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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

State football needs to thrive... and survive

Peter Bell came up with one of the great football quotes in 2009 when he said: “It’s not every day you captain your State to a one-point victory over a team you haven’t beaten for 15 years”.

The former Fremantle captain and North Melbourne premiership player was leading a WA team that beat South Australia for the first time in seven encounters when they met on a rainy afternoon at Leederville Oval.

Lewis Jetta’s brilliance and coach Scott Watters’ surprise move of Kyle Hardingham onto goal-kicking gorilla Brant Chambers were the catalysts for the nail-biting win.

The Black Swans’ current drought is not that arid – it is only four losses over five years – but that does not change this conclusion: the time has come for WA to change the way it goes about interstate football.

The 13-point defeat at Adelaide Oval, in front of a handful of Port Adelaide supporters and flock of seagulls, could have been much worse.

The bigger, stronger SA team dominated general play but failed to convert many of their opportunities with eight consecutive behinds at one point keeping the Black Swans in the contest.

WA even led by three points in the last quarter and could have extended that further had Jon Marsh not fumbled a sitter in the forward line.

But a WA win would have been a travesty given the control and poise displayed by the home town team.

So what needs to change?

The most important thing is that game should return to a stand-alone fixture next year when WA host SA in the 99th meeting of the States 120 years after the first.

The past five games have been played as nominal curtain-raisers to AFL matches at each State’s major football stadium but the reality is that the curtain does not go up for at least an hour before the main event and that playing in front of empty seats does nothing for the players nor the brand.

The Adelaide match started at the ungodly time of 3.10pm on a Friday afternoon to provide an emphatic answer to any question over the viability of continuing the fixture as a curtain-raiser.

The 2022 WAFL grand final at Leederville provided a clear guide to the potential of a compelling match – with proper promotion – being staged at a decent club ground.

Bassendean, Claremont, Fremantle, Lathlain, Leederville and Joondalup could all comfortably host 3000 spectators at a State match while even redeveloped East Fremantle - if a lot of important ducks line up and a building miracle occurs – could do the same.

It would also avoid the complications over access and media rights at Adelaide Oval that prevented radio station SportFM, or an Adelaide affiliate, broadcasting the game back to Perth.

The next issue is the coach.

Cam Shepherd has done a reasonable job in the role as he used the same diplomatic and motivational skills he demonstrated so successfully in getting the Fremantle and Peel cohorts to gel during the Thunders’ flag-winning seasons.

Shepherd followed Geoff Valentine, Mike Broadbridge and the original independent coach in Darren Harris who started the current trend in 2015 when Subiaco’s Jarrad Schofield declined the standard offer to the reigning premiership coach.

But WA need to change their approach if they want to change their results so the premiership coach having first right of refusal should be reintroduced.

And he should have an independent chairman beside him to oversee the selection process and ensure that the best players in the league are picked to represent WA.

That person needs to be a knowledgeable, passionate and steeped in the heritage and values of State football, someone like a Broadbridge or Steve Malaxos or Shane Woewodin who have played for the Black Swans and coached at league level.

SA have that in Tim Ginever, the 300-game Port Adelaide SANFL star, who spruiked the match in newspapers, radio and TV with nearly the same ferocity he brought to the selection table.

Interstate football needs to thrive to showcase the great talent in action in the various State leagues.

But is also needs to survive and hopefully well beyond the 100th match against SA due in two years’ time.


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