The AFL’s expansion in Queensland over past few years could be described as patchy at best.
Somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million was invested by AFL to broaden their reach and depth in the sunny state, but the results haven’t equalled the expenditure.
With two professional teams – the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns – the supporter base has grown well with good crowds, but in recent years the on-field success hasn’t materialised, with the Suns not yet having made it to finals. This is a concern for the AFL Commission.
In their defence the Suns have incurred their fair share of teething problems compounded by an unsettling couple of years of rumours, now proven to be true, that their big-ticket player, Gary Ablett, would re-join Geelong in 2018.
However, his departure should allow room for rookie onballers like Darcy McPherson and older heads Pearce Hanley and Jarrod Harbrow to get their chance this year.
Positive off-field factors to assist the Suns this coming year are the appointment of Mark Evans as CEO in 2017, a proven AFL administrator, and the newly appointed senior coach Stewart Dew. Both bring years of experience to Queensland.
The Suns local rivals, the Brisbane Lions, won four flags under coach Leigh Matthews and captain Michael Voss in the early 2000s and had a pretty promising 2017 with new coach Chris Fagan, who recently reflected on the Lions website that “It’s been a great year, I’ve learnt so much about the group”.
“I think right now, I’m in a good position to know what’s required. And now the other challenge is to execute it to the nth degree and improve next year.”
The Lions, like all clubs, have had a few major injuries to key players during the year, with both Dayne Beams and Darcy Gardiner missing ten weeks between them. According to Sunshine Footy scouts both are training the house down and eager for the first bounce in 2018.
With new recruits Cameron Rayner, Charlie Cameron and Luke Hodge, Brisbane is a club keen to build a real culture so that the team can retain young players for the duration of their careers.
In reality both AFL clubs may struggle to make the top eight in 2018, but supporters have a lot to look forward to. As the last two AFL premiers show, you can turn it around quickly.
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The AFL’s expansion plans focused on the growth not only of the professional league but also at grassroots level, with Auskick experiencing steady participation growth in the last few years, including a six per cent take-up in 2016. Overall participation is up 16.87 per cent according to AFLQ.
At grassroots level the real challenge is attracting new players each year to top-up ongoing recruitment shortlists. Like semi-professional clubs in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, which are always on the lookout for quality players, this recruitment process is very time-consuming.
Club administrators can make an average of 100 phone calls to secure ten new players, but as the market grows, new recruitment platforms are opening up to facilitate football opportunities in Queensland.
Queensland is the perfect place to play footy, with more sun than rain and a host of clubs in idyllic locations, from Surfers Paradise to Port Douglas, regularly fielding players, be they ex-professional or amateurs, from the city and the country to join them.