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By Russell Bennett

Drouin is one step closer to joining the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) after club members voted in favour of making the move from the Gippsland League last Wednesday.

Of the 65 members who voted at the meeting, 58 were in favour of making the move which would return the club to its West Gippsland roots.

The decision rests with the AFL Gippsland commission.

Hawks president, and former general manager of the old West Gippsland Latrobe Football League, Chris Soumilas said the next step was to formally apply to AFL Gippsland to make the switch. He said the club had 21 days to do so, but would submit its application straight away.

The Hawks had previously set up a sub-committee to gather all the data and report back to the committee on its best option moving forward.

In a statement to the Gazette last month, AFL Gippsland confirmed Drouin had been granted permission to investigate the option of applying from a transfer from the Gippsland League to the WGFNC for 2018. In accordance with section 3.7.2 of the AFL Victoria Country Handbook, Drouin approached football development manager Matt Cracknell to advise of its intentions to contact clubs within both the Gippsland League and the WGFNC to discuss the matter independently.

AFL Gippsland region general manager Travis Switzer said at the time he was satisfied the appropriate process had been followed.

“Drouin made a formal request to speak to other clubs as they are entitled to do prior to the July 31 deadline,” he said.

“It’s now up to Drouin to have some important discussions with its members and other key stakeholders and decide what is the right direction for the club to head in.”

But the Gazette understands that the feedback the Hawks have received from some current West Gippsland clubs about their potential move doesn’t marry up with what those clubs are saying internally.

Soumilas said he believed there was some discussion to leave the West Gippsland competition the way it is currently for at least its first two seasons, though nothing was made official.

“Football is in a bit of bother overall, I reckon,” he said.

“Phillip Island, for example, is a big catchment area and has plenty of kids around but towns like Poowong and Nyora – how long do they keep going?

“When I was the general manager of the old West Gippsland I’d always look at the (country football) ladder page in the Weekly Times each week.

“Last week there were 45 league ladders and 30 of those leagues had a team that hadn’t won a game, and nine of those had a worse percentage than Drouin.”

The recruiting and retention of players to Drouin in the Gippsland League has been a real issue for a number of reasons – some of those geographical.

But more than that, the Hawks need as many people as possible to put their hands up and volunteer to put time back into the club.

Soumilas said the club had to see the current process through and if the answer was that, ultimately, it couldn’t move from the Gippsland League, it would have to regroup.

The Hawks just want a clear indication of what’s in store next.

But, regardless of what league Drouin plays in moving forward, one thing is an absolute non-negotiable.

“We need more workers,” Soumilas said.

AFL Gippsland, through a statement provided to the Gazette, said there would be a meeting held for Drouin to present its case for moving from the Gippsland League to the WGFNC.

In the meantime, the two advisory committees – through staff members Jason Membrey and Dan Heathcote – would discuss all the options with the clubs of both leagues to ensure they had enough feedback.

A decision will then be handed down by the AFL commission, which Drouin has the option of appealing to AFL Victoria.

This process begins as soon as AFL Gippsland has Drouin’s application to move.

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