Tassie restates its AFL case
A Tasmanian Football Foundation event at Crown Casino in Melbourne in May generated passionate reporting about the State's football heritage – and its right to have a team of its own in the AFL.
Noted broadcaster Tim Lane wrote afterwards: "The argument on behalf of a Tasmanian AFL team is won.
"Western Bulldogs' president, Peter Gordon, who has seen his club go from pauper to premier, says there's no longer an economic case against it.
"AFL boss, Gillon McLachlan, acknowledges the Island State should have a team.
"The onus is now on the AFL to find a way."
Caroline Wilson of The Age chipped in: "The magnitude of what the AFL lost when it turned its back on Tasmania some two decades ago was not lost on anyone among the 500 who attended Wednesday night's celebration of Tasmanian football.
"In fact, anyone lucky enough to move from Lou Richards' State Funeral earlier in the day to the unique Tasmanian football function at the other end of town ended their day emotionally drenched not so much with sadness but melancholy – nostalgia for a football time that somehow disappeared from within our grasp when we weren't concentrating.
"Chris Fagan, the Queenstown boy who became a Hall of Famer in his home State and is now Brisbane Lions coach ... declared there was a 'higher purpose' facing head office.
"That higher purpose said Fagan was not about marketing or economics.
"I'm talking about heritage and culture and legacy," said Fagan, a panellist at the function alongside fellow Tasmanians Rodney Eade and Brendon Bolton.
"The AFL won't be truly complete until there is a Tasmanian team.
"They [the AFL] would do a magnificent thing if they were to have a Tasmanian team."
Expatriate writer Martin Flanagan wrote: "A video with a soundtrack showed a series of Tasmanian footy grounds in all their abundant greenery, each one criss-crossed with stories that in many cases go back over 100 years."
A montage of ovals was shown from Penguin to Sandy Bay, by rivers and along the coast and nestling into historic buildings.
Several featured empty club rooms.
They were ovals where, the Tasmanian Football Foundation's James Henderson said, football was no longer being played.
That was a message that had to resonate.
Historic grounds lying empty while the Sydney and GWS reserves struggle to find grounds to play on should not have been lost on the game's decision-makers.
One of the sport's greats, Peter Hudson, presented the narrative.
Another, Alastair Lynch, conducted interviews which featured current player Nick Riewoldt and his equally passionate Tasmanian cousin Jack.
There was a keynote speech by Matthew Richardson, who lovingly described a football pathway in north-west Tasmania that he fears is no longer available.
Alongside Tasmania's footballing royalty, the Premier, Will Hodgman, was there to watch his State's case presented with unprecedented intensity.
Flanagan wrote after the event that the Tasmanian football guernsey was one of his favourite works of art.
"The guernsey's colours – originally listed as myrtle, magenta and primrose – are now described as green, yellow and maroon," Flanagan wrote.
"Green as a Smithton paddock after rain. I was at Burnie's West Park when the Smithton Saints won their first premiership.
"On the front of the dark green guernsey, a yellow map of Tassie – a rich yellow like the late afternoon sunlight I saw as a kid come the last quarter at Longford football ground. Longford, a small town of only two or three thousand, were State premiers in 1957.
"They're still talking about it.
"Inside the yellow map of Tassie, a vibrant red T, a colour like the waratahs I saw on the west coast when my family moved there when I was eight."
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Fagan said: "I understand the market place argument for why Tasmania has not had an AFL team … but there is also that cultural side to football, and the four traditional football States being South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
"It doesn't seem right from a cultural perspective that one of those States hasn't been given an opportunity to have a team in the AFL."
Days earlier, Nick Riewoldt had expressed concern for the game's health in his State of birth.
"There's a big risk of allowing the sport to wither on the vine," he said.
"There are already signs that the game is weakening down south … just last year there was no Tasmanian drafted for the first time since 1986."
The AFL presence in the State – Hawthorn's four games a season in Launceston and North Melbourne's three in Hobart – was not accepted by the presenters as a long-term solution.
Nor was the full relocation of one of those teams to Tasmania widely regarded as a panacea.
Tim Lane wrote: "A relocation is the wrong model and there isn't a 20th team on the horizon.
"Would the AFL consider a 19-team competition, with a built-in bye, and fancy rankings and wildcards over the last month of a 24-week home-and-away season? You never know."
Lane pointed out that the 17th and 18th clubs, Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast, that were chosen for heavily subsidised entry to the AFL ahead of Tasmania, were now struggling to draw crowds and featured only infrequently on free-to-air TV in Victoria.
"The AFL's decision to opt for commercial expansion in preference to a constituency hungry for the game, has recently drawn comment from a couple of significant figures," Lane wrote.
"Powerful voices are at last speaking out. The AFL must find a way. Relocation of an existing team is certainly not it."
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan attended with two other league commissioners, four other AFL executives and the presidents of Hawthorn and North Melbourne.
Mr McLachlan publicly restated his support for a single Tasmanian team and two days later news broke that the AFL had invited North Melbourne and Tasmania to apply jointly for a license in the emergent women's AFL competition.
Wilson wrote in The Age: "The State Government should insist upon naming the club the Tasmanian Kangaroos.
"More preferable, altogether, would be a stand-alone Tasmanian women's team.
"And, as impossible as it seems now, an AFL men's team."
AFL Tasmania has publicly discounted prospects of the women's team bearing the State's name.
Footnote: AFL Tasmania has held discussions with North Melbourne about the possibility of Tasmanian State League players running out for the Kangaroos’ stand-alone VFL side on a temporary basis. North Melbourne will end its relationship with VFL side Werribee next year and enter its own side in the VFL.
Image courtesy of The Mercury
6 June 2017, Edition 184