Upper Murray league clubs have almost unanimously rejected a proposal to merge and join the Tallangatta and District league.
All clubs with the exception of Federal voted in favour of maintaining the existing Upper Murray Football Netball league for next year and beyond at a league meeting held on Monday night.
Clubs were asked to consider a proposal from the league amalgamation working party which provided a strong alternative to the present struggling format.
The Upper Murray dropped to five clubs this year after Border-Walwa went into recess.
This season was set to comprise only senior and junior football following the demise of the reserve grade competition.
AFL NEB general manager John O'Donohue said the onus was now on clubs to ensure the league remained a viable competition.
"Throughout the planning and consideration phases, it has been stated on numerous occasions that the direction and outcomes for football and netball in the Upper Murray was to be owned by the locals which has now occurred," O'Donohue said.
"The onus for each committed club is to now make the UMFNL viable and accept it for whatever it may be to sustain local participation opportunities in the Upper Murray.
"Any suggestion of existing clubs or a new club seeking entry to the Tallangatta league from the Upper Murray has now been squashed given the commitment displayed by clubs to the UMFNL and their rejection of the working party's model.
"The league intends holding an AGM when possible under COVID restrictions where they can confirm club and team entries, age groups and other matters considered essential to ensure the leagues viability."
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The league is committed to a minimum of four clubs next season.
Clubs will be encouraged to re-establish the reserve grade competition with consideration given to changing junior ages to maximise participation.
Federal president Craig Sheather said he was disappointed the merger proposal lacked the necessary support.
"As a club we are disappointed and over 90 per cent of our members were in favour of the merger," Sheather said.
"Apparently it's not to be and now it's up to the clubs to ensure we have a viable competition."
Cudgewa president Greg Hillier felt it was imperative that clubs remained in the Upper Murray.
Mainly for the recovery process of the tight-knit community still reeling from the recent drought, bushfires and presently the coronavirus pandemic.
""We were always in favour of continuing with the Upper Murray," Hillier said.
"We need the community involved, the community spirit with things that have gone on up here, we think it was very important to keep going with it.
"We think it's a crucial part of the recovery process.
"We just felt there were too many people going to miss out with the model proposed.
"We've probably got six or eight kids who would make senior footballers in the Tallangatta league.
"The step-up from Upper Murray to Tallangatta is ginormous."