Launceston coach Sam Lonergan said ongoing uncertainty over the future of the State League is hampering his ability to do his job.
As State League presidents and AFL Tasmania bosses appear to be prescribing alternative remedies to the state’s footy headaches, Lonergan admitted he and his young team feel caught in the crossfire.
“It’s definitely a massive distraction,” said the former AFL star.
“I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that the players are thinking about it and talking about it in their friendship groups.
“How do you battle it? I’m not sure, I don’t know what the answer is. We’re just trying to keep our guys engaged and when the date comes up when there’s meant to be an answer it will be interesting.”
The future of the State League has been under the microscope since Devonport and Burnie withdrew during pre-season through lack of numbers.
Growing concern from the remaining clubs prompted a rare visit from AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan who announced he would chair a steering committee, including high-profile Tasmanians Brendon Bolton and Nick Riewoldt, to investigate State League sustainability, the talent pathway, AFL Tasmania governance and funding.
Rumours of a return to three regional competitions with a re-established Tasmanian VFL and full-time TAC Cup prompted a heated – and united – response in defence of the TSL from its club presidents.
Writing to AFL Tasmania chief executive Trish Squires ahead of the committee’s meeting on May 9, they said: “Based on the current viability and expected bright future of all seven TSL clubs, healthy crowd attendance and strong player numbers, all seven presidents are unanimous in our support and desire for the TSL to continue into the future.”
Lonergan supported maintaining the State League.
“Internally, we’re pretty confident that the TSL will be alive next year so it doesn’t worry us too much, it’s just a bit of a noise in the background at this stage.
“We’ve got 50-odd players that want to be in a high-performance environment and everyone else around them that supposedly knows about football is talking about taking that away from young Tasmanians.
We’re just trying to keep our guys engagedLaunceston coach Sam Lonergan
“If we’ve got 50, every other club has got 50 as well so you’re talking about a significant number of young Tasmanians that want to be in a high-performance environment and the people at the top of AFL in Tasmania are talking about taking that away for most of them.”
Lonergan suggested the best solution is a combination of TSL, VFL and NEAFL.
“That way your top-end talent pathway get an opportunity at VFL and NEAFL level and there are probably five here [at Launceston FC] that are a genuine chance to get drafted, so I think they get an opportunity through their state games plus NEAFL and VFL at the back end of the year.
“I’m really concerned that if you go TAC Cup you’re really upshifting a lot of 17 and 18-year-olds studying in year 12.
“If we’re saying five get drafted then the other 15 that are travelling week-in week-out are not a chance and it’s probably damaging their year 12 studies so there’s a lot that has to be thought about in terms of what is the best way forward.”