Richmond head of football Neil Balme is proud of the partnership the reigning AFL premiers have formed with the region this year.
Aligned Leisure, a fully owned subsidiary of the club, commenced management of four aquatic facilities, including Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre this week, while the Tigers’ Next Generation Academy (NGA) is also becoming firmly entrenched in the North East.
Balme joined Richmond CEO Brendon Gale in Wodonga yesterday to discuss some of the club’s future plans on the Border.
“The NGA is part of a longer term tender, but the fact Aligned Leisure is in the same area means there are so many synergies that work for us,” Balme said.
“The fact it’s Aligned Leisure means it’s a separate business, but it’s very much run by the cultural values of the Richmond Football Club, which means it will essentially be a good community business, which is important to the locals as well as us.
“There’s marvellous facilities and there’s a clear crossover that we might be able to get kids here.
“Who knows, we might finish up employing kids in the programs and there’s all sorts of possible crossovers.
“It wasn’t designed specifically that way, but the way it has turned out is really great for us and the kids.
“The NGA has really only just got going and it’s really getting the clubs back into the regions like they used to be in the zone days.”
Balme also revealed there’s opportunity for Richmond to keep an eye on the region’s female football talent as they prepare to enter the AFLW competition in 2020.
“We don’t know where all the women are going to come from and there’s opportunities for all that as well within these zones,” Balme said.
“Who knows what will happen and what kind of access we’ll have, whether we get special access or can see what’s going on.”
Richmond currently holds down top spot on the AFL ladder with eight rounds to play in its pursuit for back-to-back flags, with a record membership base in excess of 97,000 right behind it.
“The players’ attitude has been outstanding, we’ve played pretty well and it’s still early, but we’re in a pretty good spot,” Balme said.
“What worked well we’ve probably maintained, but if you stand still you go backwards in today’s footy.
“There’s obviously been some changes and progression of players and progression of coaching, but I think we’ve kept up with that.
“I guess it’s (club membership) on the back of good performances, but to get to the numbers we’ve got is amazing.”
Richmond’s visit coincided with an NGA session at the Leisure Centre where members of the under 15s training squad were put through their paces.
AFL North East Football Development Manager Zac Guilfoyle said there was a strong cross section of the region in attendance, including Corryong, Tallangatta Valley, Mitta Valley, Dederang and Beechworth, as well as Wodonga.
“About 25 kids participated in the Wodonga campus and we’ve also got 55 in Wangaratta and that goes down to Benalla, Yarrawonga and even Mansfield,” he said.
Guilfoyle added there is ongoing discussions with Richmond about growing opportunities into NSW, including Albury and surrounds, particularly in regards to indigenous and multicultural participants.
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