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By Gazette sports editor Russell Bennett

The West Gippsland Football Netball Competition will be expanded to include 12 clubs from next year under one of the proposed changes outlined in the AFL Gippsland Leagues and Competitions Review Draft Recommendations Report.

Current South East Football Netball League (SEFNL) club Tooradin-Dalmore and Ellinbank and District Football League (EDFL) outfit Warragul Industrials are set to join the existing 10-club WGFNC from 2019.

The AFL Gippsland region commission released the report earlier tonight to clubs right across Gippsland. Among its key focuses is a smoother transition from junior to senior football, with the introduction of an under-17 age group in place of existing age group structures in all but two of the region’s senior competitions for 2019. Gippsland League clubs will, for example, continue to field both under-16 and under-18 teams.

Other proposed changes include the development of a standardised permit structure and approach to area agreements between leagues, as well as a formal process regarding the alignments between junior and senior clubs.

AFL Gippsland region general manager Ben Joske said the changes would benefit clubs and relieve volunteers of some of the pressures associated with the recruitment and retention of players.

“For the past 10 years participation numbers for players in the 15 to 18-year age bracket have remained quite consistent but below what is required for clubs to field a full complement of teams in their respective competitions,” he said.

“By streamlining junior structures we can reduce the number of times players need to play in multiple games on the one weekend and on permit to simply make up the necessary numbers.”

The draft recommendations also propose the creation of a new junior competition in West Gippsland, and for the Alberton and Mid Gippsland leagues to come together to form the ‘Central and Southern Gippsland Competition’. Both of those new entities will be administered and governed by AFL Gippsland.

Another proposed change includes the transfer of the Yarragon Football Netball Club to the EDFL.

“The viability and sustainability of all clubs within the Gippsland region is at the heart of this review,” Joske said.

“Having completed an extensive consultation process and analysed wide-ranging data it was clear several clubs would find it difficult to remain competitive under the current football structures and therefore changes needed to be considered.”

An AFL Gippsland-appointed review panel initially conducted an online survey of 34 questions to which 97 clubs (75 per cent) responded, before conducting 119 interviews with clubs, groups and associations between May and July this year.

The draft recommendations were presented to representatives from football and netball clubs, leagues and other key stakeholders at four separate locations across Gippsland this evening.

All clubs have been provided with a copy of the draft recommendations report and have until Friday, 14 September to provide their feedback. All submissions are to be made in writing (with a club letterhead) to info@aflgippsland.com.au.
The final recommendations will then be handed down on Friday, 21 September with changes to be implemented in time for the 2019 season. Any affected stakeholders wanting to appeal against the implementation of the review recommendations must have their applications received by AFL Victoria by 28 September.

The following areas were investigated as part of the Leagues and Competitions Review Draft Recommendations Report: database statistics, competition structures, league/governance/administration structures, netball structures, finance, umpires, facilities, volunteers, and travel.

Some of the key findings out of the online survey and subsequent interviews with clubs, groups, and associations were: 100 per cent of Alberton Football Netball League clubs suggested the current six-team competition is not viable, 66 per cent of clubs want to remain in a league with all other AFNL clubs, and under-18 and under-16 numbers remain a concern in the WGFNC. Significantly though, the strong competitive balance across the league was also highlighted.

The WGFNC is set to now include: Bunyip, Cora Lynn, Dalyston, Garfield, Inverloch Kongwak, Kilcunda Bass, Kooweerup, Korumburra-Bena, Nar Nar Goon, Phillip Island, Tooradin-Dalmore, and the Warragul Industrials.

The EDFL is set to include: Buln Buln, Catani, Ellinbank, Lang Lang, Longwarry, Neerim Neerim South, Nilma Darnum, Nyora, Poowong and Yarragon.

The Central & Southern Gippsland Competition (C&SGC) is set to include: Boolarra, Fish Creek, Foster, Hill End, Meeniyan Dumbalk United, Mirboo North, Morwell East, Newborough, Stony Creek, Tarwin, Thorpdale, Toora, Trafalgar, Yallourn-Yallourn North, and Yinnar. The clubs in the WGFNC, EDFL, and newly-formed C&SGC are set to compete in seniors, reserves, and under-17s.

A new junior football league, known as the West Gippsland Junior Football Competition, is also set to launch in 2019.

AFL Gippsland will also open discussions with Gippsland League clubs with a view to exploring the possibility of an East-West conference structure which could be implemented at a future date – possibly as early as 2020. Crucially, open discussions will also take place with AFL South East, AFL Outer East (Yarra Ranges), and interested clubs.

Some of the 11 Netball Victoria recommendations as part of the report include: leagues currently running 13 & under competitions to consider finding alternate opportunities via Netball Victoria affiliated associations; leagues to consult with Netball Victoria when considering the introduction of any new competition, so as to determine the optimal outcome for netball; and AFL Gippsland to consider the balance of administration duties per competition or organisation within the Regional Administration Centre (RAC) and specifically appoint netball-dedicated administrators in consultation with Netball Victoria.

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