NORTH Ballarat Football Club has defended the support role of full-time Roosters coach Gerard FitzGerald in North Ballarat City’s BFL preliminary final against Redan on Saturday.
AFL Goldfields stepped in after a backlash from its “member” clubs about FitzGerald conferring with City coach Robbie Waters in a huddle at Eastern Oval.
Goldfields region general manager Rod Ward told The Courier yesterday that clubs were uneasy with a perceived alliance between the VFL entity and North Ballarat City.
North Ballarat chief executive officer Mark Patterson said FitzGerald was shocked with the response, having genuinely only helped after being asked.
City president Stephen Darbin hit back at the Goldfields’ intervention, saying seeking FitzGerald’s advice was nothing new for BFL clubs – he cited East Point coach Dan Jordan and Ballarat coach Shane Hutchinson among those that had acted similarly.
He also said other clubs in the region accessed North Ballarat’s elite level coaches, like Rebels assistant coach Mathew Battistello, who helps Lake Wendouree, the club he coached to a flag in 2010.
Darbin said clubs were getting a little bit too precious.
“I don’t care what other clubs think or their perception about us. We’ve done nothing wrong,” Darbin said. “Fitzy is selfless with his time and selfless with everyone.”
Ward met with Darbrin and North Ballarat chief executive officer Mark Patterson after Ballarat Football League directors had been inundated with complaints, compounded by a social media frenzy on the issue, prompting BFL chairman Gary Wickham to write a letter of concern to Patterson.
Ward confirmed City and the Roosters had not broken any rules and acknowledged FitzGerald was a North Ballarat Football Club employee acting in his own time, but said it was not a good look.
“The feedback to us is that (the perception) is detrimental to the relationship between the Roosters and Ballarat clubs,” Ward said. “Clubs are uneasy about the (City) access to resources. We have passed on concerns to the North Ballarat Football Club and North Ballarat City and what they do with this is entirely their decision.”
The issue comes in a week when the Roosters and AFL Goldfields region are drafting guidelines for Roosters-listed players to play at club level in dissolution of the club’s development team. Darbin and Patterson were also disappointed this had been blown into such a big issue, particularly in BFL grand final week.
Patterson said FitzGerald had been at Eastern Oval with a genuine interest in the BFL preliminary final as a whole.
FitzGerald, a long time mentor of Waters, stood with Patterson during the game as an “interested onlooker” and went to the huddle with other spectators where Waters sought his advice.
Darbin said Roosters assistant coach Paul Aikman, who had also come under scrutiny by rival clubs, was a long-time volunteer with the Roosters, North Ballarat juniors (where his sons play) and North Ballarat City where he has helped long-time friend Waters.
Patterson said it was poor form how clubs and the BFL had reacted.
"Fitzy has helped and mentored many coaches in the BFL and broader region...he takes his responsibility (as the region's VFL coach) seriously," Patterson said.
"Robbie had Fitzy as a mentor (at the Roosters) and that is still the fact.
"Our view is that it appears clubs are scurrilously trying to take our focus off what is a very important game this week (BFL grand final)."
Patterson said FitzGerald was still keen to attend the grand final on Saturday, and hoped clubs would not take offence at his being at the game.