Call for help: Junior AFL clubs struggling for numbers

GWS Giants star Connor Idun with some Penrith Giants recruits.
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The GWS Giants may have everyone talking in the AFL after their stunning opening round victory over the Premiers last weekend but, in reality, the game is at a crisis point in Penrith.

While the AFL is promising to spend $1 billion nationally over the next decade as they aim to have one million registered participants by 2033, the game locally is at its lowest point in years.

One junior club, the Emu Plains/Glenmore Park Lions, which were established in 2000, folded last month due to lack of numbers, while the Penrith Giants – who held a clinic for new players on Tuesday – are struggling to fill their teams for the upcoming Junior AFL season.

“Our numbers are lower this season than in previous years,” Penrith Giants Vice President, Gia Ross told the Weekender.

“We’re trying to promote the club as much as we can but I am concerned about the club’s future.

“I’m not sure that in the next couple of weeks we are going to get the numbers that we want.

“We just have to see how we go.”

In order for the Penrith Giants to survive this season, they’ve been forced to form alliance teams with other western Sydney clubs to help fill positions.

“In the 13-18 age group, all across western Sydney and some other areas of Sydney, a lot of clubs like ours are forming alliances with other clubs,” Penrith Giants Coaching Coordinator, Mick Pearson said.

“We are aligned with the Hawkesbury Saints and the Mountain Lions from Faulconbridge this season for age groups 13 and up. This is new for us due to the decline in this area.”

According to the AFL, NSW is a key focus for the game and western Sydney is a key area. They are developing more ways to play than ever before with opportunities beyond weekend footy and Auskick including a contact-free version of the sport called AFL Superkick and AFL Nines.

But despite all their efforts, clubs like the Giants are seriously concerned for their future especially after what happened to the Emu Plains/Glenmore Park Lions.

“The Lions just didn’t have enough numbers… they tried to start back up again but unfortunately it just didn’t work for them,” Ross said.

“Of course we don’t want that to happen here, that’s why we have aligned with these other clubs.”

To help assist in promoting the sport in Penrith and western Sydney, the GWS Giants sent three players to Greygums Oval on Tuesday evening to mingle and kick a ball with new junior recruits.

Giants star Connor Idun understands it’s his responsibility as an AFL player to help promote the sport at the grassroots.

“We know getting out into the community is very important for the game and we want to help grow the game from the ground up,” he told the Weekender.

“We’ve seen the last couple of years when we’ve been playing well, that there’s a lot more kids that want to be involved. I guess that’s part of our responsibility.

“Face to face consults like today are most important. When kids meet with us face to face, they might decide to put the rugby ball down and have a kick with us… it goes a long way, I think.”

As for the Penrith Giants, they’ll continue to do whatever they can to get players excited about playing AFL again. And while rugby league is bigger than ever in Penrith due to the recent success of the Panthers, they know that AFL deserves a place in this town too.

“I know the NRL is big at the moment as well as basketball and soccer, but we have a great community here at the Penrith Giants,” Ross said.

“All the coaches are great, the kids are great, and we’re very diverse. Just come give us a go.”

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