By Nick Blewett | Photos Peter Swan (Mt Lofty FC)
New alliances are being forged in SANFL Juniors, with a handful of clubs joining forces to field combined teams in the under 14 and under 16 junior female competitions.
Only a few months ago, Payneham Norwood Union and Mount Lofty football clubs found themselves with the same dilemma – both had a small group of enthusiastic girls who wanted to play competition footy, but not enough to fill a team.
However, this all changed after just one phone call between the two clubs, with the formation of two new Payneham/Mt Lofty girls’ teams which now play in the SANFL Juniors competition each weekend.
Gillian May, junior coordinator at Mount Lofty FC, said registrations in the under 14s and 16s were lower than in other age levels.
“Life can get in the way of sport for some girls…they start high school, pick up jobs and other sports,” Gillian said.
“But many girls were still really keen, and we never want to say no to participation.”
This friendly venture between the two clubs coincided with a move by Mount Lofty to enter each of its junior girls’ teams into SANFL’s metropolitan based league for juniors – one of the largest junior competitions in the nation.
In addition to the newly combined Payneham/Mount Lofty girls’ teams, other clubs to collaborate in the past 12 months include Colonel Light Gardens/Edwardstown and Gaza/Athelstone.
Colonel Light Gardens/Edwardstown also has under 14 and 16 girls’ teams, as well as a combined under 16.5 boys’ team. Likewise, Gaza has come together with Athelstone to form an under 14 girls’ team.
At Payneham/Mt Lofty, the two clubs have emphasised to their girls the importance of having fun, developing their football skills and having the opportunity to play as many games as possible.
The combined under 14 girls train and play on Payneham’s home ground while the under 16s are based at Heathfield oval in the Adelaide Hills.
In a creative solution to accommodate both teams, the clubs have arranged to alternate their home games each fortnight.
“The community has been beautiful, it’s been pretty easy, Payneham [Norwood Union] and SANFL have both been great to work with,” said Gillian.
Payneham Norwood Union volunteer Rachel Barilla said giving more girls the opportunity to play footy was the priority.
“As a junior coordinator it’s all about the kids. The rest doesn’t matter, we can make it work,” Rachel said.
Payneham Norwood Union FC fields 19 junior teams in total, whilst Mount Lofty FC now has six junior girls’ teams and two junior boys’ teams (under 10 and 12) in the SANFL competition; the remaining boys playing in the Hills Football League.
Payneham/Mt Lofty’s under 14 girls have not missed a beat, already with two wins from three games under their belt.
After a slower start, the under 16 girls are yet to score a win but, according to Gillian, are improving every week, losing in a nail-biter by 12 points in round three.
The two clubs’ members also have been fully supportive of the merge.
“It’s been amazing, everyone has embraced it, taken the idea and run with it, and we’re rapt with the results,” Rachel said.