AFL Goldfields hands down final report following exhaustive review

AFL Goldfields' exhaustive senior competition review will result in no major structural change to the region's four football/netball leagues.

A 14-page report, which was revealed at a press conference at Saxon House on Thursday, declares that the Ballarat, Central Highlands, Maryborough Castlemaine District and Riddell District leagues are to remain largely unchanged in season 2019.

In terms of the Central Highlands league, this outcome is in contrast to the indications that had come out from the review's working party during the long-running consultation process.

On two separate occasions, the working party sought feedback on its recommendations that involved dividing the 18-club competition. In the second instance, feedback was sought on which of two split options – based on competitiveness or location – were preferred.

This had been met by strong opposition from the Central Highlands Football League board, with its president Eddy Comelli declaring it would fight any split all the way.

In the AFL Goldfields’ key findings report it states that "...the Commission at this point could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that creating two leagues/divisions each of less than 10 clubs would ensure the sustainability of vulnerable clubs..."

One of the major outcomes from the review is that Clunes is set to be “granted its request” to leave the Central Highlands competition and join the Maryborough Castlemaine District league in 2019.

Clunes is the only club in the region earmarked for move to a new home in 2019, but others could still occur in the future.

This recommendation came as a shock to new Magpies president Brendan Sheehan, who told The Courier the club had never requested such drastic action and categorically did not want to leave the Central Highlands league.

“We will be fighting tooth and nail to stay in the Central Highlands,” Sheehan declared.

Sheehan said he had made contact with Comelli and AFL Goldfields general manager Rod Ward about the situation.

Other key outcomes in the final report include:

- That Sebastopol be granted its (revised) request to remain in the Ballarat league, conditional upon it meeting on-field and off-field achievement targets set by AFL Goldfields for the 2018 season. Should the Kookaburras not meet those targets, a transfer to an alternate district league will be considered for the 2019 season.

- That AFL Goldfields and the Ballarat league further explore the possible inclusion of Buninyong and Rupertswood into that competition in the medium term.

- That Skipton and Carngham-Linton be provided with on-field and off-field criteria to be met by the end of the 2019 season.

- That Smythesdale be allowed to compete in the 2018 season without a senior football side, but must return to fielding a full compliment of teams the following year.

- That AFL Goldfields work with the Central Highlands Football League and Central Highlands Netball League, with the aim of merging the two administrative entities.

- That AFL Goldfields works with affiliated netball associations and leagues to establish an AFL Goldfields Netball Umpires Association, which will have responsibility for accrediting and appointing umpires to senior fixtures within requested leagues.

- That AFL Goldfields works with affiliated netball associations and leagues to establish a player points system for A-grade/senior netball competitions. This would be to address the rising costs of player payments.

The report said while there hadn’t been any recommendations for major structural change to any affiliated competitions, there was still “over 40 recommendations have been proposed for implementation that we are confident will assist in the sustainability of clubs and the promotion and growth of football and netball across the region moving forward.”

The report detailed the amount of consultation that the working party had with the Central Highlands league and its clubs before deciding against a split.

“As a result of that feedback, the (draft) recommendations have altered,” it read.

AFL Goldfields chairman Paul Armstrong admitted that the Commission came close to siding with a split, but in the end had decided against it.

“There was certainly some benefits in going the other way for some of the less competitive clubs at the moment,” Armstrong said.

“Everybody won’t be happy with this review, there’s no doubt about it. And that was never going to be the case whichever way it went.”

Along with Armstrong and Ward, members from the four leagues were present at Thursday’s gathering and available for interviews.