To say Tasmanian footy is at a crossroads would be as obvious a statement as suggesting Gold Coast Suns may be a bit rubbish.
There are significant issues facing the sport at every level.
Grassroots leagues across the state are struggling to such an extent that a competition like the North East Football Union ceases to operate for the first time in 80 years.
Blind Freddie can see the State League is heading for another trainwreck and with Gillon McLachlan in the signal box, an imminent collision between assorted engines is unlikely to be averted.
And the highest level of football played in the state appears to be losing its appeal.
AFL crowds in Launceston and Hobart have been dwindling for several seasons but 9007 at UTAS Stadium on the back of 7194 at Bellerive Oval for recent fixtures against the two expansion clubs plunged new depths.
Across 66 matches in more than 17 years of continuous AFL matches in Launceston, crowds had never previously dipped below five figures.
Clearly there are a myriad of plausible likely explanations.
Unappealing opponents, clashes with local footy and dull footy topped the list in the wake of Saturday’s dismal turnout which would have been considerably worse but for free entry for kids and players that had taken part in the inclusion carnival.
The first – favoured by Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson – warrants closer examination.
“Gold Coast, I’d be surprised if they’ve got a big following down here so it’s difficult when you get drawn against some of these sides,” Clarkson said.
Sounds fair, but with Gold Coast having played in Launceston five times now (thanks Gil), a glance at those crowd figures is telling.
In the Suns’ inaugural season of 2011, 16,377 watched the Hawks double their score, in 2014 it dropped to 13,178 then 11,320 and 10,121 in the next two years and 9007 on Saturday.
That’s a fall of 7370. Clarkson is right that Gold Coast hasn’t got a big following here so the scarves those missing 7370 are leaving in their cupboards are more likely brown and gold than red and gold.
There have been two significant changes in Tasmania’s AFL landscape since 2011: North Melbourne has challenged Hawthorn’s monopoly and the Hawks have gone off the boil.
With AFL action in their backyard, Hobart fans have stopped visiting the neighbours (Hobart Hurricanes noticed the same trend when they began playing in Launceston) and – as Clarkson conceded – the team that was heading for the 2013, ’14 and ’15 premierships played “a more exciting brand of footy than what we presented (on Saturday)”.
Clarkson also said: “If we were to play Richmond or St Kilda or Collingwood this would be a sellout.”
Except it wasn’t.
Two months ago, the Hawks hosted the Saints in Launceston in the prized Saturday evening timeslot with no local footy competing for fans, and the crowd was still 5000 short of the official record attendance.
Teams such as Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond, Sydney Swans, Geelong and Melbourne need to come down and play in Tasmania every couple years. And if they don’t want to come down, the AFL need to tell them to suck it up! Tasmania don’t want to see the same teams every year! #AFLhttps://t.co/kPCRhTITFx— Jacob Bevis (@bevob5) June 23, 2018
Blaming unappealing opponents is too easy a get-out.
Maybe not enough Hawks fans are riding the bumps with a grin.
Clashes with local footy clearly impact AFL crowd sizes. AFL Tasmania rosters Launceston’s two State League teams away whenever Hawthorn is in town but the NTFA staged no fewer than 20 games on Saturday across its division 1 and 2 senior, reserve and under-18 competitions.
Along with support staff and fans in what is footy’s core supporter base, that's a lot of potential bums missing from UTAS Stadium seats.
Many of the reader comments on The Examiner’s Facebook page also blamed the quality of the product being dished up.
They said that lengthy stoppages are creating congestion which appears to be stifling scoring.
And, the football is not what it used to be. The game has been messed around with so many rule changes it appears to be a cross between Rugby and American football. Who mucked it up.— Margaret Rose (@freomumsy) June 24, 2018
Of the 12 teams that played at the weekend, only GWS broke triple figures while North Melbourne and Port Adelaide won with just 12 and 11 goals respectively.
Throw in the sort of brain-numbing inaccuracy on show in Launceston (a combined 31 behinds) and it hardly suggests unmissable action.
When not surveying the swathes of empty seats or marvelling at the kicking inaccuracy, the real highlight to Saturday’s AFL game in Launceston was eaves-dropping on a conversation in the pressbox.
It involved a journalist from Queensland and another from Melbourne debating why a Tasmanian AFL team could never work.
Gold Coast boy bemoaned all the things the AFL hadn’t done for the Suns and said a Tasmanian team would never be able to stand up without support.
Clearly a shortage of mirrors in Queensland.
The pair eventually reached the mutual conclusion that a Tasmanian team could not be successful because of the state’s North-South divide.
Rather amusingly, that convenient excuse, beloved of messieurs Demetriou, Fitzpatrick, McLachlan and anybody else who doesn’t wish to delve beyond face value, prompted the listening representatives from The Examiner and Mercury to shake their heads in unison.
On social media last week there was a campaign suggesting Tasmanians should boycott AFL games in their state in order to try and get their own team.
It could be suggested they already are.
In 22 AFL matches in Launceston between 2006 and 2011 the attendance never dipped below 15,000.
Since 2013, just eight of the 23 attendances have been above 15,000.
AFL attendances are just another item on a lengthy agenda the AFL-led steering committee into Tasmanian football headaches might like to address.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of people willing to advise them, particularly on social media.
It doesn’t take much research to find such helpful comments as: “Bring a half decent team here. Or bring Carlton.”