Contributed by: Brett Northey Thursday, January 10 2013 @ 07:47 pm ACDT
The last few months of 2012 had a flurry of good news for international footy such as Mike Pyke's success in the AFL Grand Final and confirmation that in 2013 New Zealand will host the first ever AFL match for premiership points to be staged outside of Australia.
Potentially lost in there was even more significant news. Or if not "news", then certainly positive noises from the Australian Football League, that suggest their minds are slowly turning towards the possibility of an AFL club being based in New Zealand one day. For many international footy supporters that would be a dream come true and surely go a long way to entrenching the game across the Tasman, opening the door to Australia one day playing a competitive international in Australian football.
The key comments were reported in several articles such as on Sportal on October 31st titled NZ team AFL's long-term goal[*1] , which obviously came about when the AFL's Gillon McLachlan was discussing the 2013 AFL match in Wellington. Another key thing to note is that in an AFL re-structure McLachlan was recently given the title Deputy CEO, which has been widely interpreted as flagging him as the leading candidate to one day replace current AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou. Thus McLachlan speaks as someone with a key role to play in the AFL's future (though ultimately the AFL Commission directs the overall vision).
"Long-term, who knows where it goes? I think there's 30,000 registered AFL players in New Zealand right now," McLachlan said on Wednesday.
"The dream maybe is that one day it could have a team over there, that's the long-term future.
"There's no time frame (on when a team may be established in New Zealand), it's just a dream."
"I think New Zealand's a really sensible next step, the time zone works, the travel works, they've got a similar-minded, sports-mad group of people who I think will get behind our game".
More immediately, McLachlan is hoping that the St Kilda-Sydney clash leads to an influx of New Zealanders joining AFL lists.
"It's (a matter of) take our product into New Zealand, our near neighbour, (there are) a lot of active, talented individuals over there, grow the participation numbers, grow the interest in our game and it would be wonderful to have some talented kids coming out of New Zealand and
being drafted," he said.
"That's ultimately where we're going in the next few years, who knows after that."
None of that sets such a future club in stone, but it's possibly some of the most open and direct comments ever made by AFL officials on the topic.
And the ABC had earlier promising quotes on September 13th in NZ just step one for expansion-keen AFL[*2] :
"We've certainly been unambiguous about our international plans, to look 10, 15, 20 years out," McLachlan said.
"I certainly hope it is (the first of several overseas ventures).
"... I wouldn't be surprised if other deals, other international games, flow on the back of it."
Asked about the prospect of increased New Zealand matches and eventually a New Zealand-based club, McLachlan says it could not be ruled out.
"Whether it's a team in 10 years, I'd love to think it was," he said.
We would too.