Cracks in the foundations

March 08, 2018

Picola Football Netball League’s split from AFL Victoria services less than a month from the start of the season has left clubs with a tough — but urgent — decision to make.

Picola District Football Netball League’s expulsion from AFL Victoria is not the end of the story.

In fact, it shapes as the warning tremor for country football ahead of a system-shaking earthquake.

The saga between the league and AFL Goulburn Murray has been hurtling towards this conclusion for a significant amount of time.

After only signing a 12-month agreement at the 11th hour last year, the chances of the Picola board welcoming another step towards AFL administration with open arms this year were slim to say the least.

But, in my opinion, the main catalyst for this drastic step can be traced back to AFL Victoria itself.

Despite recent proclamations there was never an ultimatum put to leagues, the sport’s governing body in this state certainly expected and wanted every league in its jurisdiction administrated by a regional hub by the start of next season.

There was always going to be a push back.

It may have started with small disagreements between leagues and their nearest hub, but after last month’s meeting of minds at Bungaree the situation has snowballed to the point where we stand upon the precipice of sweeping changes.

After removing itself for good from AFL Victoria — by way of forcing AFL GM to cut ties — the league will serve as the guinea pig for others across the state.

If the league can successfully negotiate around the roadblocks AFL Victoria will place in its path — think talented player pathways like the AFL GM Academy and the TAC Cup system — others could follow suit en-masse.

Picola has by no means jumped ship without a plan — having already sorted insurance and online databases — and I have full confidence in the league’s ability to go it alone.

Plans to remain under the points system in order to lessen the effect on neighbouring leagues are also admirable in essence, although it remains to be seen whether clubs would back that sentiment when it comes to game day.

But here’s where they need to cop a whack.

Why is this only playing out now?

It is less than a month until the start of the season and suddenly 17 clubs have to make a potentially history-altering decision whether or not to back their board or remain affiliated to AFL Victoria.

AFL GM cancelled a face-to-face meeting between the parties Monday week ago, and in my opinion it was the wrong decision.

It forced the stoush back into the public sphere to play out across this publication’s back pages, as well as those of others across the state.

An agreement of some kind would have been reached from the meeting and this conversation would have been delayed another 12 months.

But the Picola league cannot absolve itself of blame by that cancellation alone.

It has had 12 months already to make its intentions clear, and if I was a player in the league I would feel aggrieved that this had not been sorted sooner.

At its core though this is a battle between a small organisation trying to remain independent and a governing body with the backing of an entire national system behind it.

The Picola league is standing up for the little guy, and in its mind is giving a voice to a number of leagues in a similar situation across the state.

It has won the first battle of sorts by forcing AFL GM to kick it out of the AFL Victoria system, rather than walking out itself.

But where this war will be won is on the fields of the TAC Cup.

If, as I understand it, players in the Picola leagues will be barred from Murray Bushrangers’ squads, it could prove the turning point.

Every junior footballer dreams of running out onto the MCG in their favourite club’s colours.

If that dream is dashed before it even begins, the Picola leagues could lose their future.

I do not agree that players should be forced from their family clubs in order to be considered for TAC Cup selection.

Surely individual insurance policies could be explored so that rising stars can still play for the Bushies and a Picola league club.

But if AFL Victoria holds firm, it will give plenty of parents food for thought before deciding where their child plays football.

And there are not many more powerful things on this earth than a parent with a purpose — especially when it comes to their child’s future.

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