By Mitch Guy
FOOTY and netball clubs are the lifeblood of many communities across Victoria and it’s no different in South Gippsland.
A day out at the footy is a chosen pastime for supporters and players, with friendships developed and the opportunity to maintain fitness, build discipline and work together in a team environment.
But when your team is struggling to compete against clubs week in, week out, a club can find it hard to survive.
This is why AFL Gippsland made most clubs happy when it released its Senior Football and Netball Review Recommendations on Friday.
The four Alberton FNL clubs who have been recommended to join the newly-formed West Gippsland League in 2017 – Dalyston, Kilcunda-Bass, Korumburra-Bena and Phillip Island – have quality juniors, and are seen to be advantaged by their closer proximity to Melbourne and larger population base.
The four clubs have all played off in the grand final in the past three years, with Dalyston, Phillip Island and Kilcunda-Bass winning the past three premierships.
But Fish Creek is a prime example of a small town fighting out of its weight division.
The proud club has worked hard to build a strong senior side which played off in last season’s grand final, and is likely to dominate the Alberton league under its recommended structure.
Country footy usually works in waves of success, but the predicted population growth in the western areas has also been considered throughout AFL Gippsland’s review.
What may not have been strongly considered is the impact the changes will make to the Alberton FNL.
DWWWW was on the brink of folding forever after going into recess for the 2014 season.
They triumphantly returned last season and are on track to improve further in 2016.
But along with Toora, the club still has question marks about its future.
Throw Nyora into the Alberton FNL and you have three clubs with uncertain futures, which could reduce the league to six clubs very quickly.
AFL Gippsland has taken a strong competition and has made it vulnerable.
Whether the changes to the league structure will stop the demise of struggling clubs is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that the standard of the Alberton FNL will drop with the move of four of the top clubs.
The Alberton FNL will be reduced to a minnow league, which is a shame after hard work by the league’s board to increase the profile of the competition and take interleague seriously in recent years.
The drop in standard has seen Inverloch-Kongwak express its keen interest to join its traditional rivals in the West Gippsland League, which is a wise move for its future.
Nyora’s players and members have been left dumbfounded by the suggestion to join the Alberton FNL, and the club is preparing a submission to AFL Gippsland.
The review committee’s justification for a Nyora move to Alberton suggests the Saints may fare better in a league of a lower standard.
But this recommendation is likely to be thrown out, with increased travel times and the loss of local derbies against Poowong, Lang Lang and Catani far outweighing any positives of the suggested move.
The logical decision would be to allow Nyora to remain in the Ellinbank League, which would give the Ellinbank FL a 10-team competition and reduce the Alberton FNL to eight clubs.
With Inverloch-Kongwak keen to stick with its neighbouring clubs and join the stronger West Gippsland League, a straight swap for Korumburra-Bena could be a viable option.
That would give the Alberton FNL an even eight clubs and the West Gippsland League could even grab a team like Tooradin-Dalmore to form a 10-team competition.
The proposed West Gippsland League is likely to be a highly-competitive competition.
It may also allow the four to five former Alberton clubs to develop further, with away matches closer to Melbourne helping reduce travel times for Melbourne-based players, making it easier to attract recruits and retain players.
Clubs have until March 11 to lodge submissions and AFL Gippsland has said the final review will be completed by around Easter.