PORT Fairy coach Bernie Harris might have been joking when he told the Hampden Football Netball League launch last week he felt much older than 49 years when surrounded by his players at Gardens Oval.
“I feel like the grandfather over there,” Harris said.
It’s not far from the truth.
The Seagulls have the youngest senior list in a competition that is even younger than last year and more inexperienced.
The average age of Port Fairy’s senior list players is 20.6 years, 18 months younger than the competition average of 22 years.
The Seagulls are marginally younger than Cobden (21.1), Terang Mortlake (21.4) and Warrnambool (21.8), while Camperdown’s Leura Oval might be renamed Jurassic Park with its average age the oldest at 23.25.
The average age of senior players might sound young but when you consider a couple of veterans on each club’s lists are unlikely to play all games, and in some cases, any, there will be times this season when you go to games in the afternoon when you could be forgiven for thinking the under 18s are running late.
With youth comes inexperience.
The average number of senior games played across the eight clubs’ lists is 38, well down from last year’s 51.
Another way to look at it, this season the eight clubs between them have 35 players on their lists who have played 100 or more senior games. Last year that number was 50.
Coaches and administrators have long argued a core group of 100-plus senior game players is needed to win a premiership.
If that’s the case, North Warrnambool Eagles with eight, according to their list submitted to The Standard, is best placed to win the flag.
Camperdown, Koroit and Warrnambool have five each.
Why are Hampden league clubs so young this year?
Those congregating on the hill near the bar today will no doubt have their views.
The first one they will raise is the defection of a host of senior, experienced players to the District league for significant wads of cash.
A quick check of clearances earlier this week revealed that 95 Hampden league players were either cleared or wanting to be cleared to the District league in the off-season.
There were 64 players cleared or who wanted to be cleared from the District league to the Hampden league.
The second point to consider is generational change. Stalwarts of the competition like Koroit’s Andrew Foster, Cobden’s Brett Taylor and North Warrnambool Eagles’ Liam Ryan and Justin Marris retired.
A number of other long-termers like Cobden’s Ricky Sullivan and Stephen Dickinson and Terang Mortlake’s Xavier McKinnon have either moved out of the region or decided to take a step back as age caught up with them.
The third point to ponder is the game has changed in terms of commitment.
The level of professionalism demanded of major league senior football has risen to a point where fewer players aged beyond 25 can commit the time needed to satisfy coaches as they juggle work and family commitments.
The idea of getting youngsters together and building a side is fine in theory.
After four seasons they will be bigger, stronger and more experienced.
But will they stick around?
Opportunities to study, work and travel elsewhere have never been so freely available. It’s a young man’s game like never before.