The time for talking is over.
If the Goulburn Valley League wants to again be at the forefront of country football, the competition’s structure needs changing.
The issue of what age groups suit the league has been bubbling away for a while, but what is clear is that something needs to be done because doing nothing is not an option.
Declining player numbers have rocked all community football leagues, not just the GVL.
But to continue to drift along in the same direction with only an under-18 competition and no plan is going to see clubs in dire straits — and quick.
News sports reporter Tyler Maher touched on this subject in his regular Tuesday column this week.
He brought up some valid points about all leagues in the Goulburn Murray region, but what he did after the article was most eye-opening.
Tyler offered to pull on the boots this weekend for the first time in about three years for any club that needed an extra player.
A short story went online detailing his proposal and the response in only a few hours was staggering.
More than 20 clubs across all leagues in the region needed help to fill numbers in their reserves.
Teams are simply crying out for players and it’s an issue that won’t go away any time soon.
The concept I am about to explain has been mentioned a few times, but it is the best way forward.
Shepp News Footy Show host John ‘‘JR’’ Ryan said it last year and Picola District Football Netball League board member Colin Senior went down the same path this month.
The GVL needs to bring in an under-14 competition and revert the thirds back to under-17s.
It is not just player numbers that are on the slide, but the standard of play and crowds have also dropped dramatically in the past three seasons.
All those things are not isolated, they all correlate.
An extra junior competition would automatically see more people come through the gates and moving up to under-17s allows the seniors and reserves teams a bigger talent pool to draw from.
The GVL has feeder junior clubs in the Shepparton District Junior Football League, but with those teams playing on Sundays, they can almost feel like separate entities altogether.
Having four teams playing on the same day creates a stronger family atmosphere and allows the junior players to feel more apart of a club.
Ryan, who has been involved in the league for more than 50 years, explained it well last year.
‘‘The overwhelming feedback I’ve had is that parents are sick of going to the footy on a Saturday and a Sunday and you can see that with the crowds at GVFL games now being well down,’’ Ryan said.
‘‘If you brought in under-14s and start them at 9(am), then the under-17s at about 10.15(am) and you can have your development squad or seconds at midday before the seniors.
‘‘That’s going to bring more people through the gate and that makes for a greater chance they’ll be sticking around to watch the seniors and spend money at the canteen.’’
Senior, who has experience at club and league level, took a more broader view.
‘‘With the player points system coming in and everyone trying to create those one-point players, I think the way to do that is a system that has worked well in the Picola and Murray leagues,’’ Senior said.
‘‘Netball has to be a part of this as well, but the more boys and girls you get playing from a young age at your club can only be a good thing.
‘‘The GVL and KDFNL start up at under-18 level and you can get some kids who have already played for 10 clubs before they get there and you don’t have that club loyalty.
‘‘If you build that club loyalty from a young age, these people are more likely to stick with your club the whole way through.’’
The money being splashed out in metropolitan leagues is a major worry and has contributed to some woes.
If cash is what you are after, most country clubs simply can’t compete with the city juggernauts anymore, boosted by pokies and powerful benefactors.
It used to be when you finished up in the AFL or VFL, a top player would take a nice pay packet in the country and the flow-on effect is it would attract other stars.
The lack of elite talent making the journey up the Hume Hwy is a concern and that has played a major role in the standard of the GVL dropping.
While introducing an under-14 competition to the GVL’s match-day schedule won’t fix everything, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Any other ideas?