Footy league shake up

Bryce Eishold

The proposal was discussed during Mid Gippsland’s monthly meeting at Morwell on Wednesday night where representatives from the league’s nine clubs held preliminary talks with AFL Gippsland about the possible move.

A spokesman for the MGFL said the league would “strongly consider” applications from Alberton clubs after initial discussions with Mid Gippsland clubs “looked favourably” towards the inclusion of new clubs.

The move comes after AFL Victoria upheld an appeal by the Mid Gippsland competition in October against the merger proposed by AFL Gippsland between the Mid Gippsland and Alberton leagues.

Mid Gippsland Football League publicity manager Rob Popplestone said the discussion on Wednesday night focused on “2020 and beyond” – and whether the league would be open to accepting up to four Alberton clubs joining its competition.

“I think the league would be open to any club’s application that we would foresee as strengthening our competition,” Mr Popplestone told The Express on Friday morning.

“Initial decisions indicate that the Mid Gippsland league would look favourably on the addition of one or more [Alberton] clubs but what the end number is remains to be seen.”

The Express understands up to four Alberton clubs including Meeniyan Dumbalk United, Stony Creek, Tarwin and Toora would likely make an application to join Mid Gippsland, while the remaining clubs Fish Creek and Foster could transition to an alternate league.

The AFL Victoria Objection Appeal Panel last year upheld Mid Gippsland’s appeal to reject a merger between the two competitions.

At the time, the panel requested AFL Gippsland work with neighbouring leagues including Mid Gippsland, West Gippsland and North Gippsland to develop a strategy for the “inclusion” of the Alberton league in 2020.

“The panel felt that the Alberton FNL clubs should be open to options that may not see all six clubs transfer en masse to an alternate league, but work towards the most sustainable option for all clubs in the region,” a statement from the panel read at the time.

In a statement, AFL Gippsland said in accordance with AFL Victoria’s recommendation, the commission “has continued to engage key stakeholders regarding the future direction of the Alberton Football Netball League clubs”.

“While these discussions are in their early stages, AFL Gippsland remains committed to delivering a solution by the end of July 2019, as per AFL Victoria’s recommended timeline,” the statement said.

Mr Popplestone said the MGFL would consider accepting clubs from the Alberton league – a six-team competition – because circumstances had changed, despite the league’s opposition to a merger in 2018.

He said this was due to only a handful of clubs seeking the move, meaning it would not require “six longer visits to south Gippsland”.

The league would also likely be more receptive to the applications due to Yarragon’s decision to move to the Ellinbank and District Football League last year.

“Initial decisions within the clubs indicate that we see a 10 or even 12-team competition as a good option which would put us as a league in a much stronger position,” Mr Popplestone said.

He said the league would also encourage clubs outside Alberton to consider their future, including those in North Gippsland Football League, saying the league would “strongly consider” applications from both leagues.

An MGFL sub-committee will meet on February 27 to discuss the selection criteria it would like Alberton clubs when the leagues in mid-March.

Areas of interest are expected to focus on the clubs’ ability to field three grades of football, including seniors, reserves and under 18s, and putting a framework in place for the development of junior football in years to come.

“From our point of view we feel as if we’re fully in control of the situation and can be in control of our destiny in the sense that any applying clubs would need to fit a criteria in order to be accepted,” Mr Popplestone said.

Alberton Football Netball League said it would not comment on the matter until it met with AFL Gippsland on Wednesday night.