WA footy risks too much with AFL reserves
If a ball had bounced a little differently at the MCG on the last Saturday in September last year the idea might not have been discussed.
But as Collingwood went on to win the 2010 AFL premiership they have become the envy of the rest of Australian football. And their practices have been scrutinised by rivals desperately seeking the ingredients that can be shaken together to produce a flag.
The Magpies have a reserves team playing in the VFL therefore it must be the difference between holding aloft the trophy on grand final night or being among the also-rans.
But what if the ball had landed another way in last year’s premiership decider – at least game one – and St Kilda had managed to find a behind that would have reversed the result?
Would the AFL back-up team concept be so well supported because the Saints don’t have the same reserves set-up?
What we do know is that the current system in WA football, whereby West Coast and Fremantle player are filtered through all nine WAFL clubs when not on AFL duty has been a factor in the realisation of three premierships in 25 years.
The same system has also produced hundreds more players for the interstate AFL sides.
This week WAFL clubs will be given a submission by the Eagles and Dockers to field stand-alone reserves line-ups in the local competition from next year.
Such a move would end WA football as we know it. There would a paradigm shift in the attitude towards the code across the State.
When they were established in 1986 and 1994 West Coast and Fremantle were designed to support the local football system. The advent of AFL reserves teams in the WAFL would mean that now the function of football in this State is to service the Eagles and Dockers. There would be a 180 degree turn in thinking.
While there is some criticism of the WA Football Commission for its handling of the code’s affairs, the one issue that cannot be denied is that the structure of the game on the Indian Ocean side of the continent is the envy of the rest of this country.
Over the past decade the WAFC have devised a development pathway whereby all stakeholders, whether it be Auskick, juniors, amateurs, women or AFL, play their part in the promotion of football talent.
Although the WAFL had something of a mid-life crisis with the advent of the two AFL teams, the local league has remained strong as the premier competition in the State. It succeeds in giving AFL hopefuls a chance to prove their wares and providing seniors the chance to play the game at their highest level possible.
But that will be compromised by the introduction of West Coast and Fremantle reserves teams. And if the move will rock the WAFL, the reverberations will be felt from the South West Football League to the remote clinics conducted by Claremont in the Kimberley. WAFL clubs will be reluctant to invest their scarce resources into nurturing talent that may not produce a return because it is directed to the Eagles and Dockers reserves.
There will be an argument that West Coast and Fremantle are funding a significant portion of WA football. The clubs provide about $9 million to the WAFC a year.
But the argument gets back to who is running WA football. Is it the WAFC that represents 120,000 participants from all walks of life or the two AFL clubs?
And there are just too many concerning questions without satisfactory answers that mean the WAFL clubs have no choice but to stand firm and reject the AFL reserves teams proposal.
1. How can Fremantle fill a competitive reserves team when it has only seven players available for WAFL duty this week?
2. How can the WAFL reserves competition – a key plank of the local league system – survive with the introduction of two more teams?
3. Will the media’s focus on the WAFL purely be centred on the fortunes of West Coast and Fremantle teams?
4. Will Dockers and Eagles fans turn their backs on their WAFL clubs in terms of fan support?
5. Will WAFL fans get dejected watching their locally-produced talent used against their beloved sides in local matches? Unless the Eagles and Dockers football departments have 20-20 vision when staring into their crystal balls these queries are almost impossible to answer at this point. That is far too dangerous for the WAFL. The risk is too great.
But the biggest worry is the integrity of the WAFL and what the submission can’t address are the intangibles of modern football.
What happens when Jake Bloggs, a product of the West Perth zone, is lining up for goal for West Coast with 10 seconds left on the clock and scores between the Eagles reserves and East Perth tied in a match at Medibank Stadium?
Bloggs kicks the ball out on the full. But is the result morale-shattering to the West Coast team and player? Not really. Bloggs recorded his 26 possessions and played the 76 minutes of game time the Eagles football department wanted so the charge could press for a recall to AFL ranks.
As far as the Eagles are concerned, Bloggs’ effort was a success.
Those loyal to the WAFL would think otherwise.