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Bellarine clubs against restructure … but AFL Barwon isn’t so sure

December 21, 2023 1:50 pm in by

The president of the Bellarine Football Netball League claims most of the competition’s clubs are against AFL Barwon’s planned restructure of local football and netball.

Speaking to K rock Football, Michael Fitzgerald believes if the proposal were put to a vote of BFNL clubs, it would receive the support of only one club.

“Since the third forum, we got together as a group, and I canvassed all the clubs individually and collectively,” Fitzgerald said.

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“I feel if it went to a vote now, it’d be 9-1 against.”

However, AFL Barwon boss Ed Wilson, who, along with commissioners Ash West and David Milsome, met with Fitzgerald earlier this week, believes there is more support than clubs are letting on.

“He did share with us where there is a belief of where a number of clubs sit with the proposal,” Wilson said.

“We did share on that call that what some of the clubs are sharing one-on-one with us, that feedback does differ to what Mick shared with us on Tuesday.

“We want to keep the dialogue open with Mick Fitzgerald in his position as the BFNL chair.

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“But, we’re still proceeding with our one-on-one consultation with the clubs to provide them with the opportunity to share with us where they see themselves fit within the model.”

Under the latest proposal unveiled on December 5, which doesn’t include the Geelong and District League, AFL Barwon has put forward a three-tiered structure featuring a 10-team premier league, a 10-team Division One and an eight-team Division Two.

“With any sizeable change like this, there will be a reaction of some shape or form,” Fitzgerald said. “Clubs are comfortable with where the Bellarine Football Netball League sits.

“They feel it’s a standalone competition that services a whole range of different communities and competition levels.

“All the clubs are financial; they’re well supported; they’ve got a stable or growing junior base; open-age participation levels are good across all grades (of football and netball).

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“They certainly feel the competition is on the improve across the board.”

Wilson said AFL Barwon is “about halfway” through its consultations with clubs since the most recent forum and that the local governing body has “confidence” that changes will be made for 2025.

“We’re very pleased with the progress that’s been made in the two weeks since the third forum,” he said.

“But there’s still a lot of work to do in early ’24 to understand where everyone sits.

“We knew that after three months of consultation, feedback, and presenting clubs with a final proposal, that would certainly bring about different views, and we respect that.

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“We understand that some have been willing to speak up in an open forum. There’s others who wish to share (their position) in a one-on-one situation.

“We are still eager to work through that in January so we can provide a wider update to everyone as late as the start of February as to where we sit, being conscious that if we are to put something in place for the start of ’25, we need to give at least 12 months notice.

Ocean Grove is the only club to back the proposal publicly, revealing earlier this month that it aspired to play in the region’s top flight – whether the GFNL or a mooted Premier Division.

Fitzgerald said the BFNL would support the Grubbers if they chose to test themselves at a higher level.

“Pete Smith, as president, has been involved in all of our meetings, and everyone’s been very respectful of their view, and he’s been very respectful of everyone else’s views,” Fitzgerald said.

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“As an organisation, if we were to lose a side, we would say, “Give us time to ensure that we remain a 10-side competition”.”

South Barwon was the only GFNL club to publicly reveal its support last week, with nine voting against change.

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