THE sustainability of individual clubs must take precedence over the viability of leagues.
And this, says the Korumburra-Bena Giants, is the fundamental flaw in AFL Gippsland’s decision to reject their application to join the new West Gippsland Football Netball League next year.
“Our club is absolutely determined that our future is not in the Alberton league next year which in no way means we are being disrespectful to the clubs that will remain in Alberton,” Giants’ president Ross Besley said last Saturday.
“Although our results haven’t been good in the past two years, at senior football level, it was only in 2013 that all of our football and netball teams, except for the B Grade and Under 13s netball, made the grand finals.”
At the time, less than three years ago, local commentators said Korumburra-Bena was simply too strong for Alberton.
Kilcunda-Bass beat Korumburra-Bena in the seniors’ grand final that year by 36 points but the Bulldogs, as they were then, won the reserves and thirds, were runners-up in the fourths and figured in four out of the six netball grand finals, winning the A Grade and C Grade.
“Even with the results we’ve had lately, our win-loss percentage in senior football, since 2009, is 59 per cent, compared with IK’s 49 per cent and we absolutely support the decision to include them in the West Gippsland competition next year.
“In fact the support we’ve had, especially from the former Bass Valley clubs; IK, Kilcunda-Bass,
Dalyston and Phillip Island has been outstanding. Since the decision came out, they’ve all written letters of support for us and these will form part of our submission.
“If we fail at AFL level, we will pursue it legally because we know it would be a complete disaster for the club if we were forced to stay,” Mr Besley said.
“And the process we are adopting, we believe, will be successful if justice prevails. We have legal advice to say that it’s an open and shut case.
“We don’t believe the guidelines have been followed in the final outcome of this review,” he said.
“The fundamental flaw in the decision taken by AFL Gippsland is that the sustainability of the clubs takes precedence over the sustainability of the leagues.”
In other words, clubs cannot be forced to do anything that would impact their viability, such as playing in a far distant league or one that was too strong.
“They’ve been more motivated about finding an eighth club for Alberton than considering what’s best for Korumburra-Bena. That’s why they approached Yarram.
“We’re bitterly disappointed about it and we put in our notice to appeal the decision last Wednesday, the day after the review board handed down its decision. We now have 21 days to make a submission.
“As we understand it, it will be a written submission only but it has been handed up to AFL Victoria to deal with directly.
“We don’t expect to fail, but if we do, this way it will just shorten the time before we can take legal action.”
Full support
From top to bottom, the club is united in its determination to appeal and also to join West Gippsland.
Mr Besley said the club’s strong netball division was furious with the decision.
Asked if she thought AFL Gippsland had taken the interests of the club’s netballers into consideration, president of the Giants’ netball, Merrissa Cosson, said she hoped so but suspected not.
“It’s absolutely essential, if we want to keep our (netball) playing group together that we go to the West Gippsland league next year,” Mrs Cosson said.
“We’re not being disrespectful when we say this but much of our main competition will be going to the new league and we saw it as the ideal challenge for our girls to go to a different competition next year.
“We’ve won the past four A Grade premierships and we feel that we have thoroughly earned the opportunity to step up next year.
“In fact, we’ve already had indications from our top players that they would certainly be looking elsewhere if we are forced to stay in Alberton.
“We’re focused, motivated and extremely committed to the new challenge and it would be coming at an ideal time for us but, unfortunately, we couldn’t say the same about staying in Alberton.”
There’s little doubt that the Korumburra-Bena teams would be up with the best in the 10-team West Gippsland competition and a major asset to the new competition.
Coach of the Under 16s, Nick Besley, son of Ross, is particularly concerned about the future for junior footballers in the area.
On a day when his Under 16s were missing out on a game against Toora, which only has Under 18s, he said several of the clubs in the new Alberton competition didn’t have the full complement of junior teams with both Foster and Tarwin not fielding either.
“We’d be concerned about the amount of byes that would open up in the competition. The boys just want to play every week or they’ll go somewhere where they can.
“Personally, I’d also be looking for somewhere else to play if we stayed in the Alberton league,” said Nick.
“And a number of my mates at the club feel the same way.”
Giants’ president Ross doesn’t want to think what life would be like if the AFL upheld the decision for Korumburra-Bena to remain in Alberton.
And he said the idea of “leaving the door open” for a future move to West Gippsland was also unworkable.
“We’ve spoken to a lot of our former players, playing locally at other clubs and a number of them say they would be prepared to come home if we go to West Gippsland and results go their way at their present clubs this year.
“I’m not saying all these players would come with us; but the likes of Aaron Hillberg, Cade Maskell, Josh Hopkins, Brent Fitzgerald, Paul Patterson, Shannon Bray, Tom Wyatt and others would only consider it if we went to West Gippsland.
“We’ve had a few financial issues in the past couple of years, with the work we’ve done around the place but we’re through that now and have built up a sizeable, six-figure sum which we intend to use to boost our prospects next year.
“We could have done what IK did this year, and good luck to them, gone out and brought in 11 players but we preferred to get the club back on an even keel ahead of the restructure and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“We feel that we’d be an asset to the new competition, as a bigger town club playing against some of the other bigger towns in the region.
“It simply makes no sense, other than making up the numbers, for us to stay in Alberton.”