – who were required to vote with a 75 per cent majority for a change to competition structure – have previously rejected a move of all SEFNL clubs to the MPNFL in 2018.
But a growing desire to implement promotion and relegation across three divisions – up from the MPNFL’s current two-division structure – could see clubs considered in a more positive fashion this time around.
Narre Warren president Stuart Stephenson confirmed that the Magpies were exploring the option of making the move to the MPNFL next year.
“Yes we have put forward an expression of interest to join the MPNFL,” Stephenson said.
“When we joined the AFL Outer East competition it was done on the understanding that we would review our situation after two or three years, and that’s the position we find ourselves in now.”
Beaconsfield President Troy Robinson said the club was mandated to explore its competition options for the future.
“It’s in our constitution that we conduct a competition review with each affiliation agreement that we sign and that’s the position we’re in at the moment,” Robinson said.
“We are considering our options, which include the MPNFL and Eastern, but our preference is to maintain our relationship with AFL Outer East and to see that competition grow.”
Cranbourne president Shane Baker said his club was moving cautiously, after earlier attempts to switch to the MPNFL had been rejected by member clubs of the league.
“We have expressed our interest but that is all,” Baker explained.
“We would welcome further discussion around the prospects of shifting and whether there’s a shift in the MPNFL clubs collective mindset.
“Geographically it makes sense but we are being cautious in our approach.
“After all, our ground is situated between AFLSE Head Office and the MPNFL clubs.
“Our junior affiliate club remains under AFLSE so from our perspective, as it was in 2018, it is logical geographically.”
AFLSE – under the leadership of its new Regional Manager Will Dakis – will now work through a process of consultation with the MPNFL clubs to garner the level of interest in taking additional clubs on board.
AFL Outer East Regional General Manager Aaron Bailey told the Gazette that the league is confident that the clubs will remain aligned with them long-term.
“As was agreed at end of three years, clubs would review their position,” he said.
“We’re confident all clubs will remain with the AFL Outer East in the long term, and this is simply a part of the three-year process as agreed.”
The Gazette has contacted Doveton for comment.