The State of Eyre Peninsula Football and Netball Part 2: SA Community Football’s plan.
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
Football and Netball are back across the Eyre Peninsula for season 2021 and the turmoil that has engulfed the preseason is about to be put aside. Given that Port Lincoln was the only outlet for senior footballers during a COVID-19 enforced break in 2020 excitement is rightly building. A new merger, a new league name and new clubs joining different leagues.
SA Community Football is keen to change the competition structure of Football and Netball on the Eyre Peninsula. Many argue that they (SA Community Football) have not done enough to help struggling clubs and leagues survive. Others straight out blame them for the fall of the Mid-West Football League and Netball Association. I’ll stop short of that, and simply say the intervention of the SANFL has speed up the process of change to the structure of EP Football and Netball.
But what is the SANFL’s end game for Football and Netball on Eyre Peninsula. On the FLOW FM Friday Night Sports Show I’ve spoken to the chair of SA Community Football Peter Lindner in the past and recently we welcomed Richard ‘Pacer’ Murphy, the SANFL’s Eyre Peninsula Football Operations Manager onto the program. From those two conversations it appears more changes are inevitable in the future. Perhaps as early as next season.
SANFL Commissioner and SA Community Football Chair Peter Lindner
Western Eyre Peninsula Football and Netball
The addition of the West Coast Hawks and Wirrulla to the former Far West League (now rebadged Western Eyre) is exciting for everyone involved. Four team competitions are always just one just one club folding away from folding themselves. With the West Coast Hawks and Wirrulla both strong, proud clubs with rich and successful histories they will be a breath of fresh air into that competition. There will be some extra travel for all involved but from what I hear most club members are ok with that.
Western Eyre is the starting point for competition reform on Eyre Peninsula that SA Community Football has been craving. Peter Lindner told us on the sports show before Christmas that a “Super-league” style set up with 8 or more clubs in two separate divisions would be his ideal scenario on Eyre Peninsula. Over time, and with more consultation, that formula appears to have changed somewhat. Now we seem to be moving towards a three-league format which Pacer Murphy confirmed as the likely end point on the Sports Show last week.
LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD ‘PACER’ MURPHY HERE
Eastern Eyre Penisnula Football and Netball
With Western Eyre seemingly taken care of, attention now turns to the East and the South. The Eastern Eyre Football League and Netball Association has gained the newly merged Central Eyre United club. They join the Eastern Ranges, Kimba Districts, Cowell and Ports in making a 5-team competition in 2021.
Elliston and Western Districts have formed a partnership which will see them enter teams in the Great Flinders Football and Netball competitions during season 2021. Great Flinders now has 7 clubs competing during the coming season.
In Port Lincoln there is no change to the Football competition with 6 clubs to take the field. Netball in Port Lincoln is more complicated with some clubs having direct ties with local football clubs, others not so. The question is how do SA Community Football propose to join these three leagues together into two as seems to be their plan?
The easy way would be as follows. Lock Football and Netball Club joins Eastern Eyre making a 6-team competition in season 2022. A 6-team competition, played over 15 minor round fixtures with 4 finals fixtures to follow, is easy to run and program and mirrors Western Eyre.
Lower Eyre Peninsula Football and Netball
The final piece of the puzzle is Great Flinders and Port Lincoln merging to form the Southern EP Football League and Netball Association. Here, there would be 12 member clubs. Those clubs could be split into two divisions. The city division would see the Port Lincoln based clubs Tasmans, Waybacks, Lincoln South, Mallee Park, Bostons, and Marble Range with the country-based division consisting of Tumby Bay, Eyre United, United Yeelanna, Cougars, Ramblers and Elliston.
Each club would play its division rivals twice (home and away) and would play 1 match against clubs in the opposite division. This would equate to a 16-round season. There are several finals format options available using a division structure. But there are far better judges of how this should work than myself and the converations I've had with Pacer and Peter never got as deep as potential finals formats.
The issues with a Southern Super League
For this structure to work it would depend on several things falling into place. Firstly, Port Lincoln would need genuine alignment between its football and netball clubs. Secondly, the Elliston Football and Netball Club would need to be strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Thirdly, Lock would need to agree to move into Eastern Eyre. Finally, junior grades would need to be agreed on with the Great Flinders and Port Lincoln age limits for junior comps currently out of alignment in both footy and netball.
There are many moving parts in a plan such as this and trying to get everyone’s agreement on every issue will be impossible. Compromises will need to be made by all clubs and the potential for change embraced. Without these ingredients any change from the status quo will be doomed to failure.
If adopted, these changes provide a sure future for the newly formed leagues and the clubs that make them up. It does not mean there won’t be any further club mergers in the future, however there would be room to move should future mergers be required. There is one problem this structure does not solve. It only caters 24 of Eyre Peninsula’s 25 clubs.
What becomes of the Western Districts Football and Netball club?
Could their partnership with Elliston continue beyond the end of this season and turn into a potential merger? I don’t believe that can work long term and I doubt either club believes it to be a erious, long-term option. My coversations with various representatives from SA Community Football lead me to believe there are three options left for Western Districts to consider. Option one would be to join Western Eyre standalone as its 7th club in 2022 (if accepted). Option two would be to merge with Wirrulla (if Wirrulla’s management relents and sees the obvious positives in that move). Option three would be to fold entirely. Either way, the wonderful people that make up that wonderful club have some difficult decisions to make soon.
Eyre Peninsula Football and Netball season 2021 is on our doorstep. During 2021 it’s important that clubs, players, supporters and officials keep discussing the future of these sports in the region and provide that feedback to SA Community Football. Without proper dialogue and appropriate consultation, it’s only a matter of time before what happened this preseason, happens again.