South-west footballers may have limited opportunities to fulfilling their AFL dreams with a leading coach predicting scaled down pathway programs after the COVID-19 crisis.
Twenty-four south-west under 18 males and seven females feature in the Greater Western Victoria Rebels' 2020 squads. FitzGerald said as well as the likelihood of smaller AFL lists in the aftermath of the virus, the possibility of fewer pathway regions would also make it more difficult.
He cited increased travel demands with geographically larger regions as another potential hurdle.
FitzGerald, who coached Greater Western Victoria Rebels in two stints, said travel had always been a commitment of playing in the country's elite under 18 competition.
It won't return to what we've had in the past.Gerard FitzGerald
He said while many players in the Rebels' region combated distance by attending boarding school in Ballarat, it was not always possible.
FitzGerald said while regional training bases eased some pressures, full squads ultimately needed to train together.
He said it might lead to a model which featured more individual training - not unlike the one across the nation during the existing COVID-19 shutdown - and fewer sessions involving all players.
FitzGerald said although it was not possible to predict what would happen after the COVID-19 pandemic, people had to accept when life returned to "normal" there would be change on the football front.
He said the male and female NAB League pathway programs were no exception.
"It won't return to what we've had in the past," he said.
"We have to keep an open mind and not let an opportunity go by.
"A formal pathway must remain, but we have to be prepared for change."
FitzGerald said many sports have followed the under 18 model since it was introduced in the early 1990s and Australian rules again had an opportunity to be a leader.
He said Ballarat was originally part of the Geelong Falcons' region.
North Ballarat became the base for a new region, focusing on the western corridor and far south-west.
Football is off at all levels until at least May 31.
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