Footy dreams soar

Friday January 19, 2024

CALLS for funding into Mount Gambier/Berrin football grounds to bring it to Australian Football League (AFL) standards have been made in an effort to attract a popular event to the region.

Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell made the call after learning of a letter written to the AFL chief executive by a local resident.

In October last year, Mount Gambier/Berrin resident Barney McCusker wrote to Andrew Dillon pleading a case of why Gather Round AFL matches were not held further outside Adelaide.

The Gather Round proved popular last year with the state government committing to host the event each year until 2026.

The football festival will be hosted exclusively in South Australia with the Adelaide Oval being the central venue.

There is intent from both the AFL and the state government to take regional matches this year to the Barossa and McLaren Vale region.

Last year's regional Gather Round event was hosted in Mount Barker.

Following this, Mr McCusker called on the AFL to also include at least two games per year in regional areas, highlighting the Riverland, Barossa Valley and Limestone Coast as top contenders.

Speaking with The Border Watch, Mr McCusker said he believed the Gather Round was a good opportunity for rural areas to be acknowledged.

He said what the state government thought was a rural area was Mount Barker which was 27 kilometres "south east of the toll gate".

"No one in the country and no one in Adelaide apart from the government politicians believe Mount Barker is a rural area," Mr McCusker said.

"It is an outer suburb of Adelaide so bringing an AFL game to Mount Barker and calling it rural is a stretch.

"I think they are now going to bring two games to rural areas and there are areas of rural South Australia which warrant an acknowledgement, in particular the Riverland which was hit hard by floods and I think they would do well if they were acknowledged."

He said there was also the option of the west coast which he believed was "sidelined" quite a lot.

"I gave the AFL options where we could actually get two teams, one from Geelong and one from Melbourne relatively easily to the South East," Mr McCusker said.

"We have grounds here which are certified and credentialed for AFL matches because we have played two here.

"I think there are a number of things where this was an opportunity lost by the AFL because the state government and the AFL should get together and acknowledge the country somewhere outside of greater Adelaide."

He said should there be a game in Mount Gambier/Berrin, it would provide the opportunity to attract people from across the region as well as from Western Victoria including Hamilton, Casterton and Portland.

Mr Bell - who was an advocate for having the Gather Round in the South East last year said he understood the state government's position yet he would like it to continue pushing with the AFL to have the event here.

"Leading up to that we need to make sure we have state government funding coming in to improve our sporting facilities," Mr Bell said.

"We need to make sure that we have a premier oval that can handle an AFL standard but could also be used for other sports so we do have a premier facility attracting major sporting events to our region."

He said it was an investment the region was missing out on with the state government putting funding into other regional areas hosting games.

"The state government is putting money into those communities to improve their sporting facilities and that is what I am calling for our region," Mr Bell said.

"If we cannot get a Gather Round game I would really like to see what options are available for either an AFL game outside of the Gather Round event or at the very least, practice matches before the season starts.

"We had Richmond and Port Power here at West Gambier and that place was packed." He said it was an "economic driver" for the region with a lot more the state government could do outside the Gather Round.

The AFL and the state government were contacted for comment.