‘We’re dead if we go back’

For the sake of both its football and netball arms, the Dalyston Football Netball Club is hell-bent on staying in the WGFNC.

By sports editor Russell Bennett

Dalyston Football Netball Club president Andy Thomas said it’s “common sense” to assume his club is among the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition outfits linked to a move back to the Alberton league in the newly-released ‘G25’ interim report.

But, with his trademark, cut-through honesty, he said: “We’re not worried about the report, because there’s no scope to it all – it’s very limited with the amount of thought they’ve put in”.

Thomas said he thinks the 86-page report is “a bit over-hyped, underwhelming, and just a bunch of words thrown together”, adding he’s “disappointed” at the scope of it when it came to neighbouring leagues, including the Gippsland League.

“I think Korumburra Bena, Kilcunda Bass, and Inverloch Kongwak are probably in the gun as well,” he said.

“To be honest, I just don’t think the report makes sense. We’re going to have to tell all these kids they can’t play for us if we’re moved back to Alberton because they don’t have the sides for us to play against. Since the last review, that league has basically fallen to pieces. They know it, and we know it.”

Along with moving two West Gippsland clubs back to the current six-club Alberton league – based on both geographical proximity and competitive balance, according to the report – a second proposed option is to create a two-division, merged competition featuring the Ellinbank and West Gippsland leagues.

As part of that structure, current Gippsland League club Wonthaggi Power would be transferred into Division 1 of the merged competition.

But Thomas said neither of these options felt adequately “thought through”.

A third option proposed in the report would see four of the six current Alberton clubs moved to Mid Gippsland, and two to West Gippsland. To avoid West Gippsland then becoming a 14-club competition, two of its clubs would then be shifted to Ellinbank to bring each to 12 clubs. The report states that: “Moving one or two of the Mid Gippsland League clubs to North Gippsland will then create a more sustainable long-term future for football in that region”.

A fourth option, like option three, would move four Alberton clubs to Mid Gippsland, with one club shifting from Mid Gippsland to North Gippsland. Two Alberton clubs would then move to the WGFNC, based on “competitive strength”. From there, the WGFNC and Ellinbank league would merge and create a two-division competition that the report states “could remain competitively balanced as demographic changes occur in that portion of the region”. In this structure, the Wonthaggi Power would join from the Gippsland League.

Thomas said options three and four had the most merit of all of those put forward, but added: “In West Gippsland, everyone seems happy. We look at our club and we’re growing; we’ve got new facilities – change rooms and social rooms – and next year we’ll have new netball courts, and we’re already talking about new change rooms for the netballers too. We’re getting the off-field and off-court right.”

Again, Thomas stressed he wasn’t concerned by the interim report’s potential restructure options because he doubted many of them could actually come to fruition.

“Things have changed a lot since the last review and town hall meetings – Alberton has fallen to pieces,” he said.

“What league would they force us into? They’re basically saying we may as well fold if we had to go back, really.

“There are too many things that don’t make sense – it’s like they’ve looked at a map and looked to move the two closest to Alberton.

“This is all way too focused on Wonthaggi, and the Alberton competition.

“Every bit of traffic where we are heads towards Melbourne. My son goes to uni at Swinburne, so for him traveling down the freeway to Garfield or Bunyip is no issue, and that’s the beauty of the West Gippsland league.
“We understand we’re down on the ladder when it comes to our football sides, but we’re growing and getting better, first off the ground, and then on the ground will follow.

“The combined strengths of Wonthaggi and Inverloch if we weren’t around is really something for the West Gippsland clubs to think about”.

Thomas said clubs further into the south-east growth corridor would also be monitoring Gippsland if a multi-division, promotion-relegation competition became a reality.

The stark reality is that the Dalyston pub has shut down, meaning the football and netball club has become the town’s central meeting place.

“There’s 250 blocks that’ve been sold in Dalyston and there are houses being built there,” Thomas said.

“There are blocks being built on and sold right around Kilcunda too.

“Our whole area is growing, so to chuck us back into Alberton – where there’s no growth – doesn’t make sense.”

While Dalyston is making steady strides forward on-field, it’s on the netball court that the club has been a real leader of the pack for years now.

It truly is a Gippsland benchmark in that regard.

Thomas said the report had given little to no regard to netball, and added: “This is one of the key reasons why we’re so against going back there – we know it’ll be the end of any club that does it.

“With all of these Gippsland reviews we’ve been subjected to, it’s like they’ve just looked at a map and said this is what we want you to do.

“How much money has been wasted on this one?”

Former AFL Gippsland commissioner John White was one of the interested onlookers at Wednesday night’s AFL Gippsland AGM.

But he told the Gazette that when he first arrived, he was asked to leave.

“The approach was the on the basis that I was not a club member – which is untrue, I’m a member of both Garfield and Cora Lynn,” he said.

“I was asked to depart the room, and I indicated I would only do that if the police were present, because I had every right to be there.

“The meeting commenced, without my departure, but they informed the room that they wouldn’t answer – or recognise – any of my questions.”

After being unceremoniously dumped from the AFL Gippsland commission – along with John Brookes OAM, Cayte Hoppner, John Schelling, Greg Maidment, and Paul Buckley – White started a Change.org petition to have Victorian state sports minister Martin Pakula appoint an independent body to review the relationship between AFL Victoria and rural or community football and netball clubs.

To this stage it has over 2000 signatures.

When asked by the Gazette about the G25 interim report, White simply said it repeated previous reviews.

“I acknowledge there are some good points in the document – such as the consideration of junior football, which is the lifeline of our game – but in my view it focused on two aspects which have been done to death; one being the saviour of the Alberton League, an issue which has been ongoing for several years; and the other being the lack of support for the RAC,” he said.

“Leagues in the Gippsland region simply don’t recognise, or support the (RAC) model”.

White said he was surprised about the inclusion of the term ‘reset’ when it came to the current AFL Gippsland commission.

“My read on that is that the commission has no authority over the RAC, which reports to AFL Victoria – therefore making the new, incoming commission a toothless tiger,” he said.

As the Gazette first reported on Tuesday, many volunteers, committee members, players, clubs, and even whole leagues throughout Gippsland have felt like sitting ducks as they’ve readied themselves for the long-awaited unveiling of the Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan.

The ‘G25’ interim report was prepared by independent body ColganBauer, who was engaged by AFL Victoria to conduct a review into how to best structure local football and netball in the region moving forward.

The report is structured into three key areas: ‘playing the game’, ‘growing the game’, and ‘running the game’.

The first covers competition structures (among other facets), the second covers issues such as trends in the player base of Gippsland football, and the third covers the administration model in Gippsland.

Other key proposals in the report include aligning the junior age bracket structure in central and eastern Gippsland to under-14s and under-17s; reducing salary caps across the region; reviewing the player points system (PPS) to incentivise junior retention and development; having AFL Victoria devise a women’s football strategy for Gippsland; having AFL Victoria take greater accountability for the development of grassroots footy in the region; and implementing a ‘club improvement program’ (CIP), which would theoretically lead to a bigger investment by AFL Victoria.

Crucially, the first two ‘running the game’ recommendations are for “AFL Victoria to establish a timeline for implementation of G25 strategy within six weeks of the release of the final report”, and to “develop a working group made up of a mix of AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, leagues and clubs to be responsible for the implementation of the recommendations”.

As White mentioned, it’s also proposed that the AFL Gippsland commission would be “reset, and a recruitment process conducted to identify new commissioners”.

The report acknowledges that “the current members of the Gippsland commission are not local community members.

“In order to have a commission that can make the most informed decisions based on understanding of local issues, the AFL Gippsland commission should be reset”.

Fascinatingly though, there’s also a proposal for the Regional Administration Centre (RAC) to report to AFL Victoria’s “country football team” – not the AFL Gippsland commission.

The interim report’s release now leads directly to a consultation process including formal, written submissions and four ‘town hall’ style meetings taking place throughout the region.

Submissions are invited from AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, and Gippsland clubs, leagues and individuals who wish to formally respond to the report and its recommendations.

The rapidly-approaching cut-off date for written submissions is 10 April, and they should be sent in a document format to aflgippsland@colganbauer.com

A final report is to be prepared by ColganBauer and submitted to AFL Victoria by 30 April.

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