Bendigo FNLRichard Jones | The 2021 Bendigo Football and Netball League’s finals series and individual awards ceremonies have been scrapped.

BFNL chair Carol McKinistry defended the league’s decisions following some trenchant criticisms from a few club presidents and senior players. A lack of consultation was the beef from a few club head honchos but they were mainly ones who had football and netball teams still in the hunt for premierships. Ms. McKinistry said during a pandemic things tended to move pretty quickly. “Under the BFNL constitution we have to give 30 days notice of a vote. “But in the present circumstances things move a lot quicker than that which makes it hard to achieve. “Still, in the constitution and by-laws we, as a board, have the final jurisdiction over fixtures.”

Strathfieldsaye Storm club president Glen Cowling said he’d received a phone call to say that the board had made a decision that the season was over. ‘That was it. And 21 July was the last time we had a presidents’ meeting while next week we could have had a chance to get back on (the ovals) again, but this decision has been made. “Again, without consultation from the clubs.” Cowling’s Storm headed the BFNL senior and reserves football ladders after 12 rounds, were second in the under 18s and had club dynamo Lachlan Sharp leading the senior goalkicking table on 68 majors. Sharp said he felt sorry that the BFNL’s Rising Star awards were wiped for the season.

“By not presenting them --- and the league medals --- makes you think the league doesn’t value the work the players put in. “I’ve got mates who play in the Heathcote and Loddon Valley leagues and they’ve got their league vote counts to look forward to.” But it wasn’t all one-way sailing among league officials.

Sandhurst and Gisborne presidents Chis Greene and John Wood, whose senior teams finished third and fourth, staunchly supported the league. “It would have been far too dangerous to have to ask players to contest a final after having no contact training for eight weeks,” said Greene. The Dragons’ boss said he also agreed with the decision not to award minor premiershiops. “That’s a soccer thing. Our seasons have always been decided by finals and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “The last thing Sandhurst wanted was an asterisk season.”

Wood said he didn’t believe the BFNL board had much of a choice. “The most likely outcome, at best, was going to be first versus second – with no crowd. “We would have had our under-18 footballers in it under that scenario as they were the dominant side all year. “But I’m not sure how a one-game 1 vs. 2 would have sat with them.” Wood added he had no issues with the board’s consultation policy in the past few weeks. “If you’re running a sports competition and the State government can’t provide a concrete plan for how we all get out of the pandemic, how should we expect our sports administrators to have a concrete plan out of all of this.”

The Gisborne boss added he thought the board “had done a terrific job” and concluded by saying he “took his hat off to them”. Golden Square president Brendan Stewart was another to back the BFNL board. “The decision was inevitable. Still, it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. “We support the decision. The board is there to do just that --- make the call. And in terms of awards we’ll do our own Square best and fairest awards. “But in the terms of the league’s awards I think the right decision was made.”

Meanwhile South Bendigo president Alan Ellis was somewhat confused by the board’s statement but agreed with the overall call. “I thought it was interesting they said they’d consulted with the clubs, but we were just rung (on the phone) and told of the decision. “It’s a health and safety issue and it would have been unfair to throw players straight into a preliminary final or a grand final.” The South president said it was the right decsion not to present individual awards. “Had the home and away season continued in late August Strathfieldsaye wasn’t going to play because of Kyneton’s forfeit. “So Lachlan Sharp would have missed the opportunity to play with our Kaiden Antonowicz only five goals behind in the Ron Best goalkicking award (68 to 63).” Ellis said Antonowicz most likely would have kicked the five goals or more against Maryborough that day and moved either equal to, or ahead of, Sharp.
“That wouldn’t have been fair on Sharp and that’s why you can’t stage the league individual awards: there were too many differences in the draw,” Ellis said.

Kangaroo Flat president Leigh Bailey agreed with Ellis’ thoughts on the lack of consultation “The board has been making decisions without consulting clubs. I don’t agree with it (lack of formal consultations) and I know of other clubs who don’t agree with it either.” The Roos had golden opportunites to win multiple netball premierships --- they were second on the ladders in A grade, B grade and B reserve and on top in the A reserve --- yet Bailey said it was clearly a tough call for the board to “pull the pin.” “Our coaches said they didn’t want to see the season finish on the basis of one-off grand finals. They thought the winners would have ‘hollow victories’ in those circumstances.” However the Roo president said at the end of the day it probably was the correct decision to scrap the entire season although he felt sorry for the young players in both codes who missed out on the opportunity to feature in awards such as the Rising Star.