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By Russell Bennett

AFL South East’s plan for a three-division, promotion-relegation competition in 2019 featuring the current Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League and South East Football Netball League is dead in the water.

But the AFL Yarra Ranges has stepped forward as a potential new home for the eight SEFNL clubs currently staring down the barrel of an uncertain future.

AFL Yarra Ranges, which currently has a stable two-tier, promotion-relegation system, has been in discussions with the SEFNL clubs to explore what a three-division competition could look like in the near future.

One option is that the top five of the SEFNL in 2018 and the top five of AFL Yarra Ranges’ first division could form a mouthwatering top tier in 2019.

Last year the top five of the AFL Yarra Ranges’ Division 1 included premier Olinda Ferny Creek, runner-up Woori Yallock, Healesville, Wandin, and Upwey Tecoma.

Putting that into context, Healesville is roughly an hour’s drive from Cranbourne.

Though the likes of Tooradin-Dalmore and Thornton Eildon are more than two hours apart, the creation of a third, stand-alone division featuring the northern AFL Yarra Ranges and smaller clubs would limit travel times.

One of the biggest positives for SEFNL clubs is how well their netball arms would also fit into the AFL Yarra Ranges competition.

An AFL South East memo sent to media outlets on Thursday morning acknowledged that plans to include SENFL and MPNFL clubs in a promotion-relegation league had been scrapped.

“AFL South East (AFLSE) will continue to strive to build a strong and vibrant divisional structure on the Mornington Peninsula after informing the 22 MPNFL clubs that it will no longer pursue a model that includes clubs from the South East Football Netball League (SEFNL) in 2019,” the memo read.

“Recommendations to emerge from AFLSE’s Senior Competition Review were for MPNFL clubs to form a two-tier divisional structure in 2018, with the eight SEFNL clubs to join forces to form a three-tier promotion-relegation competition next year.

“But at a meeting on February 26, the AFLSE Commission discussed the status of the senior competition review, which included the outcome of a special general meeting of MPNFL clubs who passed a motion that would require 75% of clubs to vote in favour of any proposed changes to the MPNFL competition structure.

“The Commission decision is to continue with its initial structures for 2018, but halt plans for the merge of MPNFL and SEFNL clubs in 2019.”

The Gazette understands that there was some confusion surrounding the voting procedure when the 22 MPNFL clubs got together for their special general meeting earlier this year to vote on a change to the competition rules.

AFLSE Region General Manager John Anderson acknowledged that the decision not to include the SEFNL in promotion-relegation for 2019 wasn’t ideal, but added it wouldn’t stop the overall objective of growing football in the region.

“We will now work closely with the MPNFL clubs on the creation of a third division, within the geographic constraints of the Peninsula,” he said.

“Until such time whereby three divisions are possible, the MPNFL will comprise two divisions with promotion and relegation between both.”

Anderson has since met with the eight SEFNL clubs and said the early discussions with them surrounding 2019 were “extremely positive”.

“The Commission’s charter is to act in the best interests of football and netball in the region, and we look forward to working closely with the SEFNL clubs to achieve this objective,” he said.

Anderson’s counterpart at AFL Yarra Ranges, Aaron Bailey, said his region is currently undertaking a review of its senior and junior structures, with a focus on ensuring the sustainability of the northern and smaller clubs in the region (like Thornton Eildon and Yea).

There are some who envisage a power struggle emerging between AFL South East and AFL Yarra Ranges over the possible new competition.

But Bailey said: “AFL South East and AFL Yarra Ranges are utilizing a ‘best for footy’ approach here. We have removed the borders and asked the question ‘is there a solution here that can achieve long term stability for the region’?”

Under the scenario proposed to both AFL Yarra Ranges and SEFNL clubs, the third division would be comprised of the clubs from the AFL Yarra Ranges second tier, in particular those in the northern border and Upper Yarra regions. The proposal put forward to clubs would see the most northern trip for SEFNL clubs being Yarra Glen or Healesville, with travel times varying between 15 minutes to an hour.

Though Bailey emphasised that these are preliminary discussions at this stage, he added:

“This has great potential for both competitions that are so closely aligned in footy and netball to create a multi-divisional competition in the region.

“We are very early in the process.

“We’re working to provide the SEFNL clubs with one of many options to play their football and netball in 2019. It is important they make the best decision for their club, community and future.
“We believe this is a really good fit. The current proposal allows for both long-term growth in the region  and a really good competitive balance in both footy and netball.”

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