SEVEN south-west Victorian footballers landed at AFL clubs via the 2016 draft period.
That’s seven more than the entire state of Tasmania.
Yet the Hampden region, touted as a breeding ground for elite talent, hasn’t hosted a TAC Cup game since 2014 and a VFL match in four years.
Why? Because Warrnambool’s premier facility Reid Oval is crying out for much-needed upgrades.
A draft plan will go before Warrnambool City Council in February.
If endorsed, councillors will start advocating for funding to help revitalise the dilapidated precinct.
A playing surface, capable of hosting high-quality football and cricket matches, and lighting are the top priorities for user groups.
New male change rooms and spectator-friendly facilities are also high on wish lists.
Four sporting clubs across two codes call the Albert Park venue home.
Football-netball clubs Warrnambool and East Warrnambool, along with Warrnambool and District Umpires Association, share the ground in winter and Nestles plays cricket at the venue in summer.
Mayor Kylie Gaston said upgrades would strengthen the city’s chances of hosting AFL practice matches and TAC Cup and VFL fixtures too.
“Council is fully committed to supporting the community on this,” she said.
“We’re excited about the possibilities. The draft plan has gone really well and overall people seem happy with it. We’ve found some consensus and we’ve got direction on where we need to go.”
North Ballarat Rebels talent manager Phil Partington believes bringing TAC Cup games to regional areas is important.
But he also knows playing surfaces need to showcase the teenagers’ talent.
“I am not too worried facility-wise. Our boys are used to playing country footy in changing rooms like that,” Partington said.
“These boys are getting looked at by AFL clubs every time they go out on the ground, so we’re not being precious or anything like that. It’s just duty-of-care for the players and making sure they have the best surface to play on.”
Partington said choosing a time of the season to play on regional grounds, including Reid Oval, depended on multiple factors such as weather and heavy workload.
“If you play during winter, there might be three or four games the day before, and that’s where we got caught out two years ago with a wet week,” he said.
“The ground was two-foot under mud the whole day and we just couldn’t showcase the boys’ talents unfortunately.”
Warrnambool Football Club coach John Cook is among those desperate to see the complex brought up to scratch.
In a perfect world, the second-year Blues mentor would have separate premier football and cricket ovals within the Albert Park precinct.
“From a coach’s point of view, the concern I have is access,” Cook said.
“I don’t want to be controversial, but from a club’s perspective we rarely get to use the entire ground because of the fact there is a cricket pitch in the middle of it.”
Warrnambool is training Monday nights on Reid Oval and East Warrnambool Wednesday nights over summer.
“We are only allowed to train on the far wing and we’re not allowed to train in boots,” Cook said.
“That’s just where we’re at and East Warrnambool are under the same conditions.
“Regardless of the time of the year, you cannot train right across the ground because the centre area is usually fenced off.
“And when it’s not fenced off, there’s usually a massive water irrigation pipe coming across the ground.
“I don’t want to come across as a whinger, I am just stating a fact.”
Cook said he was passionate about sport in the south-west and wanted to see the best facilities for all codes and clubs.
“I am happy a few of the councillors nominated the Reid Oval upgrade as part of their election platforms, so hopefully that will have some sway when it comes to resourcing,” he said.
We are only allowed to train on the far wing and we’re not allowed to train in boots.Warrnambool coach John Cook on pre-season training restrictions at Reid Oval
East Warrnambool Football Netball Club general manager Justin Balmer and Nestles Cricket Club president Bryan White said the user groups must co-exist and provide a united front if the oval upgrades were to attract significant funding.
Balmer, who said the Bombers were rapt to be training at their home venue over summer for the first time, understood the importance of providing a united front.
“The more you can use the facility, the more chance you have of getting money for it,” he said.
“Once you get the surface up and right and it’s maintained then it can take the traffic.”
White, who confirmed the Factory would play their first game of the season on the Reid Oval pitch on Saturday, said he wanted to see action.
He said upgrades would benefit both sports.
“We are going to all these meetings all the time but there seems to be no real answers as far as direction goes,” he said. “As a club, we support all user groups because at the end of the day to get grants it has to be a multi-purpose venue.”
Warrnambool and District Cricket Association president Gordon McLeod said a multi-purpose venue was the best option for all parties.
“We feel it’s important that cricket remains on the main city oval,” he said.