President of The Rock-Yerong Creek juniors, Michael Mazzocchi, has raised concerns about waiting until 2020 for any significant change to local football competitions.
AFL Riverina’s wide-ranging review into the Farrer and Riverina Leagues and Wagga and District Juniors (WDJFNL) and South West Juniors is now formally underway, with recommendations due in February and March.
While AFL Riverina hasn’t ruled out considering urgent priorities for next year, the review’s timeframe is for potential changes in 2020, and then longer term.
“It seems a long way away because I think structurally with Wagga and Districts, there’s some real issues with age groups and things like that. It’s a bit of a worry to let things slide on for another 12 months,” Mazzocchi said.
“I can’t see how we can just fumble along. It’s going to cost us kids, volunteers, coaches. I think there’s things that need to be done fairly urgently.”
TRYC say they can’t compete in a league which has competitions in every junior age group and Mazzocchi says they’re not alone. Many clubs, including East Wagga-Kooringal, Collingullie-Glenfield Park, Coolamon, Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong and Eastlakes-MCU, don’t field teams in each age.
“Clubs are going in with limited numbers, they’re having to double kids up to fill these grades, coaches on game day have issues because they’re trying to even up numbers, lending other clubs players,” he said.
The big concern, he says, is the effect on the quality of competitions, with the top couple of teams in some age groups extremely dominant compared to their rivals.
“Kids aren’t turning up thinking they can win when they play these sides. And I look at the big AFL and they're always trying to do things to equalise the competition – whether it be salary caps or drafts, they're trying to implement rules to make the competition more even,” Mazzocchi said.
He wants the league to consider suggestions like removing an age group and lowering the limit on the number of registrations any one team can have, believing it could see players disperse among the league.
AFL officials are unlikely to countenance any move which could risk a reduction in overall registrations though and there would be concerns about players being lost to the sport.
TRYC’s other key concern – playing junior and senior football on different days of the weekend – also doesn’t have easy solutions.
Not all clubs have the grounds and facilities to accommodate ‘same day football’.
And WDJFNL’s Sunday schedule avoids clashes with Saturday-based competitions of Wagga netball, junior soccer and rugby league.
However, the Magpies – who are set to merge their junior and senior clubs – believe it’s the answer to a lot of questions, particularly at small town clubs.
“From our point of view, the long-term future of our club is in same-day football,” Mazzocchi said.
“That is where we have to go, and on two levels. From a community perspective, you get everyone together on one day. That also brings our volunteers together, and then people get a day off – a home day or family day on the weekend.
“I also think it would actually help our flow-through rates of our junior footballers. How we are at the moment is disjointed and (juniors) wouldn’t know who The Rock first graders are. .. to get them together playing on the same day and watching senior football, I reckon our flow-through rates will improve.”
Mazzocchi’s points actually underline the need for the AFL Riverina Competitions Review, which will be led by independent consultant David Burgess. The review’s stated purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses of competition structures and come up with strategies for growth and sustainability.
But in a region taking in city clubs and country clubs spread over a vast area, with separate junior and senior competitions, it’s a big challenge.
The review terms of reference point to the complexity noting that the focus is on factors including ‘geography, demographics including dwindling regional populations, employment trends including attraction to regional hubs such as Wagga and Griffith, competition from other sports, volunteer workforces and facilities.’
But it’s scope specifically says it will examine the effectiveness of competition structures, including age groups, and the mechanisms to improve sustainability and competitiveness of clubs and competitions.
TRYC say even under the current structure of leagues, they will explore ‘same day footy’ for some home games if they’re playing a junior club that can accommodate Saturday games even if it’s a different club to their Farrer League senior opposition.