JUNIOR hardship in the Gippsland League is behind Wonthaggi Football Netball Club’s decision to stage a vote on switching to the proposed West Gippsland League next month.
Power president Brett Tessari said the club retained a preference for the Gippsland League at senior level but its recent frailty in the lower grades and juniors was the cornerstone of the consideration.
“The reason we’re looking at our options is there’s no secret that while we’re quite strong and competitive in our senior grades we struggle with our junior grades,” Tessari said.
“We didn’t have an under 16s last year, we had an under 18s that got smashed every week; our under 16s haven’t won a game of football for about four seasons.
“It’s an issue with us and it’s an issue that if it keeps going, we’re not sustainable in the Gippsland League.”
The Power will stage a special general meeting on 6 March to vote on whether to apply for a change of leagues in 2017.
A submission would need to be lodged to AFL Gippsland Review Committee by 11 March.
Open to all the club’s members the vote would require a majority of at least 75 per cent to get over the line.
The West Gippsland League is set to be created next season following AFL Gippsland’s Senior Leagues Review, with Dalyston, Kilcunda-Bass, Korumburra-Bena, Phillip Island, Bunyip, Cora Lynn, Garfield, Koo Wee Rup and Nar Nar Goon slated for inclusion.
Tessari said the meeting would explore the club’s options in an open forum while the opportunity was still available within the time-frame for review feedback.
“While we unanimously voted to call this meeting and throw out the option… on swapping leagues, our preference is still to be part of the Gippsland League; we love the football, the camaraderie of the clubs we enjoy all that side of it,” he said.
“The reaction of the players is they want to play in the Gippsland League, they enjoy the challenge… it’s purely the struggle for our juniors (that we’re considering it).”
Tessari said while travel time was not a major point of concern within the Gippsland League, a move to West Gippsland would make it easier for a group of about 10 senior players on the Power’s list who travel from Melbourne to play.
Whether the move is voted up or not Tessari said it was healthy to have the discussion.
“I find it very exciting the fact it’s got everyone talking. I think it’s going to be good for our club to get everyone talking,” he said.
“The new league is a great thing to come out of the review and I think the new league has the potential to be something special so definitely if it’s in our interests to be part of that then we need to look at it.”
The AFL Gippsland led Senior Leagues Review’s draft recommendations advocated for a 10 team Gippsland League.
AFL Gippsland region manager and chair of the review committee Travis Switzer said the recommendations pointed to the Gippsland League being the best fit for the Power in 2017 but welcomed the club’s decision to explore its options.
“We’ve done a fairly thorough process and we feel this (GL) is best spot for them for 2017 absolutely,” Switzer said.
“These are draft recommendations and we’re still very open to clubs meeting with their members and discussing different options.
“I think they’re doing the right thing by talking to their members and making sure they’re well educated before they put in their submission to us.”
Switzer conceded the Power was going through a difficult patch with its juniors but believed recent changes to age group structures would bear fruit for the club in the future.
“We had a review of junior football structures in South Gippsland and we’ve changed the age group structures down there which I think Wonthaggi would agree would really benefit them in the long run,” he said.
“We feel there’s the best structure in place now to overcome those issues, but in the short term we understand their numbers in junior ranks are not where they and we would like them to be hence we’re working really hard with them to assist them for the next couple of years.”
Switzer said the review committee would not rule out any eventualities in the makeup of the final recommendations based on club and stakeholder feedback.
He said general feedback from the review’s draft recommendations had been “extremely positive” to date.
Should Wonthaggi apply for a change it would be subject to a rigorous ratification process.