Central Zone stunned at country football championsihps

Kym Jarman reviews the weekend''s Zone games.

Results from the South Australian Country Football Championships held at Port Pirie over last weekend saw our zone, Central, (comprising the APFL, North Eastern FL and Yorke Peninsula FL) finish dead last of six country zones – not winning a single match.
It was just the second time in five years Central zone had not made the SA championship carnival’s grand final.
Never has Central finished lower than third and despite making the final as recently as last year, this year’s carnival results in which we failed to win a game has certainly left a bitter taste in Central’s mouth.
In game one of the carnival (which comprised two preliminary Saturday matches made up of two 20-minute halves and one full length Sunday “Finals” match) Central went down to the Northern Zone by a 21 point margin in game one of the carnival.
Although Central was right in it until half time the second half of game one proved costly as the Northerners ran away with proceedings.
In the second preliminary match on Saturday, Central was completely outplayed from start to finish going down by a massive 69-point margin to eventual cup winners Southern Districts.
Southern Districts in this match were simply too strong as their on-ballers and forwards out gunned their Central counterparts to deliver a polished and dominant display of skilful mouth watering football.
Central’s second loss for the day meant the zone, which was once so feared and had made all but one carnival grand final since its current format inception five years ago, were no chance of playing for any great prize in 2009.
With just an early morning fifth versus sixth finals match to look forward to on Sunday it could be said that desire was somewhat lacking for the Sunday fixture and unfortunately Central were again skittled – this time by 33 points, going down to Eyre Peninsula in the longer standard length football match.
In this match Balaklava’s Todd McPharlin kicked a goal to at least see one APFL player get a mention on the overall carnival scoresheet.
Just three APFL players made the trip to Port Pirie on the weekend – Mallala’s Liam Whitwell, United’s Heath Pym and Balaklava’s Todd McPharlin.
All three, among many other players in the squad, would have found it extremely hard to settle into both the matches and the side.
Not only did the Central zone coach have a massive task of keeping all players happy by rotating players on and off the bench, many players also swapped positions as Central tried to find the right mix and positional match-ups to get themselves into the games.
Whitwell played as an on-baller, Pym played as a half back come wingman and McPharlin assumed a forward pocket role.
All three rotated on and off the ground at times. It could be argued that if the APFL had a bye across the association last weekend (as we did in 2009) the Central zone could have had more players to choose from and therefore put in a better showing at the weekend’s carnival.
Of the three leagues NEFL, YPFL and APFL which make up the central zone – our league was the only one to schedule regular matches last weekend and it is apparent Central zone organisers are slightly disappointed.
No doubt you cannot blame APFL Central Zone training squad members for choosing to play for their clubs over putting their hand up for the zone team – especially with the APFL being so closely fought this year. But Central zone organisers would feel an APFL bye could have meant some players had no choice to make between club and zone and it would have meant the training squad for the carnival could have been strengthened.
Just how many APFL players would have actually been picked to play in the side is of course an unknown!
On the other hand you can’t blame the APFL for not scheduling a competition bye across the board. The APFL has an odd number of teams so you must consider each time the APFL has a whole competition bye two local sides then have a fortnight without matches (with one club having a regular bye the week before and/or after the competition bye) – this is not ideal for the clubs nor the competition.
Also in the scheme of things it seems strange to have a bye for the zone championships weekend just four weeks after the bye for the association weekend (June long weekend).
With the June long weekend universally known as a ‘mid year weekend off’ for country footy around the state co-inciding with both the annual association carnivals and the country netball association championships in Adelaide, to suspend junior footy and junior and senior netball matches again on the Plains for an entire weekend in July (just four weeks after the June weekend) to enable a handful of APFL A Grade footballers to play in the State Championships does seem ridiculous. When you consider Central is just one of six zones state wide and is made up of only the NEFL (eight teams) the YPFL (nine teams) and the APFL (seven teams) which makes 23 clubs overall, compared to the Hills Football League which has 19 clubs alone and forms just part of one other zone with at least two other leagues, totalling 40 clubs or more, it hardly seems fair!
On top of this the Hills Central division is also considered one of the strongest country footy leagues in SA.
I think a case can be made that it is possible the SANFL ‘powers that be’ may have prematurely stripped away the NAFA and BL&GFA from Central zone two years ago (due to our previous strong showings) when perhaps some other zones didn’t take the carnival so seriously.
Now the other zones are seemingly more supportive and taking full strength sides to the carnival we are now left with a zone of just three leagues to pick from!
There is just so much up for debate on so many levels.
Of course this brings in the argument of what purpose does the SACF Championship Carnival actually serve? Apart from being a possible forum for talent scouts (flying in the face of this is the fact that many players participating have already had a crack at SANFL at either senior or junior levels) or simply a forum which makes it easy for State selectors to pick the SA Country State team (as the carnival is all done and dusted in one weekend at the one place).
Whilst no doubt it is an honour for players to play in the carnival as they are playing against the best of all country footballers in SA, “zone” representation holds little history, not much passion and not much pride. Not only does the carnival represent a format more suited to junior football with the shortened games, the players aren’t representing a local club or even local association – and the zones change boundaries, leagues and even names from year to year.
The APFL was by no means the only country footy league to play regular matches over the weekend and not have a bye across the association, however no doubt with the Central Zone being made up of just three leagues it may have had an impact on the performance of the Central Zone.
If Central Zone is going to climb off the bottom in 2010 it will need full support from all three leagues including the APFL. However when local community football is played each week for the purpose of ‘the community’ should it be suspended for a week for the sake of a carnival when it is highly likely no more than 10 individuals (on and off the field) from the APFL are ever likely to participate?