Leaders of southern Mallee communities of Hopetoun and Beulah have taken the next step to ensure the longevity of their football-netball club amid an era of ever-declining population and player availability.
Southern Mallee Giants members on Monday night voted to apply to leave Horsham District Football Netball League and transfer to Wimmera league for the 2018 season.
Giants president Brad Moore said club leaders had received overwhelming support for the move from players and members since AFL Wimmera-Mallee commissioners floated the idea.
“The whole concept of changing leagues came about through a review of football in the region run by the commission,” he said. “We didn’t go looking for it – it was put to us. We thought it was a good idea to explore it and seek input from our members and supporters.
“We’re open to everything at the moment.”
Mr Moore said he was wary of saying too much until the move was a ‘done deal’, however if successful, participating in a stronger competition would help the Giants retain players.
The Giants’ senior football side has won two consecutive premierships during two undefeated seasons in Horsham District league.
The outfit regularly defeats sides by triple figures.
“Players have said it is getting harder and harder for them to keep fronting up each week when they’re travelling from Melbourne and we’re winning by big margins each time,” Mr Moore said.
“They’d been asking the question about joining the Wimmera league for a couple of years and it had been in the back of our minds that we needed to try to look into it. So, when the commission posed the possibility to us we were happy to follow through.”
Beulah and Hopetoun – once bitter Southern Mallee League rivals – merged at the end of 2014 and played their first games as Southern Mallee Giants in the final year of the nowdefunct Mallee league.
Mr Moore said club leaders had long recognised the need to evolve with the times in order to survive.
“Even back in our Mallee days we had the northern and southern Mallee leagues merge. We’ve seen clubs across the region merge and others fold,” he said.
“We were saying the other day that the past three presidents have overseen major changes – the merger of Hopetoun and Beulah, the move to the Horsham District league and now, the move to the Wimmera league.
“While we hope things settle down soon, the club hasn’t been sitting still and getting stale. We’re open to everything and we’re looking long term.”
Mr Moore said one of the biggest concerns members had raised about a potential move was how it would affect the club’s netballers.
The Giants have fielded four senior teams in the district league, however Wimmera league does not offer a C Reserve competition.
“We have had some concerns that a few senior girls might miss out, but at this stage it looks like the netball club might have lost a few numbers, so it might work out okay,” Mr Moore said.
“There’s also a bit of concern our junior girls might struggle a bit in the stronger competition.”
Mr Moore said at the end of the day, the club had to look at its best longterm strategy.
“We’re not just looking to make the move for a year, we’ve got to look further ahead for us to survive,” he said.
“Since the news about a potential move has gotten out I’ve received a couple of phone calls from people in the Wimmera league saying they are excited to have another strong team come into the competition.
“There has certainly been a big injection of excitement in our community. We’re ready for the competition.”
AFL Wimmera-mallee general manager Stephen Mcqueen said both Horsham District and Wimmera leagues would need to approve Southern Mallee’s requests.
“The AFL Wimmera-mallee commission will rubber stamp it if the votes go accordingly,” he said.
“The commission will support the decisions of the leagues. The feedback we have received so far has been positive.”
Mr Mcqueen said if the Giants’ request to transfer leagues was approved, new fixtures would be promptly sent out.
“If it all goes through there will be 18 rounds with natural byes, rather than whole weekend byes, in both leagues,” he said.
The Wimmera league fixture currently comprises eight teams contesting 16 rounds with two full byes, while the Horsham District draw features 12 teams contesting 18 rounds with one full bye.
If the Giants defect to Wimmera league, the 2018 Horsham District season will start a week later, on April 14.