Stuart Milligan

Action from last year’s VFL development league grand final between Box Hill and Casey. The future of the league is in doubt. Picture: Stuart Milligan

Reported by Paul Amy and Luke D’Anello, Leader
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June 29, 2017 1:48pm 

VFL clubs are campaigning to save the reserves competition, the Development League.

Officials at VFL and TAC Cup level have been saying in the past few weeks that AFL Victoria has all but ruled out the Development League continuing beyond this season.

They are adamant it is needed, describing it as a vital link between the under-18 competition and senior VFL football.

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Without it hundreds of young players will be denied listings at VFL clubs and will go back to local football, the clubs say.

Port Melbourne, Williamstown, Casey Demons, Sandringham, Northern Blues, Coburg, Box Hill Hawks and Werribee all field DL teams.

A handful of presidents met last week to discuss the issue. With general managers they are mustering support and will approach the AFL directly about keeping the competition.

It’s believed some AFL clubs are prepared to contribute to the submission.

VFL clubs had to fight last year to keep the Development League for this season.

Those with alignments to AFL clubs are particularly concerned because their representation in the VFL would be reduced to topping up numbers for a senior team.

Box Hill players celebrate their VFL development league grand final win last year. Picture: Stuart Milligan

Sandringham, for example, fielded 19 St Kilda players a few weeks ago.

“You get to the point where you cease to become a football club,’’ one GM said.

Any reluctance among clubs to field reserves comes down to costs but they agree guaranteeing its future is the first priority.

Williamstown coach Andy Collins earlier this year said the AFL and AFL Victoria should recognise the Development League’s role and give it more funding.

He said the DL was vital to help young players who lacked the physical or mental maturity to step straight into senior ranks.

“For the VFL to ask players to go from under-18 football straight into senior VFL football would be negligent of both the AFL and AFL Victoria,’’ Collins said.

He called the Development League “an essential part of the Victorian landscape … for that 18 to 21 or 18 to 23-year-old bracket of player’’.

“It’s so important these guys get a chance to develop with quality facilities around them, quality fitness staff and quality coaching. That’s what VFL clubs can do. But we can do it better with better resources, and that’s one of the biggest issues.

Nathan Freeman (right) in action for Sandringham during a VFL Development League match last year. Picture: Hamish Blair

“There’s only one reason why the Development League is struggling and that’s because of the finances of some VFL football clubs.

“It should be funded in an identical model to the TAC Cup. They’re both development leagues after all.’’

A number of AFL players have appeared in Development League premierships, including Dale Morris (Werribee), Liam Picken (Williamstown), Taylor Duryea, Sam Gibson and Cam Pederson (Box Hill Hawks).

Two-time SANFL Magarey Medal champion Joel Cross also played in a Hawks flag.

One president said this afternoon: “If there’s a competition, we want to play in it. But we’ve heard strongly that there won’t be Development next year.

“You’ve got to look at Plan B, a worst-case scenario, and that looks like academy programs, community stuff, women’s football, partnerships with local leagues.

“But we need Development.’’

AFL Victoria said in a statement: “The future of the Development League is reviewed every year as it has been for the past few seasons.

“Clubs have varying views regarding the Development League. These views, along with a variety of other factors including cost pressures on clubs, scheduling difficulties, pressure on staff and volunteers given the scheduling difficulties, player recruitment, relationships with community clubs and leagues and how to best ensure the senior team can be competitive, are all considerations."



That doesn't stack up Ron. Had the AFL wanted rid of VFL teams they wouldn't have given Frankston the chance to reapply, and they certainly wouldn't readmit them next month.

There is no way they will readmit a team with over 1000 members and growing, good administration, growing revenue streams and which is building strong links with local footy in the region if they don't actually want them in the comp.

It will be much harder to get rid of them because they will be a strong entity soon. It's much easier not to let them back in, so we will see what happens after their submission.

As for North Ballarat, seems like they're as good as gone, and that's they're doing. The AFL has no time for clubs run like the Roosters, Bendigo or Frankston pre-administration.

The challenge for the Dolphs, Werribee, Coburg and possibly Sandy down the track will be to maintain a professional front office and competitive on-field team on a smaller budget than Port and Willi, because that's what it will take to stay in the comp.

Short term - they're dumping the DL, which will be bad publicity wise. 

Re-admitting Frankston will soften the blow a bit (especially given they have said they'll only field a VFL team anyhow). 

2018 will be a 15 team VFL competition with Frankston replacing North Ballarat. 

THEN by 2020, in my opinion, you'll find the "weak" inner Melbourne VFA teams will have been phased out (Coburg, Sandringham will be the St Kilda VFL team) whilst the strong ones (Port, Willy) and the satellite ones (Werribee, Frankston) may survive.

Eventually, I suspect a purely AFL reserves team will operate out of Ballarat, Frankston, Casey and Werribee. It will help the AFL maintain regional relevance whilst cleaning up the current mess that is the state of the competition at present. 

I think we're getting closer to the same page here, for VFL teams to stay in the comp they'll have to be strong on their own two feet. The AFL puts millions into stand alone clubs, but they have no appetite for putting in money that covers for bad administration.

While the current AFL view of having state leagues as the second tier holds (they very recently rejected an interstate call for a reserves comp), there's no benefit in getting rid of stand alone clubs, they provide value in terms of producing draftees and, in the case of the strong ones, providing stronger competition than most AFL reserves teams.

Been many drafted from the standalone VFL teams in recent years. If you work out all the players that have been drafted from the VFL stand alone teams you would get a handy team. Even this year with Newmann from Frankston to Sydney has been terrific. The VFL teams adds more of a competitive edge to the game as they strive for one thing and that is a win. Providing draftees encourages others that want to follow suit and can attract potential draftees to the stand alone VFL teams.

Agree with both Paul and Ron that the VFL teams need to work hard off the field and have sound adminstration.

Port Melbourne, Williamstown, Coburg, Werribee from next year. Hopefui that the roosters can some how work a miracle and survivie and play in 2018. Frankston back from next year and maybe the zebras can muster something to eventually have the finance and confidence to go alone.

I'll be at Coburg v Werribee tomorrow and have a gut feeling that win number two for Coburg coming up. Paul you can rest easy I will give Coburg every chance to win and will not back them as I don't want to jinx them.