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WAFL Wednesday: State League needs a Champion like never before

John Townsend

Wanted: Champion.

Responsibilities: To promote, defend and support the State’s oldest sporting competition.

Criteria: Passion, energy, eloquence. Thick skin handy.

A ripping opening WAFL round has set a high bar for the season.

The five matches were decided by a total of 50 points – with all five in the balance midway through the final terms – to reinforce the value of a competition that appeared all but forgotten just before it started.

Covid disruptions and player unavailability might have diminished skill levels and stamina last weekend but there was no lack of endeavour or commitment on the field.

What was missing was the promotion and attention on a 137-year-old league that had received several free kicks in the pre-season but failed to take advantage of them. Yes, the late start to the season meant the AFL and AFLW and WAFLW had taken much of the attention.

And in a declining media environment, with fewer people actually covering the game and many of them doubling and tripling up in multiple outlets, getting coverage is going to provide constant challenges.

That is why the WAFL is crying out for a champion.

More than ever, the league needs a prominent person or body to spruik and defend its pivotal role in the football landscape. A passionate advocate for the State league who would be prepared to wave a Black Swans flag at the right time and fight the WAFL corner when required.

The WAFL remains under pressure from both inside and outside the sport. In an era that the WAFL economy has and will see nearly a quarter of a billion dollars poured into ground facilities, with the likely $80 million-plus spend on Fremantle Oval on a par with the development of Lathlain Park, the game’s focus has never been further from the league itself.

If councils and governments consider the WAFL a worthy vehicle for such massive investments, maybe there is something to see here. Yet the WA Football Commission’s priorities appear to be on junior pathways and its relationship with the AFL, understandable given the signature on most of their incoming cheques, but little solace to WAFL fans wondering who is going to stand up for the traditional league.

And suggestions like Eddie McGuire’s ridiculous idea to hold a two-month summer carnival to showcase potential draft talent is just another knife in the back of the competition. If the pre-season, national, rookie, midseason and supplemental selection period drafts are not sufficient for AFL clubs to find players, they now have Covid top-up lists to call on.

But who was there to lead the charge against Eddie not-so Everywhere anymore’s idea to add yet another distraction for WAFL clubs and players as they attempt to prepare for the season? The irony in the absence of any WAFL promotion leading into this season was that the best free-kick the league could have received happened last month when five players were called up to help West Coast field a team against North Melbourne.

The best story – and probably the best story in WA football this year - was that of Aaron Black, the West Perth champion who had played 222 senior games without a sniff of an AFL appearance and yet acquitted himself like a 10-year veteran when he finally got his chance.

Black’s success reflected superbly on the environment in which he was nurtured and thrived. It could and should have been used to promote the WAFL’s value and importance. And yet . . .

The same with the elevation of another West Perth champ in Bill Dempsey to the Australian football Hall of Fame. Barely a word.

Lance Franklin, once of Dowerin and Perth, recently became just the fifth West Australian to kick 1000 senior goals. Yet where was the proud assessment of his significance to WA football? He might one day rank alongside Graham Farmer and Barry Cable as our greatest ever footballers.

Identifying a WAFL champion might be harder than stopping Buddy on the charge but the league needs one.

Any one know if Twiggy is interested in football?

Wednesday hero: Peel are sitting in top spot for just the second time in their 26-year history after Mark Tilbury’s seamless move into the caretaker coaching role saw them overcome East Fremantle on Good Friday. It was Tilbury’s third time in the hot seat and after two tight losses standing in for Cam Shepherd last year, he was relieved to finally get a win. It also means senior coach Geoff Valentine will have to wait another week or so for his official Thunder debut after being waylaid by Covid.

IMAGE: WA Football


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