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Pathways plan: Ex-president says VFL and NAB League should merge to form region hubs
Victoria’s second-tier of football could be in for a massive shake-up. A once shelved plan to merge two powerhouse competitions is back in the spotlight, with a veteran administrator claiming it would boost Victoria’s footy development and save costs.
Paul Amy, Leader
May 22, 2020 6:00am
Tommy Wilson on the job for Northern Blues, who would come together with the Northern Knights under Gerry Ryan’s plan.
Victoria’s second-tier level of football could be in for a shake-up, with calls to merge the VFL and NAB League competitions.
“Now’s the time to do it and make the pathway a lot stronger and eliminate unnecessary costs,’’ former Sandringham president Gerry Ryan declared.
Ryan is urging the AFL to adopt a model similar to the WAFL and SANFL, with under-age teams feeding into the senior ranks.
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He has been campaigning for more than a decade to bring the VFL and NAB League clubs together as regional hubs.
Ryan had pushed for Sandringham Zebras and under-18 team Sandringham Dragons to operate under one administration, adamant a one-club approach was the best way forward.
AFL Victoria dismissed the idea.
Marlion Pickett breaks a tackle during last year’s VFL Grand Final between Richmond and Williamstown at Ikon Park. Under Ryan’s plan, Williamstown would merge with Western Jets. Picture: Getty
Jacob Townsend celebrates a goal in the final quarter as Richmond powered to the flag. Picture: Michael Klein
But Ryan said that with the AFL needing to pull back costs the time was right for “overdue’’ change in Victorian football.
Under his model, Sandringham Zebras would join with Sandringham Dragons, Frankston with Dandenong Stingrays, Port Melbourne with Oakleigh Chargers, Gippsland Power with Casey Demons, Box Hill Hawks with Eastern Ranges, the Northern Blues with Northern Knights, Coburg with Calder Cannons, Williamstown with Western Jets, and Werribee with Geelong Falcons.
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Ryan also said senior entities should be created from under-18 clubs Greater Western Victorian Rebels (formerly the North Ballarat Rebels), Bendigo Pioneers and Murray Bushrangers.
Bendigo and North Ballarat had been affiliated with the VFL.
Bendigo had an alignment with Essendon, became a stand-alone club and dropped out at the end of 2014.
North Ballarat had great success, winning the 2008-09-10 premierships, but was booted out of the competition over governance issues in 2017.
Ryan believes senior teams should spring from the Bushrangers and could play out of Wangaratta.
He also has Tasmania slotted for affiliation.
Advocate for change: Gerry Ryan.
Under Ryan’s model, each hub would be affiliated with an AFL club, similar to the Next Generation Academy zones, and players would drop back to the VFL when not selected in the AFL.
The AFL clubs would also have the ability to call up players directly from the hubs, encouraging young players to stick to the pathway.
His plan applies for men’s and women’s football in Victoria.
Calder Cannons and Dandenong Stingrays battle in last year’s U18 competition. Picture: Andy Brownbill
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Joseph Lloyd in the NAB Preliminary Final between Oakleigh and Sandringham last year. Picture: Andy Brownbill
Oakleigh and Eastern Rangers stand for the national anthem before the NAB League Grand Final in 2019, 2019. Picture: Andy Brownbill
“The more you think about combining them, the more sense it makes,’’ Ryan, a life member of AFL Victoria, said.
“You could do much more better work for football, for aspiring players and local communities and grassroots football by streamlining the administrations and creating a better and more defined pathway to the AFL system.
“You’re going to have a state league that’s more identifiable, more sustainable.
“I think it was the future 10 years ago.
“With the coronavirus pandemic businesses have had to remodel themselves and adapt and change and I think the AFL has to really take the lead here and establish a better model for our state.
“The way it’s operating now – replicating everything from the CEO to the doctors and physios – we could so much more with less.’’
Ryan said he was aware of talk a group of VFL clubs was proposing a similar set-up.
He said advantages of the model included:
■ LESS administration costs.
■ THE ability to employ full-time coaches and support staff.
■ MORE under-18 players feeding into the VFL and in turn the AFL.
■ GREATER scope to work with local leagues and clubs and councils.
■ DEVELOPING better linkages with schools.
Meanwhile Hawthorn premiership player Bob Keddie is also advocating changes to the second tier of Victorian football.
His model is similar to Ryan’s but he believes the VFL should essentially be an Under 23 competition, with clubs permitted to field a handful of over-age players.
Keddie recently presented his concept to AFL football operations manager Steve Hocking.