Welcome to the new age

Cricket family: Former Traralgon District Cricket Association and Latrobe Valley District Cricket League club representatives and life members of both associations gathered together at the first annual meeting of Cricket Latrobe Valley. The new league has been established by merging the two previous associations together. Photograph supplied





IT may have taken longer than some would have liked, and the road to get there paved with no shortage of potholes, or even roadblocks in some cases, but the two cricket leagues in the Latrobe Valley have finally joined forces.

With the cricket season set to begin next weekend, all is in readiness to welcome a new era for the sport in the region, as the Traralgon District Cricket Association and Latrobe Valley District Cricket Leagues combine.

The result: ‘Cricket Latrobe Valley’ – one of the biggest country cricket leagues in Victoria, and officials are hoping it will be one of the strongest.

While there was a scaled back merger of sorts between the Central Gippsland Cricket Association and the TDCA in time for the 2018/19 season to form the Latrobe Valley District Cricket League, the new body is indeed looking to make a fresh start, all the while preserving the history and tradition of both former associations.

Following an extensive external review of cricket in the Latrobe Valley region in 2017, which, for the most part, found too many matches were simply too one-sided in the CGCA and TDCA, the committee concluded a merging of the two associations, playing under a promotion/relegation structure, would ensure the long-term viability of the sport at a local level.

The ‘Latrobe Valley Cricket Review Committee’ consisted of Tony Flynn, Wayne Mills, Michael Walshe, Dean Burridge, Sarah Prime, Tim Darby, Rino Metlokovec, Barry Little and Graham Harvey.

Noting Mills and Harvey were president of the CGCA and TDCA at the time, all seemed in readiness for a merger to go ahead.

Well, it sort of did, and it sort of didn’t.

Five clubs from the TDCA jumped ship – Churchill, Morwell Tigers Yinnar Raiders, Callignee and Traralgon South (CATS), Centrals and Traralgon West left to join the CGCA, which was rebranded Latrobe Valley District Cricket League.

The remaining TDCA clubs – Ex Students, Glengarry, Toongabbie, Rovers, Gormandale and Traralgon Imperials stayed, and were later joined by the newly formed Yarram District Cricket Club making for a seven-team competition.

While there has been toing and froing in the last few years to try and force a full-scale merger, things finally came to a head in March this year when Imperials sought a move to the LVDCL.

Being reduced to six clubs, and later five when Yarram decided to join the Sale-Maffra Cricket Association, may well have eventually forced the TDCA’s hand.

At special general meetings each held in early July, the TDCA and LVDCL voted on whether or not to go ahead with a full scale merger.

The TDCA vote was unanimous in favour of merging, while the LVDCL’s was also positive.

Clearly, in the eyes of member clubs, the time was finally right to come together.

With a new league, a new leader was needed, and long-time local cricket administrator Brad Howlett, of Centrals Cricket Club notoriety, won the endorsement of then-sitting LVDCL president Wayne Mills.

Given Howlett’s history with Centrals, where outgoing TDCA president Steve Kay is also a life member, he was perhaps the ideal candidate to help with the process.

Howlett said Kay had been tremendous in seeing the merger through cooperatively.

“Steve has been brilliant through the whole process, I’ve known Steve since I was a kid, he was brilliant, genuinely brilliant,” Howlett said.

“Started having conversations with Steve about this in early June, bit of discussion back and forth, once it was decided that this was the right path, he was fantastic through the whole lot.”

Kay had previously been resurrected to lead the TDCA when the five clubs left, but said it was now time to forge ahead under the new banner.

“It’s happened, hopefully it all works out, hopefully all the clubs play it right, play it hard, play to win and that they do right by the juniors,” he said.

“It’s important that kids are playing cricket, otherwise you’re going to end up losing clubs. There should be good people at each of the clubs teaching the kids coming through, getting good coaching from outside.”

Kay will be watching on with interest, having opted not to get overly involved at board level in the inaugural season of Cricket Latrobe Valley.

“It’s not my turn now, it’s other people’s turn, but I think the principles that we operated with under Traralgon regarding the clubs, juniors, representative cricket, if they follow those guidelines, cricket should be okay,” he said.

“I’ve known Brad for a long, long time. His hearts in the right place and he’s been terrific to deal with, he’ll do the right thing and he’s as keen on cricket as I am, and is keen to see it successful, so I have total 100 per cent faith in him.”

With any merger, tensions can run high, but Howlett said things were fairly harmonious all things considered for something that, in the eyes of some, should have already happened 20 or even 30 years ago.

“The general feedback from both sides, everyone is pretty happy and pretty excited,” he said.

“I think in conversations, some clubs have told me numbers are through the roof, I think it is great for local cricket in that sense.

“The best teams in the Latrobe Valley region will be playing against each other, they’ll be some fantastic cricket.

“For the former Latrobe Valley clubs there won’t be a great deal of difference in the set-up, promotion/relegation, those clubs are used to it, it will be different for the TDCA clubs, but I think once they have got the hang of it they will thoroughly enjoy it.”

That being said, with such a big league to oversee, Howlett knows full well there is going to be some teething problems.

“I have no doubt there will be issues about bits and pieces.

“Don’t know what they are because if I knew what they were I’d fix them now,” Howlett said.

“I have said this openly, ‘please be patient’, we have a heap of stuff to work through, we are going to have a red hot crack at getting this right, have some patience with this, we’ll get there eventually.”

The merger has already been enough for a couple of clubs to seek affiliation elsewhere. As well as Yarram, Trafalgar has decided to move back to the Warragul District Cricket Association.

Understandably, with the increased number of Traralgon-based teams, the travel factor would have become a justifiable burden for the Ships.

Trafalgar Cricket Club members voted in favour of heading back to the WDCA, but will need to pay their penance by starting in the competition’s second division.

Unfortunately, the season is over before it has even started for a couple of clubs, with Yallourn North and Newborough going into recess.

Having now established a huge league, hopefully for the betterment of cricket in Gippsland, Howlett said the board had an equally huge responsibility.

“It is a fair number, it is a big cricket league, it is a matter of looking after all clubs, not just the A Grade, trying to give those clubs, their players and their members the best opportunity to play the best cricket they can, at their level wherever they fit in,” he said.

“There was a fantastic turnout at the AGM, it was good to see post the AGM people from former Traralgon and Latrobe Valley clubs sitting around, talking to each other, even when they were sitting at the table they were all mixing in which was great to see.

“As the season and the years go on, that will get better. New rivalries will start, but at the same time it will be ‘can’t wait to play there, good bunch of blokes, good afternoon tea, great trip there’.”

A bus from Rawson to Toongabbie could indeed be a great trip.

Sharing ideas: Gormandale, Willow Grove, Latrobe and Rovers Cricket Club members at the annual meeting. Photograph supplied

On board: Former TDCA president Steve Kay has helped with the transition to seeing the merged league come about. File photograph