Why Tasmania is prepared to turn its back on AFL after years of neglect
Why Tasmania is prepared to turn its back on AFL after years of neglect

Losing footy heartland will tarnish Gill’s legacy

Gillon McLachlan's legacy could be as the first AFL chief executive to lose a heartland football state to another sport.

The big ticks of the AFLW and getting a season completed in a worldwide pandemic would be offset by the loss of Tasmania under his watch.

The reality now is a talented Tasmanian athlete is more likely to be an Australian Test captain than a Brownlow medallist - and in the future it could be an NBL MVP instead of the AFL equivalent.

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How would that sit with the AFL executive and the commission?

This is not hyperbole, but the facts facing the AFL and the situation in Tasmania.

This is the recommendation from the Tasmanian Government's own AFL Task force - compromising leaders of business and football greats - aimed at bringing an AFL licence to the state.

Its business case debunked every myth, answered every critic, yet still the AFL wouldn't listen so now the Task force has become so disillusioned it believes the only action is to treat the AFL as it has treated the state - ignore it and move on.

Years of neglect and contempt are coming back to haunt the AFL.

While league HQ fiddled with AFLX and games in China, the sport in Tasmania has been dying a slow death.

Richmond premiership star Jack Riewoldt is a product of Tasmania. Picture: Michael Klein
Richmond premiership star Jack Riewoldt is a product of Tasmania. Picture: Michael Klein

McLachlan is aware of the challenges, having chaired an AFL steering committee into Tasmanian football in 2018.

Interest and participation (outside of female football) has been in decline.

While the Task force business case says Australian rules is still the most popular sport, it says without an AFL team it will be surpassed within a decade - and that was before the announcement of the Tasmanian JackJumpers joining the NBL.

The standard has also dropped markedly.

In a brief moment in time during the mid to late 1990s, Tasmania's statewide league could lay claim as the strongest league outside the AFL as the state league team defeated the WAFL, SANFL and the then VFA in the space of four years.

The last time Tasmania played one of the big three, in 2012, the state lost by 108 points at home to a VFL side with no AFL listed players.

In 2016, for the first time ever, no Tasmanian was taken in the national draft. This sad feat was repeated just three years later in 2019.

Players not taken from the under-18s are now forced to go interstate to pursue an AFL career as the local state league is not considered strong enough to gauge a player's true worth.

This is the path that forced the likes of Ben Brown and Brody Mihocek interstate and onto AFL lists via the VFL.

Footy fans would have been denied Jeremy Howe’s hangers xxx Picture: Mark Stewart
Footy fans would have been denied Jeremy Howe’s hangers xxx Picture: Mark Stewart

The Hawthorn and North Melbourne contracts, while fulfilling their aims as economic drivers during the winter months via interstate tourism, have done nothing for the game here.

Not one dollar from the Hawks or Roos contacts - worth more than $8 million a year to the two Melbourne clubs - or from revenue raised on game day (ticket sales, merchandise, stadium advertising and hospitality) goes back into the local game.

If the loss of the nation's smallest state is not significant to Australia's biggest and richest domestic sport ask yourself, is the game richer for Jack Riewoldt's emotions?

For Jeremy Howe's hangers?

For Ben Brown's goal kicking routine?

For Mitch Robinson's kamikaze attack on ball and opponent?

For Grant Birchall's laser left foot?

For Tarryn Thomas's potential?

For Chris Fagan's warmth and honesty?

For Brendon Gale's leadership that built a Richmond premiership dynasty?

 

Tasmanian David Noble was recently appointed as North Melbourne’s new coach. Picture: Michael Klein
Tasmanian David Noble was recently appointed as North Melbourne’s new coach. Picture: Michael Klein

The loss of a state that has produced four Australian football Hall of Fame legends (the same total as Western Australia and South Australia combined).

This is what the game stands to lose.

Just last week, North Melbourne handed over the reins to Tasmanian David Noble - perhaps its most important appointment in the Roos recent history given the club's woes.

For an example of how the AFL views Tasmania, take a look at the official Hall of Fame website.

For its legends section, the original clubs for players from WA and SA are listed, but only the VFL clubs for Darrel Baldock, Peter Hudson, Royce Hart and Ian Stewart - with no mention of the Tasmanian clubs that nurtured these players that went on to enhance the code.

Tasmania has played the long game, has presented business case after case, has turned up to games, has provided talent and money to the AFL - yet is still no closer to having its own team.

The only option left is to turn off the rivers of gold to football and embrace a sport that embraces the state and see if that gets the AFL's attention.

Tasmanians will be hurt by the decision to turn its back on the AFL, but they are already hurting and so it is time to play hardball with the big league.

 

 

Originally published as Losing footy heartland will tarnish Gill's legacy

Royce Hart is one of four Tasmanian AFL Legends.
Royce Hart is one of four Tasmanian AFL Legends.


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