THERE had to be a definitive statewide ruling from AFL Victoria on finals eligibility.
The ruling it did make was just too negative.
AFL Victoria has declared this week that any player who plays more than 10 games in the Victorian Football League will be barred from returning to their nominated home grassroots club for finals.
This is designed to stop players fine-tuning their game at the state’s top level – against and alongside AFL-listed players – then dropping back to dominate country and suburban flag bids.
Something had to happen because there was no uniform ruling to restrict VFL players.
AFL Victoria community football operations manager Gerard Ryan told The Courier there had been concerns raised with the game’s state governing body about this.
Ballarat Football League club presidents Peter Carey (North Ballarat City) and Jack Ogilvie (Sunbury) have been outspoken against the ruling and deny any consultation on concerns.
Imagine the uproar – probably a happy roar from the Lions – should decorated North Ballarat Roosters ruckman Orren Stephenson suddenly appear onfield for Redan in September if the Roosters missed the finals.
Unlikely, but still possible.
The crunch would be felt more on fringe VFL players and their community club.
A more positive ruling on finals eligibility would be to flip the AFL Victoria stance.
In the Ballarat Football League there is a mandatory three-game standard to qualify for finals. Why not adopt this across the state’s club competitions? Even lift it to four or five games if you want to make it a little harder for VFL players looking to return home.
This would instead encourage predominantly younger, developing players to keep striving to take their game to the highest level they can, rather than worry about potential game-count repercussions.
Those playing key VFL roles are unlikely to return to community football enough to qualify under this alternate standard anyway. The Roosters, for example, have two byes this season and there is no break for interstate football because the VFL has the year off.
Senior players clocking up serious minutes – and those carrying niggling injuries or sore bodies – do not return to grassroots football in their breaks.
This is all part of player management. Clubs know this when they take on a VFL-listed player.
Generally, when a VFL player is returning from injury via a home club, it is only for a week or two, in the same way AFL clubs might work a star player back through its VFL arm.
The Roosters had North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow in action for two games last season.
If a VFL player takes to the field for a home club longer than that, struggling to find form or struggling for selection, then they, too, deserve a chance to represent their home club in finals.
Sunbury duo Jack Sheahan and Daniel Toman each chalked up the mandatory three games in the BFL home-and-away season to play finals for the Lions last year.
Under AFL Victoria’s new rule, both would have been deemed ineligible due to their game time with the now-defunct Bendigo Gold.
Lions president Ogilvie raised an interesting point in what would now happen should either have played 11 VFL games and then been dropped.
What club would want such a quality player whose season would end in the final round?
VFL players who return to grassroots clubs are a bonus for their home team and league to which they return.
Any time a high-calibre player, or developing player exposed to high-level competition and training, makes a homecoming, they lift the standard of those around them.
Access to such players ultimately makes the game stronger and more exciting across the whole state.
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