Football must plan now, or pay the price

COMMENT

ON face value, the revelation that a supposedly star-studded Wagga team will join the GDFA next year is nothing but good news. Right?

The Eastern Wanderers, it is claimed, will take football in this region one step closer towards the elusive dream of a Riverina-wide competition.

Assuming the new club does bring the cream of the Wagga football crop over to Griffith, they might even pose a challenge to the likes of champions Yoogali SC and State Cup finalists Hanwood FC.

At the very least, they won't be propping up the bottom of the ladder � unlike what the weaker Wagga club sides might have done had they came across.

Then consider the travel factor, and it seems the Wanderers will add a whole new dimension to the GDFA first-grade � one that was sorely missing this year as the local competition became too predictable, too quickly.

But the addition of the Eastern Wanderers will only be looked back on as a success if football in the Riverina can stick the landing. What happens after the 2014 season will be crucial. The last thing anyone wants is for the Eastern Wanderers to be a one-season wonder, but there is a nagging feeling their creation is a knee-jerk reaction, not a proper solution.

The GDFA has shown great ambition and leadership over the past 12 months, staging a memorable grand final day at Exies, handing local kids unprecedented opportunity in the form of the Riverina Rhinos and by reducing the gap between rugby league and football in Griffith to the closest it's ever been.

But where is the long-term plan? How do we know this won't be just another chapter in the confusing and frustrating history of the round ball game in the Riverina?

After all, Griffith sides have been to Wagga many times before. They've also been to Shepparton and Canberra. Every single time, despite the best of intentions, it hasn't worked out, for myriad reasons.

There is nothing to suggest the same thing won't happen again.

Football Wagga has just put together a five-year plan to bring the sport off its knees in that city and into a position where it can challenge rugby league and Australian rules. The GDFA needs to show the same vision instead of going year-by-year and making decisions based on what might work in the short-term.

But this isn't just on the shoulders of Mathew Curran and the committee, who have done a marvellous job and are, to be fair, only looking out for Griffith. It's time football in the Riverina finally got serious and mapped out the future.

Football NSW has long needed to show some ownership of this region, but Football Riverina needs to prove it actually exists for a reason. Too many key stakeholders in the game are confused over exactly what purpose Football Riverina serves. From this perspective, the organisation does little other than stage the annual branch titles.

It should be front and centre of this debate over competition structure, and if that's not what it's there for, then more serious reform is needed. 

The Eastern Wanderers could very well be a success next year. But unless football in the Riverina gets its act together and figures out where it wants to be five years from now, nothing is a guarantee.

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