THE HUNTER and Central Coast AFL regions are set for major change in 2019, after AFL NSW/ACT announced they would move to implement a new governance and investment model in the upcoming season.
After the success of regional stars like Isaac Heeney and Pippa Smyth, the state organisation has turned its attention to “fostering the rich talent pool” north of Sydney, beginning with a proposed club-owned single league governance model.
It’s a move that AFL NSW/ACT believes will provide key benefits for Hunter and Central Coast clubs, as well as stakeholders in the area, and will provide “significant increased investment” with aims to “reduce costs and provide support for clubs”.
The state organisation’s beliefs are held by many in the regional area as well, and Warners Bay Bulldogs’ president Mark Philpott said his club “welcomed the key changes” coming in the near future.
The Bulldogs’ president believes the move will facilitate the “family club” atmosphere that teams across the Hunter have been striving for, and looks forward to the day when “mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are all with one club for their entire playing career”.
“We are trying to grow the entire game, and make people players, and turn them into fans, and to have everyone enjoy the sport as a family,” he said. “To have everything under one roof and with one league will mean that we can make moves forward that suit everybody involved.”
“A lot of the time there are decisions made at the moment that effect the seniors and it works for them, but then it effects the juniors too and it doesn’t work so well for those teams.”
Philpott explained that the recent explosion of popularity with women’s football left the junior system struggling to decide age cut-offs, and the clubs struggled all the more due to the senior grades having different ideas on when girls were ready to make the “next step up”.
“Two years ago we had one girls team and now we have four, and the popularity is amazing, but it led to a struggle in deciding what age groups the junior leagues would have, and we hit a lot of roadblocks because decisions were made in a bubble,” he explained.
“It would be far better if we were all talking together, and I believe that’s what AFL NSW/ACT coming in to assist the region will do – decisions will be made outside those ‘isolated bubbles’ and it will be better for the players, the clubs and the game as a whole.”
According to officials within the state organisation, the new league governance model will manage both the senior and junior football competitions in the region, and will provide independent governance through the implementation of clubs as the only voting members.
That implementation comes in the form of a seven-member board that would manage the league, with four of the members elected by local clubs to keep voting control in the hands of the teams that make up the competitions.
It’s a big step, state media manager Jonathan Drennan admitted, but one that is “crucial” to fostering the “rich talent pool” in the areas north of Sydney.
“The Hunter and Central Coast region has been identified as a region with significant potential, but there has been low player transition between juniors and seniors, due to resourcing levels and the existing league structures,” Drennan explained.
“After quite a number of months of consultations with the leagues and the clubs in 2017, AFL NSW/ACT secured significant AFL funding for the region to capitalise on this opportunity. We want to create really, really clear pathways from junior to senior footy. We want to put everything in the one house so that we can use that investment.”
Drennan also explained the organisation is looking for “expressions of interest” from the local governing bodies to join a working party, and said AFL NSW/ACT wants to have a “smooth transition” alongside AFL Hunter Coast and the Black Diamond AFL for the upcoming season.