Former Wodonga Council chief Gavin Cator appointed to bring Ovens and Murray and AFL NEB together

THE Ovens and Murray Football-Netball League’s long-standing major sponsorship with the SS&A Club is among final sticking points in a push for the competition to come under the wing of AFL Victoria by 2019.

Gavin Cator has been handed the job of bringing the Ovens and Murray FNL and AFL NEB together.

Gavin Cator has been handed the job of bringing the Ovens and Murray FNL and AFL NEB together.

The O and M is the final domino to fall among leagues in the region to become administered by AFL North-East Border _ a process which started almost a decade ago following a review into country football commissioned by the AFL and performed by Peter Jackson.

Former Wodonga Council chief executive Gavin Cator, who has been involved at both league and commission level in the Ovens and Murray and Goulburn-Murray areas, has been handed the task of bringing the O and M and AFL NEB together.

The former O and M director has no deadline and says negotiations are continuing amicably with the view of “all parties attempting to reach an agreement for the best interests of football in the region”.

But the reality is the two organisations are a distance apart with conflicting sponsorship deals to iron out, a question mark hanging over the O and M’s two full-time staff members beyond this season, the fate of the O and M-owned premises in Albury and how much the O and M will need to pay to be administered by AFL NEB.

The 2018 season marks the final year of the O and M’s latest SS&A sponsorship deal.

AFL NEB is sponsored by the Commercial Club and its logo appears on umpires officiating in O and M matches.

The O and M’s two full-time employees are general manager, Sean Barrett, and operations manager Greg Dawson, but there is no guarantee both will switch over to AFL NEB.

Its headquarters in Fallon Street, purchased in the early 2000s, would become surplus to needs if administered by AFL NEB and proceeds from any sale would be eagerly eyed-off by the O and M’s 10 clubs.

AFL NEB regional manager John O'Donohue.

AFL NEB regional manager John O'Donohue.

The size of the administration fee is a closely guarded secret, but it’s understood to be more than the 12-team Goulburn Valley league pays to AFL Goulburn Murray _ reportedly more than $120,000 per year.

The Goulburn Valley made the switch to AFL Goulburn Murray upon the retirement of veteran administrator Keith Wellman several seasons ago.

But two other leagues in the area, the Murray and Picola, are also presently sitting outside the AFL’s preferred regional administration centres model.

The O and M, Murray and Picola are attending a meeting of leagues on Sunday concerned about moving under the AFL umbrella.

The Geelong and District Football League, which sits outside AFL Barwon, has convened the meeting to be held at Bungaree with 14 leagues to attend including some already in AFL hubs.

“There is unrest in the camp,” GDFL president Neville Whitley said.

“But we have a choice whether to go alone.

“We’ve done some costings on insurance already and it could save $5000 per league.

“We want to put a proposal to the AFL and AFL Victoria with the view to allowing us to continue under our own steam into the future providing the leagues are viable and doing all the things the AFL want them to do in terms of development.

“We have no problem with leagues who need help from the hubs.

“But the ones who don’t require should be allowed to continue to do so.”

AFL Victoria has been approached for comment.

The O and M was temporarily disaffiliated from the Victorian Country Football League in the 1970s for refusing to allow Lavington to join the competition.

Representatives from the O and M and AFL NEB have agreed not to comment during the negotiation period.

Ovens and Murray chairman David Sinclair is attending the meeting at Bungaree on Sunday.

Ovens and Murray chairman David Sinclair is attending the meeting at Bungaree on Sunday.

The AFL NEB already administers the Tallangatta and District, Ovens and King, Upper Murray and Wangaratta and District and Albury-Wodonga junior leagues.

The AWJFL was administered by the O and M until two years ago.

The O and M would retain a board of directors and be in charge of its own destiny to a large degree if it followed suit.

But major decisions including competition structures is the domain of the AFL NEB Commission chaired by former North Melbourne premiership player and Murray Bushrangers general manager John Byrne.

The commission also includes former O and M vice-chairman Phil Nolan and another ex-director David Koschitzke.

AFL NEB general manager John O’Donohue is a former Wangaratta Rovers premiership player and coach.

The O and M has had a change of leadership in the off-season with David Sinclair replacing Graeme Patterson.

Mr Sinclair said recently the introduction of an under-16s competition in the O and M was on his “wish-list” in the job, but any discussion was shut down by AFL NEB based on its own research conducted recently.

In comparison the Goulburn Valley league has started a move to introducing under-16s via a formal review.

But introducing under-16s in the O and M has its challenges.

All clubs except Wangaratta, Wangaratta Rovers and Myrtleford play in the AWJFL which also includes school-based clubs Scots and St Patrick’s.

The two Wangaratta clubs don’t have their own teams in the WDJFL.