Q: Hello David, what mark would you give the league out of 10 this year?
A: We’re two-thirds of the way through the season and there’s six clubs still in the mix to make finals and four clubs with genuine claims so, at this point, I think we’re tracking at about an eight.
Q: The AFL has at least six clubs out of the running and the NRL’s top eight is largely decided, do you think the O and M is too heavily criticised?
A: In recent times we’ve had years where there’s been a couple of teams well ahead of the rest. With equalisation measures in place the competition is beginning to show signs of evening up. People just need to be patient and give these measures time to work.
Q: The Border Mail conducted a poll last week of 40 players and one of the major bugbears was the high points allocated to district players.
A: There’s some anomalies that have appeared, we actually canvassed clubs and found out what their issues are and taken these to AFL North East Border and there’s some things, I think, will change next year. The extra point for a best and fairest is one thing that may, potentially, change next year. Understand also that the CSP (Community Sustainability Program) rules are across the whole of community football in Victoria, they’re not just local rules. Players that come out of a district league and into a higher level are worth three points (six is the maximum for any player) and for that district club to replace that player with an Ovens and Murray player, they’re worth four points. Hence why district leagues have a slightly higher point allocation than O&M clubs. It’s not as if there are a dozen district players that want to play O and M that can’t get on to a club list because their point allocation is too high.
Q: Also in that player poll, the players were quizzed on what can be done to quickly reduce the gap between the top and bottom sides. A number said extra points for the lower teams, what’s your thoughts?
A: It’s something again that we’re looking at and have spoken to AFL North East Border about. We’ve asked how a staggered points system might look, but for a club like (winless Wangaratta) Rovers, it’s building from the bottom up and they’re doing it well with their thirds, sitting on top. One of the issues that has come out is that clubs are finding it difficult when a player moves to Melbourne to get them to come back and play in the O&M. Salary caps and points are much higher in the Metro Leagues and they can afford to offer a lot more money.
Q: Do you know why Melbourne clubs have more points and money to play with?
A: Largely because of the greater access to AFL and VFL players. They couldn’t go from the money they were paying back to a level that was comparable with regional leagues. It is something that does need to change for a more level playing field.
Q: Do you know if AFL Victoria has plans to change that?
A: In time I think the plan is to slowly wind them back to a level that’s comparable to regional leagues.
Q: What feedback have you had from the decision to give the grand final to Wangaratta’s Norm Minns Oval after its home of the past 22 years – Lavington Sportsground – was unavailable due to redevelopment?
A: Without doubt, it’s the biggest decision that we’ve had to make this year and the feedback’s been overwhelmingly positive. I think the football public understands that Wangaratta’s been banging the door down for a number of years and it was time for them to be given the opportunity. We’ve been talking about it and there’s lots of unanswered questions that need to be answered. So it was time to go there and test the venue. It’s football heartland, Albury-Wodonga is football heartland as well, but it’s also soccer, rugby (league) and other codes have a fairly strong presence that, perhaps, don’t have the same presence in Wangaratta.
Q: Many of the league’s main sponsors are in Albury-Wodonga, was that the most difficult aspect of taking it from the Border?
A: It was a huge consideration. We spoke to a number of our sponsors and the impact it was going to have on their sponsorship of the competition. They were all supportive of it and they acknowledged that their sponsorship was of the O and M, not the Albury-Wodonga component of it, they’re sponsoring the whole of the competition and if that was best for the competition, they were in support of it.
Q: Poor crowds are certainly an issue, what can be done there?
A: The wide view is, society in general, has more events, more sports that we compete with now, but beyond that there’s the perceived unevenness of the comp that’s had an impact, as I said that’s starting to turn itself around. Back in the day people liked to get to the football and watch the young kids come through and develop and you just don’t see the (top level) young kids coming through to play O and M like you used to prior to the TAC Cup days. One really good point that was made to me was that TAC Cup footy should be done by June 30 and allow these kids to play the last few months of the season with their club. Surely by the time they get to the national under 18 championships, recruiters know who’s a chance of being drafted and I’m sure it would be helpful for them (AFL clubs) to come and watch the kids play in a comp, like the O and M, against men. I’m talking about kids like (Corowa-Rutherglen’s) Will Chandler, who’s played two games and kicked five goals in each game. How would he go if he played a whole season with Corowa-Rutherglen? It’s something that’s got to have some consideration, that’s one of the things that I think is impacting on people coming to the football.
Q: The Hume League is booming, it’s a close comp and the crowds are terrific. It appears to have a tremendous community involvement, do you think the O and M has to connect back to the community?
A: One of the things that came out of the review we did a couple of years ago was a lack of fan engagement and one of the reasons why we launched OPTUS O&M TV earlier this year. But you’re not really comparing apples to apples in that it (Hume League) has a different structure. That’s why I’d like to see under 16s, a fourth grade of football come into the O and M, and a fifth grade of netball come into the O and M. Surely that’s got to drive more people to clubs and more volunteers to clubs and have their day become much more family-oriented. I’d like to think the O and M would attract better audiences because it’s a better standard of football.
Q: What’s the biggest problem facing the O and M?
A: I think the biggest issues, for football in general, are volunteers and players. One of the reasons for the points system and salary caps was to not only even up the competition, but take the pressure off committees to raise the funds to maintain a competitive football team. And kids need to get off their screens and start participating more in sport.
Q: Are you happy with the salary cap of $160,000?
A: Absolutely, although we don’t see the salary cap figures, that’s administered by AFL North East Border. The idea of the salary cap was to take pressure off committees to raise funds and, slowly, I think it’s doing that.
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