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    TEAM RETURN: Laharum Football Netball Club will have an under-17s football team again in 2023 after a season on the sidelines. Newly appointed under-17s coach Tim Nagorcka, second from left, will head up the junior coaching team, alongside assistant coaches Ambrose Launder, left, and Jarrod Kemp, right. Senior football coach Glenn Doyle, second from right, said the return of an under-17s squad was a ‘club priority’.

Juniors a priority at Laharum

The region’s two most-prominent football leagues will make low junior footballer participation and competitiveness a priority in 2023 after several clubs were unable to field an under-17s team this season. 

The Wimmera Football Netball League has set up a junior football working group, under the leadership of league treasurer Peter Hamilton, to engage with club delegates about structural obstacles to increased junior football participation rates and league-wide competitiveness. 

The group, comprising a delegate from each Wimmera league club, first met in early December to discuss the issues.

Two Wimmera league clubs, Southern Mallee Giants and Nhill, did not have enough junior players to field an under-17s team in 2022, despite several clubs in the region’s major centres often having an excess of junior players at their clubs. 

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Often several under-17 players across the league’s larger clubs would miss out on playing a game each week, while several players were also often ‘loaned’ to rival clubs with low junior numbers during rostered bye weeks.

Under-17s participation rates across the Horsham District league also suffered this season, with Edenhope-Apsley, Taylors Lake and Laharum clubs unable to field under-17s sides in 2022.

Mr Hamilton said it was ‘no secret’ there were long-standing issues that surrounded the levels of competitiveness across the league’s junior football competitions. 

“A committee has been set up really just to identify the key issues and concerns, and consider if there are any obvious steps that can be taken, with the aim of improving the levels of competitiveness of the competitions, and by extension hopefully the levels of development and enjoyment for the players,” he said. 

“The clubs obviously have the best understanding of all the key issues relating to juniors, so they have each nominated a representative to sit on the committee, along with three league board members, and Angela Ballinger from AFL Wimmera Mallee. 

“The first step is simply about seeking detailed feedback from each of the clubs on various items, then in the new year the committee will meet to consider the feedback, and ultimately decide what action, if any, to implement for next season.”  

Horsham District Football Netball League chair Rosemary Langley said the league hoped to create a similar consultative process during 2023.

However, she said Laharum, Edenhope-Apsley and Taylors Lake had informed her that each club would return to the under-17s competition for the 2023 season.

She said the league had intentions of collaborating with the Wimmera league about junior participation rate obstacles ‘at some stage’, however she considered it important to come together first as a league, to discover what clubs wanted.

“We are more than happy to work closely with the Wimmera league and new AFL Wimmera Mallee regional manager Angela Ballinger,” she said.

Laharum senior football coach Glenn Doyle said the 2023 return of its under-17s squad to the league was a club priority for the 2023 season. 

He said the club considered the loss of its under-17s team in 2022 a ‘huge setback’, and club leadership had been committed to ensuring it was only missing from the junior competition for a single year.  

“We have appointed Tim Nagorcka as head coach for the under-17s team in 2023 and have set about constructing a great connection between the existing junior players and the senior team this year so that it would generate stability moving forward,” he said. 

“We have three senior players, Jarrod Kemp, Ambrose Launder and Michael Scalzo assisting Tim with the under-17s program now. 

“These are senior players who will become an integral part of the junior team’s success, while our fitness and conditioning coach Ravi Araujo has already started preparing several of our junior players for next season.”

Mr Doyle said he was unsure how a football club could remain confident of its future if it had no clear developmental pathway for junior players. 

“There needs to be a strong cultural and football connection between a club’s junior program and its senior team to ensure the junior teams become a feeder for its senior program.

“I consider myself head coach of the football club, not just coach of the senior team, and it remains hugely important to me that our under-17s team next year become the plank of the club’s rebirth and its centenary celebrations in 2023.”

The entire December 21, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire December 21, 2022 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!