Divisional football and netball returns, Alberton goes

Fans, players, and club members alike will return to a completely different sporting landscape following the Covid-19 pandemic. 179445 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By sports editor Russell Bennett

Recommendations from the eagerly-awaited Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan are set to significantly impact the region’s footy and netball landscape.

ColganBauer’s 45-page interim report into the ‘G25 Strategy’ – what’s more commonly known throughout the region as the ‘G25 Review’ – started to reach affected leagues and clubs on Monday afternoon, and it makes for fascinating reading.

The first two key recommendations for senior football include integrating all Alberton Football Netball League clubs into the Mid Gippsland Football Netball League to create a 15-club competition in time for the 2021 season; and creating “divisional football in the western corridor of the Gippsland region by 2025”.

Further to the divisional football recommendation, the report states: “The timing allows for the planning required to shift to this model and assess the impact of the current shutdown. This proposal provides for greater flexibility (for) the teams that may look to join the Western Leagues as it supports competitive balance.

“As a result of the proposed recommendations, the Ellinbank and District Football League, North Gippsland Football Netball League, East Gippsland Football Netball League, and Omeo and District Football Netball league will not be impacted and should continue in their current model”.

But the Ellinbank league would absolutely be impacted. As part of the second ‘playing the game’ recommendation – developing a model in the western part of the region “to manage the competitive balance by 2025”, it’s suggested that a shift to divisional football is on the cards “with the West Gippsland competition and Ellinbank League maintain(ing) their heritage”.

Crucially, it says this is “to be implemented at the point of best fit before 2025” and that “before the implementation of the divisional structure, clubs should develop the promotion/relegation criteria”.

Further into the report, under section ‘The Western Corridor’, it states: “(Bringing) Ellinbank & District Football League and West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (together) would occur to create a two-divisional competition structure.
“This solution would provide a competition structure in the western part of Gippsland that could remain competitively balanced as the demographic changes occur in that portion of the region.
“This two-divisional structure would also allow enhanced competitive balance in the short-term with the more substantial clubs from both competitions being able to compete against each other, and the same for the weaker clubs. The divisional structure allows for greater flexibility (for) the teams that may look to join the Western Leagues as it supports greater competitive balance. Under this model, the legacy of both leagues should be maintained”.

The rationale behind this specific recommendation, as outlined in the interim report, states: “(To) address the forecasted population trends in the western half of Gippsland, where the north-west population is growing at a faster rate than the south-west, which will impact competitive balance and the financial strength of clubs.

“There are currently two levels of competition within both leagues (as measured by average club win rate over three years). By creating a divisional structure, the competitive balance across these two leagues’ associated clubs should improve”.

All 12 WGFNC clubs have repeatedly made clear their desire to remain together as a collective, and have a period of real stability moving forward.

They had AFL Outer East present to them earlier this month as they look to make a call on their collective future.

The Gazette understands the options on the table in front of the clubs include: forming a new entity and going it alone as their own, separate competition away from AFL Gippsland; disaffiliating from AFL Victoria, creating a new league and going it alone; self-governing with an affiliation agreement with AFL Gippsland; maintaining the status quo; or entering into discussions with AFL Outer East – where they could be administered as an independent competition under the current West Gippsland model for an extended period of time.

While the current AFL Outer East model consists of the Premier, Division 1, and Division 2 tiers, it’s important to note that – should the West Gippsland clubs make the call to join the region – they would form an independent competition that wouldn’t be part of the promotion-relegation model.

Should the West Gippsland clubs go down the Outer East path, they would draft their own collective constitution and the Gazette understands they would be offered an extended period in which the competition would be left to stabilise.

The want of the 12 West Gippsland clubs to control their own destiny is a huge reason why they’ve chosen to explore all their options moving forward.

Other recommendations in the G25 Strategy interim report include updating salary caps prior to 2021 (including a reduction in salary caps of all senior Gippsland competitions); and reviewing the player points system to continue to incentivise junior retention and development.
“While there is not a 1:1 relationship between every junior/senior football club in the region, the importance of forging relationships between junior and senior clubs was highlighted at various Town Hall sessions,” the interim report stated.
“To promote these relationships and incentivise clubs to develop local talent, reviewing and adjusting the player points program to promote further the creation of junior/senior club alignment should occur.”

The strategy covers competition, development, and growth areas specific to Gippsland and is structured around three key components: playing the game, growing the game, and running the game.
ColganBauer stated that the release of the section of the interim report relating to senior football and netball competition structures – specifically – was accelerated, based on community feedback and the need for clarity.

According to the interim report, AFL Victoria identified the need to develop a strategy for community football in Gippsland to address three critical issues that are impacting the competition structure for the region: current league structures not being sustainable (particularly Alberton); a decline in junior participation throughout Gippsland; and the demographic changes that are impacting community football.

Further sections relating to ‘playing the game’, ‘growing the game’, and ‘running the game’ will be shared in a yet-to-be-released document.

ColganBauer, a boutique strategy consulting firm, called for submissions from all over Gippsland into its highly-publicised G25 independent review.

AFL Victoria is currently considering the recommendations for football throughout Gippsland.

The initial G25 interim report was released back in March, and left many stunned.

That 86-page report made a series of draft recommendations and was criticised in some corners for its lack of focus on the premier league in the Gippsland region, the Gippsland League.

The Gazette understands that AFL Victoria has scheduled a sanctioned meeting with the West Gippsland club presidents tonight (Monday), and that the clubs have been told attendance is compulsory.

On the agenda will be the clubs’ meeting with AFL Outer East, and an update on the G25.

Speaking to the Gazette recently, Warragul Industrials president Dale Bainbridge said: “I’ve got a clear picture of the way I think our competition should be run, and that’s why I’ve pushed to explore the options available to us as clubs.”

He stressed to the Gazette that the club presidents never said AFL Gippsland wasn’t an option moving forward, but that “there are concerns that some of us have with a lack of detail over what the future may look like, so speaking to Outer East is part of us exploring our options, and making a business decision”.

He continued: “The West Gippsland competition has a very of a bright future ahead.

“The better we’re managed, the more control we’ll be able to take in promoting our league and brand.

“The clubs are everything when it comes to our league – without us, nothing exists, and for us to get together and stick by each other, it’s been a great process.”

Late on Monday afternoon, the Mid Gippsland Football League – on its Facebook page – indicated its surprise at the interim report’s release, sharing the Gazette’s story and adding: “Would loved to have passed on the news ourselves BUT no one thought it appropriate to let MGNFL know. Roll up the sleeves!!”