State pride - and future - on the line against South Australia
The biggest story in the lead-up to the State match against South Australia has been the non-selection of Claremont ball magnet and triple State Simpson medallist Jye Bolton.
It also appears to be the only story – and it is nearly a month old.
In what could be the last rites for an interstate rivalry that has lasted nearly 120 years, WA will host the Croweaters on Sunday with the Black Swans eager to break the 48-48 win-loss deadlock and regain the Haydn Bunton Cup. But one fears that it will be the last time the two States meet to determine which one can claim to represent the superior State league.
Victoria have already abandoned State football. The one-time Big V spat the dummy in 2017 after WA beat them in Melbourne for the first time ever. Regular interstate competitor Queensland has been swallowed up by the expanded VFL – a quasi-exhibition league that extends up the east coast – while Tasmanian football is in turmoil even as it attempts to enter its own team in the AFL.
That leaves the two western States who have maintained their recent commitment to meet every year – apart from the Covid-wrecked 2020 season. But can the rivalry survive what appears to be a terminal decline in interest in the format?
Where once the State’s major media outlet in The West Australian would have provided significant coverage of the match, the newspaper’s attention has dwindled to nearly nothing. That compares to blanket coverage of games in Townsville, Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as numerous home matches in recent times.
SportFM, the major source of WAFL coverage and the league’s most important marketing vehicle, has only just received permission to be at Optus Stadium on Sunday after asking repeatedly over recent weeks to be allowed to cover the State game.
That belated decision underpins the suspicion that the WA Football Commission sees little value in
promoting interstate football or the league itself. And if the peak body is not going to support a century-old tradition, why should clubs, players and supporters get excited about it?
“In terms of (State game) promotion, I am not sure what they can do,” a WAFC representative said this week.
Really? Anything would be a start.
As WAFL crowds plummeted to an average of just 1625 this season – alongside last year as the lowest attendances since World War II – a Facebook poll on one of the more popular WAFL chat sites provided a harsh reality check on State football’s perception among fans. About 60 percent of the respondents on the WAFL On poll said they would have preferred a standard round of WAFL fixtures rather than the State game.
Representing WA was once the pinnacle of league football and, for those players who never won a premiership, an opportunity to demonstrate their skills on centre stage. But even that has been diminished this season with the example of Aaron Black and Jake Florenca, who contributed strongly for West Coast after getting Covid-driven opportunities to appear for the embattled AFL club, identifying an alternative route to recognition.
Let’s hope the WA team under coach Cam Shepherd can overcome SA on Sunday.
And let’s hope they do it in such a fashion that it strengthens interest in State football.
Max Walters has won three premierships at Subiaco as a strong midfielder with excellent aerial skills. An automatic selection when fit, Walters has scored multiple goals in 10 of his 81 matches and often been a valuable contributor in attack. A wrist injury has kept the Whitford utility out of action until last week when he did some handy things against East Perth but saved his best for the final seconds. Scores were tied for the last minute or two until Walters broke the deadlock with a desperate volley from 15m that hit the post but was sufficient to give the Lions their first win of the season.