Tasmanian football league make-up shake-up

Game 'set and match: Ryan McCarragher on his way to a hat-trick for Riverside Olympic against Somerset in the Northern Championship on Saturday. Picture: Rob Shaw
Game 'set and match: Ryan McCarragher on his way to a hat-trick for Riverside Olympic against Somerset in the Northern Championship on Saturday. Picture: Rob Shaw

When it comes to never-ending debates, the meaning of life comes in a distant second to the preferred geographical make-up of Tasmanian football competitions.

This season, the statewide footy competition has shrunk by two clubs just as the soccer equivalent looks to expand by the same amount.

The pre-season departure of Devonport and Burnie leaves the State League with two Northern clubs (Launceston and Northern Bombers) and five from the South (Clarence, Glenorchy, Kingborough, Lauderdale and North Hobart).

The round-ball code also has a 2-5 North-South split plus Devonport in the North-West with the intention to expand by admitting the best-placed new clubs from the Northern and Southern Championships at the end of this season.

That solitary difference between the leagues’ make-ups makes for a fascinating case study.

A generation or two ago, nearly every sporty kid growing up in Devonport, or indeed virtually anywhere in south-eastern Australia, would have played footy.

In the deliberately provocative words of Johnny Warren’s 2002 autobiography, the only people who played soccer back then were Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters.

However, the city that produced dyed in the wool football players like Matthew Richardson and tragics like Tim Lane now cannot produce enough footballers to sustain a State League team.

In contrast, the city’s soccer club is so strong that it can win the State League competition (in 2016) and this season not only leads the NPL Tasmania again but also both the Northern Championship and its under-18 competition.

It’s a huge commitment to play in the NPL

Northern Rangers coach Lino Sciulli

​Such impressive dominance is a testament to what can be achieved by combining a top-flight monopoly of one of the state’s three regions with a smoothly-run operation and sound culture based at excellent facilities.

Football Federation Tasmania confirmed to The Examiner on Monday that by beating rival Somerset 5-1 at a rain-soaked Cardigan Street on Saturday, Riverside Olympic will be invited into the state league competition.

Olympic leads the Sharks by four points with one remaining fixture each. Even my limited maths can work that one out.

The top four Northern Championship teams (including Devonport and Launceston City which already have NPL sides) will then play three additional fixtures against each other but FFT said that will be purely to decide the title, not the promotion.

Freshly installed in a multi-million dollar new clubhouse that makes Windsor Park look like Windsor Castle, Olympic has made clear its desire to step up to the top table.

While yet to make a final decision, Somerset is not as keen, with the club concerned about lighting and drainage at Cardigan Street plus a daunting travel schedule that would involve up to nine-hour bus trips.

Sharks president David Pease said until those facilities are improved, it is content to be a feeder club for the state’s dominant male and female teams in Devonport and Ulverstone respectively.

Down South, Glenorchy Knights have been counting the days until they can return to the top-flight since being ousted by Clarence three years ago and appear to have an unassailable lead over Beachside in the Southern Championship.

A question mark must hang over the continued presence of that Clarence team that has amassed just two draws all season, has a -76 goal difference and lost the last 11 straight including 5-0 twice, 6-0, 7-0 twice, 7-1, 8-1 and 9-0.

Northern Rangers are also yet to commit to another season in the statewide league.

Despite occasionally demonstrating its potential, not least with an eye-catching win at South Hobart three weeks ago, the NTCA outfit is weighing up whether it can afford the financial cost of the competition.

“We’re still in the process of working out whether we are going to have another go and that will probably take until the end of the season,” Rangers president Rod Fulton said last month.

Several wise old heads have questioned whether Launceston can sustain three statewide teams, not least Roger Mies and Lino Sciulli – long-time teammates at City and now in opposite dugouts during top-flight derbies.

“There is just not the depth of players and financial support for that – it is stretching resources too much,” Mies said.

Sciulli added: “It’s a huge commitment to play in the NPL. I want to see us keep going, I really do. But Riverside coming in is going to make it extremely hard to find local people.”

And as if all this isn’t complicated enough, from 2019 the 10th-placed NPL team will be relegated with the Northern and Southern Championship winners playing off to replace it before the loser then plays the ninth-placed side for the league’s final spot.

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