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Time for a real discussion about Tasmanian football

It’s regrettable that the AFL Commission, when it meets in Hobart today, won’t get to hear the authentic and significant Tasmanian football voice of Thane Brady.

In part, this is because Brady, the president of the North Launceston Football Club, is prepared to state his views publicly. Others I contacted from Tasmanian Statewide League (TSL) clubs asked not to be named because they feared recriminations for their clubs from AFL Tasmania. So numerous are such stories they demand an investigation by Simon Lethlean, the AFL executive responsible for Tasmania.

In an article on Monday, I quoted an unnamed TSL club president saying, “Tasmanian football is a pretty sick eco-system at the moment”. Brady’s analysis of the state of Tasmanian football begins with the proposition that, in modern sport, money produces results. 

The figures are difficult to get but it is understood that the AFL gave Greater Western Sydney $21 million last year.  It gave the whole of Tasmania about one tenth of that – around $2.8 million. Brady asks: “Is it true that the AFL invests more money in NSW and Queensland in a week than it does in Tassie in a year?”

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Brady points out that in 1990, under coach Robert Shaw (above), Tasmania beat Victoria at North Hobart oval. Back then, he says, Tasmania regularly “flogged” Queensland. What’s changed? Brady says the introduction of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney saw the AFL divert major amounts of funding to NSW and Queensland to grow the game there and produce home-grown players.

This year, the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) – a second tier competition created by the AFL to foster talent in the ACT, NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory –beat the Tasmanian Statewide League by 20 points. Brady points out that the AFL-listed players in the NEAFL were ineligible for that game.  “Imagine the true difference in the standard of the two competitions if they had played,” he says.

He sees the results of Tasmania’s junior teams as showing the future trajectory of Tasmanian football if nothing is done. Brady says, “In the 2015 Under 18 AFL Championships, Queensland beat Tassie 66 to 27. In the Under 16s, Northern Territory, Queensland and NSW/ACT all beat Tassie convincingly with the NSW/ACT game ending in a 97-point thrashing . In the Under 12s and Under15s, the only teams Tasmania finished ahead of were the Northern Territory and the ACT”.

Brady says, “It appears to me that the investment in the development of coaching programs and competitions in NSW and Queensland is delivering excellent outcomes. Why can’t Tassie have the same level of investment?”

He is also someone who has thought seriously about Tasmania having its own AFL team which he describes as “the ultimate aim”.  He says the key – and I believe strongly that he is correct in this – is that “for the whole state to embrace the Tassie team it must have home-grown talent in it and a clearly defined pathway whereby other talented young Tassie players can join them”.

Brady believes the Tasmanian cricket team suffered “when it was stacked with non-Tasmanians in the late ‘80s and ‘90s – it didn’t have the support. Then Tasmanian cricket started identifying local talent and developing it. Since then, Tasmania has won the Sheffield Shield / Pura Cup three times”. 

I don’t know how the state of Tasmanian football compares with other parts of Australia like, for example, rural Victoria or Western Australia. Maybe it’s time someone found out. Maybe it’s time for a national inquiry into the health of the game because, if Tasmania is anything to go by, the big players in football politics now are the AFL and the media. Those carrying the game on their shoulders at the grassroots level – where, ultimately, the game lives or dies - get little or no say.

The issue is not whether Tasmanian football can return to its glory days of the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s about whether, and to what extent, the game remains viable in a state traditionally considered part of the Australian football heartland.

The last thing Tasmanian football needs is yet another “plan” to be imposed by autocratic AFL officials.  Any “plan” for the future that doesn’t genuinely embrace the experience of people like Thane Brady is divorced from Tasmanian football reality. And, whether or not they recognise it, that is a problem for the AFL.

First published today in the Age HERE, as: Time for a real discussion about Tasmanian football

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