Tigers and Eagles to wait on call to join under-18 forces
AFL NORTH Coast will have to wait a little bit longer to find out if it will field its first seven-strong competition across all grades - but the signs are not looking good.
Grafton Tigers and Lower Clarence Eagles bosses were set to meet at the Yamba Bowling Club on Wednesday night to discuss a "junior merger".
The merger would see the Clarence Valley's two Aussie rules clubs pool their resources to field a team in the under-18s competition.
Both clubs, particularly the Eagles, are hamstrung by player availability.
Lower Clarence fields teams up to under-15 level, but keen players are then forced to play elsewhere due to lack of numbers.
Most players are lost to other sports, mainly rugby league and union, and the proposed amalgamation is viewed as a way to give junior Aussie rules players a pathway to senior footy.
A proposal to pool their players was viewed as a way to ensure Lower Clarence juniors had a pathway to follow, but Eagles committee member Matt Hoffman said the club was exploring other options.
"We've actually had a meeting with the Ballina competition to see if we can play up there," Hoffman said.
"It's still up in the air at the moment.
"As you can understand the committee don't want to move the whole club.
"If this doesn't come off then the older boys might go up and play at Grafton."
Hoffman explained the reasoning behind the decision as more for the players than the club.
"The league in Ballina (Northern Rivers) split their age groups into 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s, while AFL North Coast go from 13s, 15s to 18s," Hoffman said.
"We're talking about 15-year-old kids being asked to play against adults.
"If we were accepted to the Ballina competition our 15s would stay together and play in 16s next year, and could stay longer.
"Before that happens we need to make sure we have three teams. We have enough for two groups at the moment but we need a few more 10s or 12s."
Tigers president Rod Sheather said his club had not fielded an under-18s team "for years", but it was something they were working towards.
"We had an 18s team make the grand final a while ago but most players moved away or moved up to reserve grade," Sheather said. "We haven't had them for a while.
"The way things are now, we're asking 16-year-old kids to step up to the under-18s level."
Seven AFL North Coast clubs in 2014
Senior and reserve grades are both expected to feature seven teams following guarantees from North Coffs and Coffs Swans, along with the inclusion of Macleay Valley Eagles.
It will be only the second time in the competition's 33 year history that seven teams will play in the seniors.