Editorial: Good could yet come from footy howler

AFL Western District gave new meaning to legendary Hawthorn coach John Kennedy Senior’s “don’t think, do” mantra. It did something in reviewing junior structures across the south-west but it didn’t think through communicating the plan or process.

The commission this week sensationally bowed to intense public pressure and abandoned its planned changes to age groups and the introduction of player list caps and only 16 per side games with five on the interchange bench.

It was the right call.

The commission made another right call in undertaking the review. Clubs for years have urged authorities to “do something”. The commission, with unprecedented power to over rule league executives who have been guilty in the past of putting the issue in the too hard basket, bravely devised a plan.

The switch in age groups – under 15s and under 18s instead of under 14.5s and under 17s in the Warrnambool and District league might well be the right call. WDFNL clubs seem to think so. 

But the contentious call to reduce lists and those on the field was not, according to popular opinion. The commission’s biggest failure was its process. After consulting with clubs, it produced its vision but did not distribute that for comment and discussion. It lobbed a bomb and then bunkered down, hiding, instead of discussing the reasons and merits. It wanted no debate and hoped the issue would go away. It was a shocking error, a howler.

The commission underestimated clubs and in so doing backed itself into a corner. The backflip was the only decision it could make to save face. Then it compounded its original error of not communicating by failing to elaborate on why it backed down. It referred to “new information” had come to light. What new information? The clubs’ views? Public opinion? Or was it the realisation the data used as the basis for the decision was only “anecdotal” and therefore flimsy?

The commission needs to become more inclusive and consultative. It needs to embrace clubs, league executives and the media. It has vowed to discuss junior structures throughout this year with clubs, which is promising, so too was Friday’s statement that it wants a positive outcome for all. To achieve that the commission needs to listen, be open to suggestions and restore some trust. Actions talk, so said John Kennedy Senior.