By David Nagel
Clubs in the South East Football Netball League are no clearer to understanding their futures, with AFL South East considering removing the nine clubs from its initial divisional football plans for 2018.
AFLSE, the governing body of the Nepean, Peninsula and South East Football Netball Leagues, met on Monday night where its Senior Competition Review panel was to present its final recommendations to the AFLSE Commission.
The commission was expected to rubber stamp the final proposal at the meeting, but will now hold an additional meeting on Monday 21 August where it is expected to finalise its decision.
Only two options were put forward in the original draft document released by AFLSE in early June, with full and partial divisional structures to impact the 31 clubs across the three leagues.
But Nepean and Peninsula clubs provided united feedback that they would reject a union with SEFNL.
The Gazette understands that the united feedback has led AFLSE to now consider an additional third option, where the Nepean and Peninsula league clubs compete in divisional football, leaving SEFNL clubs on the outer.
AFLSE region general manager John Anderson, who chaired the review, was to attend a meeting being held with Nepean and Peninsula clubs this week, where the clubs were to discuss the overall impact of the final recommendations when they are released.
This latest two-week extension has been taken by AFLSE to ensure its final decision is not in breach of the strict rules and regulations process laid out by AFL Victoria.
So, while two options have officially been put forward, if the third option is implemented where does that leave the SEFNL clubs?
They have several options to consider.
They can maintain the current structure of the league, but become an eight-team competition, with struggling Hampton Park to work through the process of leaving the SEFNL and becoming a member club of the divisionally structured Southern Football League.
That would leave eight clubs, Beaconsfield, Berwick, Cranbourne, Doveton, Narre Warren, Officer, Pakenham and Tooradin-Dalmore, to compete in SEFNL next year.
It’s understood the eight clubs are not enthusiastic about this prospect, with fees split between fewer clubs set to put additional financial pressure on the competing clubs.
Other alternatives include the clubs uniting and looking to join a neighbouring league en masse, or going it alone to seek new homes which would fracture and eventually break the SEFNL competition.
The other alternative is for two new clubs to join SEFNL from a neighbouring league to form a 10-team competition.
In a landscape that currently seems shaky, one thing is for certain – the SEFNL clubs are becoming increasingly frustrated, their hands tied in regards to planning for 2018 until AFLSE release their final recommendations.
And you can understand those frustrations.
Anderson’s predecessor Jeremy Bourke announced the initial review would commence in March last year, with final proposals to be provided by the end of the 2016 season. Anderson made these comments before launching the current review in March this year.
“As I understand it there was a meeting with all the clubs in our region at the start of August last year and there was some discussions there, but nothing actually took place after that, so there was no recommendations, nothing public, no conclusion to the review,” he said.
So, essentially, we were starting the whole process from scratch.
And there have been constant delays again this year, with deadlines extended since the start of July.
The clubs just need to know. They need to know if they are a part of AFLSE’s grand masterplan or whether they need to look outside the square.
And here’s a question worth answering.
Does anyone in the south-east corridor of Melbourne truly believe that the SEFNL clubs belong in the same competition as the Nepean and Peninsula league clubs?
If we are being completely honest … the answer would probably be no.
But under the current governance structure if divisional football is to go ahead it needs to happen with all three leagues under the AFLSE banner taking part. If that’s not the case then we need to lift our eyes and focus on the governance structures and decide whether that’s the level where things need to be changed.
AFL Peninsula has a nice ring to it, looking after Nepean and Peninsula, as does AFL Southern, looking after the SEFNL in more local and logical surroundings.
But while frustrated at the time lapse, the SEFNL clubs have no right to jump up and down about the possibility of AFLSE listening to the feedback of Nepean and Peninsula clubs and coming up with a third option.
Their united front has been impressive, as was the SEFNL clubs’ united front that saw AFLSE reverse its decision to host this year’s grand final under lights at Casey Fields.
AFLSE listened to the clubs then, and it sounds like they’re listening to a different group of them now.
But the clubs … well they just need to know.
Because – after 18 months – they’re no nearer to understanding their futures.