Elite sport always presents an array of challenges, both for athletes and administrators.
At the West Coast Eagles that is certainly the case and we don’t always get it right, for a variety of reasons.
Over the last 34 years one of the issues that has not been satisfactorily resolved has been the distribution of players when they are not selected for AFL duties.
We have employed a variety of models, from allocating players to a range of WAFL clubs, to alignment models and, more recently, having a WAFL Eagles team – necessitated when our five-year partnership with East Perth dissolved at the end of 2018.
The club pulled together a competitive squad, despite some significant recruiting restrictions, and managed to qualify for finals.
Last year, with AFL clubs precluded from entering teams or playing in second tier competitions around the country, several key WAFL Eagles played with Perth on loan. Fraser McInnes, drafted to the West Coast Eagles in 2011, Brady Grey, a former Fremantle midfielder who was recruited as a marquee player, and Andrew Fisher, from amateur club Kingsley played for the Demons.
Unfortunately, those three experienced players opted to remain with Perth this season.
Our club has again relied on accomplished amateur and country players to top up our list and we are delighted with their commitment to the program. But, as we have seen in the last couple of weeks, they have been forced to punch above their weight with the mounting injury toll in our AFL squad.
Last Saturday we had only six AFL-listed players in our WAFL team – and the most senior of them was Brayden Ainsworth, 22, and with 14 AFL games under his belt. Three of the six have not played senior football.
We are proud of the way the amateur and country players have committed to the program, but they have been required to carry a bigger burden than we envisaged.
Our data shows that if we can have 12 to 14 AFL-listed players available, our WAFL Eagles can be highly competitive.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of them the recruiting restrictions imposed on us in attracting our supplementary players, our WAFL Eagles have been on the receiving end of some hidings in recent weeks.
To emphasise the recruiting issue, any player drafted by the West Coast Eagles from within the WA system must have been at our club for more than six seasons to be able to play for our WAFL team, once they come off our list.
Suggestions in the media that we need to recruit better and coach better are absurd. We are handcuffed in recruiting and we also have issues resourcing our team to the level we would like because of the AFL football soft cap.
Our staff are working hard and long and doing everything possible – along with all of the WAFL Eagles players – to compete.
Other reasons, not excuses, for our performances this season include mandatory reductions to AFL list sizes and the late decision on the eve of the season to utilise a medical sub. We essentially require 24 players – the starting 22, the medical sub and an emergency – at all of our senior matches.
With senior lists reduced to 42 this season, if you do the maths, it is going to require more than a slice of luck to have between 10 and 12 senior list players available.
Having said that, we do anticipate, fingers crossed, that a number of senior players will drift back into AFL action over coming weeks, so the situation around availability should change and our team will have better balance to support the amateur and country recruits.
Our club has always supported the WAFL and worked within the confines of a variety of agreements, but the situation in recent weeks has highlighted the need for us to discuss our access to talent to ensure we are competitive.
We will do everything we can and will go into every game with a winning attitude, but being thrashed by 100 points does not work for anyone and we need to address it.