SOME of the Ovens and Murray Football League’s most respected names have called for an urgent focus on bridging the gap between rich and poor in the competition.
Hall of famers Peter Tossol and Tim Sanson and dual Wangaratta premiership player and former coach Jon Henry are members of the group formed recently.
Past and present club presidents Adrian Villella and Nic Conway are also on board with the group, which wants to fast-track equalisation measures such as a player points system next season.
Corowa mayor Fred Longmire, who retains a close involvement with Corowa-Rutherglen, also lent his support to ending the O and M arms race.
The group is prepared to arrange a summit of all 10 clubs to discuss the imbalance in the O and M and lobby AFL Victoria to speed up its investigation into equalisation at all levels.
Tossol said the group was solution-focused and wanted to help the O and M board take the lead on equalisation.
It wanted to start the “tough conversation” to even up the competition and return hope to all clubs in pursuit of a premiership.
“It is the hot-button topic in pubs, clubs, offices and on street corners every day,” Tossol said.
“We all have a long association with the league and our fear is the O and M brand is being badly damaged as a result of the present discussion.
“It is over-riding everything else, but I see this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.”
The O and M has resisted exploring equalisation in the hope the lower-ranked teams would rise to the level of Albury and Yarrawonga, which have played off in the past five grand finals.
The group is also concerned at the turnover of volunteers and officials at clubs due to the stress associated with fund-raising to field competitive teams.
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Sanson said he was alarmed at the level of despair.
“If there is no hope then it is ridiculous to keep trying,” he said.
“It is a question most clubs would be grappling with right now as many teams’ seasons are already over and planning for next year is under way.
“Where is the incentive to get involved?”
Tossol said Albury had raised the bar to a level no team could match on a sustained level.
“They haven’t broken any rules and every club would do the same if they had similar resources,” he said.
“Full credit to Yarrawonga for going with them, but realistically the majority of other teams cannot hope to match those levels without huge financial risk.
“This won’t be an easy conversation, but we think it is long overdue.
“The current scenario is not cyclical.”
- A summit of 10 club presidents and league board members to address the imbalance in the Ovens and Murray led by an independent facilitator.
- Lobby AFL Victoria to speed up the outcomes of the working party looking into player payments.
- The O and M to demonstrate its commitment to equalisation in the following ways:
- Agree to be one of the trial leagues for equalisation measures recommended by the AFL Victoria working party next year.
- Or devise an interim player points system that rewards clubs for nurturing their own talent and restricts, but doesn’t prevent the movement of players between teams.
- Acknowledge the stated aim in the O and M strategic plan (2014-16) that the “bottom can rise to the top” is totally unachievable.
North Albury, Myrtleford and Wodonga have experienced financial problems in recent times in the battle to keep pace.
Villella said he was deeply conflicted by the Saints’ decision in 2012 to pay Yarrawonga forward Brendan Fevola to play against them.
“It cut me to the core and I am still not proud it happened,” he said.
“Would it have happened if we were a contender?
“Of course not, but what do you do?
“We needed the money. End of story.”
Conway is in his first season as Raiders president and is concerned at the small crowds attending O and M matches.
“My biggest concern is the actual footy economy is breaking down with the current imbalance,” he said.
“Clubs rely on all teams being relevant so their supporters want to attend away games and spend money at the canteen and the bar on game day to help keep them running.”
Henry, who is still involved with the Magpies as a runner, said the O and M had a chance to lead change.
“By acting ourselves, administrators statewide will support our efforts and applaud those with the courage to do this,” he said.
Longmire said the situation had reached a critical point and smaller clubs like the Roos were the most vulnerable.
“We all want to be contenders, not cannon fodder,” he said.
Last October AFL Victoria initiated a working party to address player payments, with a survey now with all senior clubs across the state.
North-East Border regional manager John O’Donohue is on the working party.
The O and M is allowing AFL Victoria to lead the way on the issue.
Wangaratta Rovers premiership player, coach, Corowa-Rutherglen dual premiership coach, Ovens and Murray interleague player and coach, VCFL representative, Ovens and Murray Hall of Fame inductee:
“I am concerned about the integrity and more importantly the survival of O and M clubs. Most of them have been around for 100 years and some clubs are openly questioning the worth of continuing in the current environment. Surely that should be ringing alarm bells.”
Lavington dual premiership coach and player. Ovens and Murray interleague representative, VCFL representative, Ovens and Murray Hall of Fame inductee:
“People are turning off, I have done it this year. There is no interest in one-sided games. There are only three teams, and mine is hopeful at best, with a chance of winning the premiership and that has been clearly evident from Christmas.”
Wangaratta coach and dual premiership player, Ovens and Murray representative:
“If we don’t act now then the league as we now know it will be irreparably damaged. The consequence of standing back and waiting is dire, ask Swanpool or Tatong. A points system must be implemented for 2015 otherwise in five years we could end up with only six or seven clubs.”
Wodonga Raiders premiership player, games record-holder, Ovens and Murray representative.Current Raiders president:
“I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their successes and, in fact, I admire what the top sides are achieving, but the reality is that the competition as a whole has suffered. Volunteers are working tirelessly for little success presently. We have a great group at the moment, but they want some reward for their efforts.”
Corowa premiership player, former Ovens and Murray board member, Corowa-Rutherglen past players’ group. Corowa mayor:
“Clubs have zero ability to sustain current investment levels for any length of time let alone bridge the gap towards the league leaders. The club I represent even though it is in the middle level has seen no lift in crowd attendance on a year by year comparison.”
Former Myrtleford president:
“The general decline in the smaller country towns and the exit of 18-year-olds leaving their home towns for higher education in larger cities