Inside Football - 30 May 2007
When will these clubs get real?
Standing on the boundary on Saturday offering observations about the VFL v WAFL game for our ABC audience it seemed like only yesterday that I was dipping the shoulder at Port Melbourne opponents and giving some lip to the vociferous mob on the terraces. How things have changed. Not content with having foisted an inappropriate name on the old VFA and swamped suburban football with AFL telecasts that have ravaged attendances, the big league now threaten to deliver the killer blow.
Afflicted by irrationality when it comes to explaining the supremacy of the interstate clubs, some AFL officials choose to blame the VFL for their ills. Instead of accepting that the national league – which brought an end to the VFA’s glory days - now threatens the poorer Victorian clubs, they cling to the idea that alignments are the source of their problems. According to the script, AFL players at aligned clubs aren’t developing at the rate required for the Victorian clubs to compete with their interstate opponents. That means, my sources say, the Doggies, St Kilda, Collingwood, Carlton and the Kangaroos are seriously considering joining Geelong in fielding teams in a revamped VFL.
Whilst it’s not an assessment or a strategy favoured by Richmond football director Greg Miller and AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, it has some currency in the AFL. Instead of accepting that antiquated infrastructure – Moorabbin, Arden Street and the Western Oval are prime examples - and a shortage of money to spend on recruiting and ancillary services is putting them at a disadvantage, the anti-VFL cabal blames the alignment strategy. Instead of developing a big picture view of football, the proponents of the reserves strategy wallow in small-mindedness. Instead of accepting that only by reducing the number of AFL teams in Victoria will the interstate imbalance be rectified, some in the AFL myopically blame the poor old VFL. The truth is that what they have sowed with the national league they have now reaped.
If those calling for a return to the reserves have their way it will spell the end of the Scorpions and the Bullants, leave Werribee in deep strife and North Ballarat wondering whether it should return to the Ballarat League, where at least it could win a premiership. With only Williamstown, Port, Frankston and North Ballarat financially capable of standing alone, the future of the old VFA clubs would be perilous. Just as significantly, a revamped VFL of this kind would be a fully-fledged reserves competition, in which the premiership would be totally worthless. With these proposals in the air maybe people might now properly understand why I’ve always said that abandoning our name – VFA – was the first step towards football oblivion for Australia’s oldest football competition. And the sad truth is that a reserves competition won’t help the AFL clubs one bit, on or off the field.
Age did not weary them
How appropriate that in a week when the AFL reserves solution is in the news the VFL should annihilate the WAFL. And coach Mark Williams did it with eleven players 25 years and over and not one AFL rookie! And among the best were two 29-year-olds, James Byrne and Nick Sautner, the latter kicking nine goals and ‘sticking it up’ his critics. Those who called on the VFL to select young players should take heed of the victory.
Had the VFL selectors taken the youth policy to its logical conclusion Sautner would have been overlooked for Williamstown’s Dean Limbach. So too might Jason Berry (26), Chris Obst (27), Ezra Poyas (26), John Baird (26), David Robbins, (26) and David Spriggs (26) have been replaced by kids from the Under 23 side. As the 119-point deficit confirmed, the selectors picked a truly tough and brilliant side and the ‘oldies’ were inspiring.
Adopting a so-called youth policy would make a mockery of the culture of the competition and extinguish the aspirations of those blokes who are playing in the VFL because they are not good enough to be drafted or have had their day in the big league. Some players - 25 year old Jason Cloke might be one of them – still hold out hope of being re-drafted. For those who on’t, playing in a premiership or a state game offers hope. If the anti-VFL lobby has its way you can kiss goodbye to those dreams.
PS. Nick Sautner, who plays his 200 th game on Saturday, will be my half time guest during the ABC TV match.
WERRIBEE v Casey - ABC TV
Nth Ballarat v SANDRINGHAM
NTH BULLANTS v Geelong
Tasmania v PORT MELBOURNE
Box Hill v WILLIAMSTOWN – Casey Radio - 97.7 3SER-fm
Bendigo v COBURG