THE Ovens and Murray Football-Netball League has put aside previous concerns about taking its grand final to Wangaratta by agreeing to play this year’s premiership decider at the Norm Minns Oval.
The O and M board unanimously voted in favour of playing the grand final at the Wangaratta Magpies’ homeground which has successfully hosted AFL practice matches in recent seasons.
A major redevelopment has put the host venue for the past 24 years, Lavington Sportsground, out of action for the next two years, but the O and M has only agreed to return the grand final to Wangaratta for one year.
O and M chairman David Sinclair said the biggest fear in the past had been taking the grand final away from the larger population centre, but did concede crowds had dropped off in last two years at Lavington.
“Norm Minns Oval is an established big event venue having hosted a number of AFL pre-season games in recent years,” he said.
“They have been banging the door down for some years and the board in the past has been hesitant to take the O and M grand final to Wangaratta.
“It was time those questions were answered and if we aren’t going to do it when Lavington is unavailable, when are we going to do it?
“If it’s a huge success down at Wangaratta, without pre-empting anything, there is no reason why this is the last time it goes there.”
The Albury Tigers home ground missed out on the grand final this year, but it has put in an early bid to host the preliminary final.
The Wangaratta Magpies are the reigning O and M premiers, but have never won a flag on their home ground.
Mr Sinclair said the league’s sponsors, mostly based in Albury-Wodonga, were a “huge consideration” in its decision and will be given signage opportunities on the big day.
“They understand the Ovens and Murray Football League is much bigger than the Albury-Wodonga based clubs,” he said.
Better netball facilities were also taken into consideration with an extra court for warm-ups, superior viewing area and a commitment to spend $15,000 re-surfacing the main court helping clinch the deal for Wangaratta.
Wangaratta Rovers could also score an unexpected financial windfall from the grand final with plans in place for the Hawks to assist with catering.
“It is a bit of icing on the cake Wangaratta Rovers can be involved,” Mr Sinclair said.
Wangaratta mayor Ken Clarke hoped his city can convince the O and M the grand final can be a long-term arrangement at the Norm Minns Oval.
“We’re very excited to be partnering with the Ovens and Murray and hosting the grand final,” he said.
Wangaratta and Albury are poised to play off in the grand final again this season.
The Magpies stopped the Tigers run of three successive premierships at Lavington Sportsground last season.
The two clubs have also played off in grand finals Rutherglen in 1946, Wodonga in 1957 and the Tigers’ homeground in 1966.
Their next clash will be on June 30 at the 2018 grand final venue.
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