By Russell Bennett
Tom McQualter would hardly call himself a ‘footy head’. In fact, he’s never even been the senior coach of a football side in his own right.
But yet he’s the perfect person to pioneer the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition’s new interleague set up.
West Gippsland is in the unique position of fielding an interleague side later this month against Riddell and District at Macedon made up of some of the best players from two different leagues – the Ellinbank and District Football League, and the Alberton Football Netball League.
Five of the best sides from each came together this year to form the WGFNC.
It’s an entirely new frontier in many ways – including interleague.
Most of the players in line to play later this month have never kicked a footy to each other as team mates.
“I’ve always had an enjoyment for coaching, but I’m not a footy head,” McQualter explained.
“But as I’ve gotten older, the thing I’ve loved most about footy is the mateship and the camaraderie you build.
“When you’re 21 you want to be the best player on the ground every week and it’s all about how good you are.
“But by the time you’re in your 30s it’s just being happy to be a part of it and enjoying yourself.
“Every footy club across Australia is pretty similar in that respect.”
McQualter has an extensive playing background at Traralgon in the Gippsland League, at Yinnar, and last year at Inverloch-Kongwak.
The born and bred Traralgon boy took up virtually every position at the club at one point or another – including president (briefly), player, board member, assistant coach, and leadership group member.
In fact, his day job is as director of ‘The Leadership Conservatory’ – essentially leading – or coaching – leaders.
“When this interleague opportunity came up, the ability to be involved at a high level of footy was something that was really exciting to me,” he said.
“The opportunity in an intensive burst over a couple of weeks works for me, and then there’s the opportunity to work with the best players from what I think is the second best league in Gippsland.
“In my mind there’s an opportunity for this competition to become one of, if not the, premier league in Gippsland and really rival the Gippsland League over the next 10 years.
“We want to lift the profile of interleague across multiple years and, being a new league, there is an outstanding opportunity to show how high the quality of football being played in West Gippsland is.
“All of those factors from a personal, competition, league, and club point of view tell me this is something I could do and help make a difference.”
He said West Gippsland was “lucky” to be drawn away to Riddell and District this year.
“The bus trip up there, and the Friday night and Saturday morning together before we play is a fantastic opportunity,” he said, having already spoken to his assistants David Main and Ben Soumilas about bringing the group closer together.
“The challenge of bringing two leagues of players together is less about the footy, and more about the group of people,” he said.
Each club in the WGFNC nominated a selection of their own players for inclusion into the interleague team to ensure those players selected wanted to, and were available to play.
That preliminary list of around 50 names is currently being narrowed down.
McQualter’s brother Andrew played 94 AFL games for St Kilda and the Gold Coast – including three grand finals with the Saints – before taking on a coaching role at Richmond.
The initial player nomination list for the upcoming interleague showdown with Riddell and District at Macedon on 13 May is:
Bunyip: Joel Gibson, Jeb McLeod, Jason Fisher and Michael Whyte.
Cora Lynn: Nathan Langley, Ryan Gillis, Tim Payne, Billy Thomas, Jeremy Monckton, Jackson Dalton, and Ryan Spierings*.
Dalyston: Chris Graham, Kurt Thomas, Clay Tait, Blake Carew, and Michael Marotta*.
Garfield: Daniel Helmore, Tyson Payne, Darcy Payne, and Adam MacGibbon.
Inverloch-Kongwak: Toby Mahoney, Tom Wyatt, Xavier Hughes*, Corey Casey, Andy Soumilas, and Santo Joma.
Kilcunda-Bass: Jaidyn Burgess.
Kooweerup: Anthony Giuliano, Ben Kerrigan, Brodie Yapp, Troy Dolan, Phil Backman, Rian Healy, and Nathan Voss*.
Korumburra-Bena: Jake McMillan, Michael Cooke, and John Ayama.
Nar Nar Goon: Matt Stevens, Brent Hughes, Tyler Joosten, Brendan Herman, Trent Noy, and Mitch Virtue*.
Phillip Island: Brendan Kimber, Mark Griffin, Jaymie Youle, Jack Taylor*, Jarrod Witnish, Leigh Warne, and Jarrod Andreatta.
*Spierings, Marotta, Voss, Taylor, Virtue, and Xavier Hughes have been nominated as ‘rookies’ – young players who the WGFNC is keen to get integrated into the interleague program