A lengthy review by AFL Gippsland resulted in an under 17 age group being added to the East Gippsland Football Netball League (EGFNL) and the under 16 and 18 age groups being removed, resulting in a three-year age gap between the grades.
Out of 14 Gippsland based football leagues, EGFNL is the only league that will field an under 17 age group while the Bairnsdale and District Junior Football Association will keep the under 10, 12 and 14 age groups.
A recommendation from the AFL Gippsland Leagues and Competition Review stated: East Gippsland Football Netball League is to adopt the U17 age structure in 2019 and be used as a case study for consideration across other competitions.
The recommendation went on to say: following extensive feedback, it was decided that further consultation was required before implementing this across Gippsland, however a trial will be adopted in the East Gippsland Football Netball League in 2019.
Effectively, EGFNL will be AFL Gippsland’s guinea pig.
“The introduction of an under 17 age group in the East Gippsland Football Netball League was among a broad range of recommendations that made up AFL Gippsland’s League and Competitions Review,” AFL Gippsland region general manager, Ben Joske, said.
“These recommendations were reached through six months of consultation and data analysis with a view to developing and implementing a more balanced and sustainable competition structure across the region.
“Participation and retention of underage players was a significant focus of the review, and part of the rationale behind the final recommendation was to provide a more sustainable age group structure, based on consistent participation numbers for players in the 15 to 18 year age bracket over the past 10 years.
“By streamlining junior structures we can reduce the number of times players need to participate in multiple games in a single weekend to enable clubs to field a full complement of teams, as has often been the case in recent seasons.
“The majority of EGFNL clubs were supportive of the concept during consultation with the review committee.
“Not only will this address issues around the transition of players from underage football to senior football in East Gippsland, but also provide feedback and data to assist in the development of a broader plan regarding underage structures across the region.
“AFL Gippsland will work with Football Netball East Gippsland and its member clubs in preparing for the new structure for season 2019.”
Lakes Entrance Football Netball Club was strongly against the change in age groups.
“Our club has worked extremely hard for many years to grow our participation numbers and while we can see a need for change at the under 17 age group due to other club’s inability to retain, attract or hold on to players (not the sole reason) and the league/draw being compromised, we believe that if the age group changes to under 17s then the junior levels below need to fall into line with it as well,” Lakes Entrance Football Netball Club president, Danny Moorhouse, said.
“You can’t have a gap of three years from under 14s to under 17s.
“This age group was highlighted as an age where players leave the game and this just gives them another reason to give the game away.
“Child development in this age group varies greatly, and when we presented this recommendation at our junior presentation night the reaction was overwhelmingly negative with not only parents concerned with their children playing against 17 year olds, but the kids themselves being concerned.
“Our very strong feedback to this recommendation would be, if the change to under 17s is deemed necessary then all junior grades need to fall into line with under 11, under 13 and under 15 age groups.
“This promotes a stronger bond between junior and senior clubs, which is something the review also outlined as very important.”
Lindenow Football Netball Club president, Chris Blandford, says that the Cats have worked tirelessly in player retention and the inclusion of an under 17s could affect that hard work.
“As a club we have worked really hard to retain our under 16 and 18 footballers,” Blandford said.
“We, as a club, thought that we had enough players to fill both sides and with the under 17s we think it may drive players away.
“Another issue is the age gap between the under 14s, 17s and reserves is too big.
“Some kids that finish under 17s may not be physically ready for reserves footy and by having an under 18s it gives them that extra year.
“The under 14 players won’t want to step up to play under 17s because in some cases it would be like kids playing against men.”
Orbost Football Netball Club was one of the clubs that was in favour of the age group changes and president, Royston Nettleton, says it will be a good step forward for the club.
“We were in favour of the change because of the lack of numbers the town has,” Nettleton said.
“With a lack of numbers it results in less kids playing footy, which makes it really difficult for us to field under 16 and 18 sides.
“Another positive is that the players that are 18 years old will be playing in our reserves and seniors, which we believe will boost the numbers there as well.
“In a nutshell, there are just not enough kids playing.”
Nettleton says the main reason the club wanted an under 17s was for better numbers.
“It will give us good numbers in the under 17 side and good depth throughout the club,” Nettleton said.
“We also believe it will strengthen the whole competition as every team should have good numbers to field a side.
“However, we realise it is a big step from the under 14s to under 17s, but some of our kids have been doing it anyway with the old structure.
“We are conscious of our player’s safety.”
Wy Yung president, Brad Overend, says players’ the Tigers aren’t phased with the change of age groups, but did admit he wasn’t fond of the three-year age gap.
“We were happy for the league to stay with under 16s and 18s but if it has to be under 17s we are behind it. As long as every club has a side we are happy,” Overend said.
“There is no point keeping it the same if sides have to sit out for two weeks with byes, so hopefully the change will be a positive for the league to get more games in.
“However, I don’t like the three-year age gap but we will have to see how it goes this season.”
Lucknow was another club that was in favour of the change.
The Advertiser contacted Stratford, Boisdale Briagolong and Paynesville football netball clubs for a comment.