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From the CEO: SANFL rule changes

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas speaks to the media at Alberton Oval on September 19, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images/AFL Media)

Dear Members and Supporters,

Back in 2013, our Club was faced with a very serious decision. We recognised the undeniable need to combine our AFL and SANFL programs, to ensure that the development of our players was consistent and of the highest standard through the access provided to the entire list to all of our elite coaches and resources.

To achieve this goal we needed to accept that as an AFL Club, we could have no access to footballers under the age of 18, as per AFL regulation. The decision to dismantle the Club’s much loved junior programs was made, to enable us to combine the AFL and SANFL senior programs under the one coaching umbrella. There is no doubt in my mind, that this decision has been a success.

The unity created through this program has seen our SANFL league team compete in two Grand Finals since 2014, and has enhanced the development of many of our established AFL players today. It has also enabled the entire coaching group to actively promote what it means to represent the Port Adelaide Football Club at both the AFL and SANFL level, which was difficult to achieve in the earlier divided program.

At the meeting held in the indoor training facility in 2013, to outline this new structure to 700 concerned members, I also discussed the Club’s commitment to modernize our approach to junior development, to ensure that our long history of creating a pathway for young players to join Port Adelaide could be maintained.

I outlined a plan that involved the creation of Academies that would enable us to develop and foster relationships with young players searching for an opportunity to play for our Club in the AFL or SANFL.

In 2019, we will have in excess of 140 boys and girls actively involved in our academy programs. We have a Next Generation Academy which may harvest two AFL draftees this year, we run boys and girls Aboriginal Academies in conjunction with SAASTA, our Father/Son program currently involves talented junior players such as Taj Schofield, Trent Burgoyne, Tex Wanganeen, Jackson Mead and several others, plus we are preparing to enter the SANFLW Super series in 2019 which will be the development platform for our entry into the AFLW competition in 2021 or 2022.

An additional 100 young players from our SANFL development zone also receive access to our coaches and facilities as part of our broader commitment to the development of football in this state.

It is an exciting and excellent program of junior development providing these talented young players with access to the elite level coaching available at our Club.

But not every aspect of our new world plan, as outlined in 2013, has proven to be sustainable.

You may have heard in the past few hours that we have decided not to continue with our SANFL reserves team next year.

We agonize over these types of decisions. The idea of diminishing our football program in any way is always the last resort.

The need for change, however, has been emerging over the past two seasons.

In 2017, Port Adelaide had an incredibly low number of injuries to its AFL and Magpies senior list. Whilst terrific at the AFL level, the availability of virtually all AFL listed players for most of the year meant that many of our contracted Magpies players including Steve Summerton, Louis Sharrad, Tom Gray, Anthony Biemans and others were forced to play SANFL reserves football through the year. These guys are legitimate senior players in the SANFL, and despite their deep love for the Club, quite rightly felt aggrieved that they were not able to play in the Magpies league side.

As a result, many of these senior players decided to play elsewhere in 2018, continuing a trend that we have found difficult to counter over the past five years.

Then, this season we had the opposite problem, where our injury list was high.

This severely exposed our lack of experience at both the Magpies and Magpies reserves level resulting in both teams being largely uncompetitive for most of the year. The impact of this was most acutely felt at the reserves level where the team remained brave all year but faced almost insurmountable odds and heavy defeats all season.

Further refinement of the program was required, to ensure that we gave ourselves the best possible opportunity to win premierships at the AFL and SANFL senior level.

Several significant rule changes have been negotiated with the SANFL, which will be hugely beneficial to our senior programs:

• $20,000 base payment salary cap to retain our contracted Magpies players. Their current rate of pay is uncompetitive.
• Access to all players not currently on an SANFL 1-40 list, whether they have played at SANFL level in the past 18 months or not.
• Access to AFL approved Next Generation players in their draft year, after the under 18 Championships
• Access to these players, if they are not drafted, for no transfer fee.
• Reduction in the age of our leadership player to 26 (currently 28) from an AFL list.

We believe these changes will significantly improve our ability to field a highly competitive SANFL League team.

We do not, however, believe that the changes provide enough scope to ensure that we are able to field a competitive reserves team on a sustainable basis.

As I said earlier, the decision to not field a reserves team from 2019 was not taken lightly. We fought hard for this structure in 2013.

But I think the decision needs to be viewed through a different lens.

Rather than a sign of a diminishing SANFL program, I see this as part of the evolution of the Port Adelaide Football Club as a powerful, modern professional Football Club which is focused on building the best program possible to achieve its two primary aims… to win AFL and SANFL premierships.

I have absolutely no doubt that the changes outlined today to our SANFL program, together with the ongoing development of our elite junior pathways, will provide us with the best possible opportunity to achieve these worthy goals.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the players, coaches and support staff involved in the reserves program this year…as difficult as it was, I thought the commitment by all was exemplary. It is our intention to ensure that everyone involved in supporting the reserves program remain actively involved in the Club if they so desire. Knowing the calibre of people involved, I feel sure that they will!

I’m sure there will be many questions, and I will ensure that we provide ample opportunity over the coming weeks to provide as much detail as is required to help you understand how the new structure will help strengthen our Club in future years.

I look forward to speaking to you again soon…there are many new developments to share as we prepare to climb the mountain again!!

We are Port Adelaide.

KT

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