by Hannah Driscoll reporting for the Weekly Times, originally published by the Weekly Times on August 8th, 2018

Bairnsdale Football Club has unveiled plans to field its own reserves side next year, for the first time in nine years.

Bairnsdale has not fielded a reserves team since making the move into the Gippsland League in 2011, off the back of seven consecutive East Gippsland grand final appearances.

Instead it adopted an alignment system with neighbouring East Gippsland and Omeo and District league clubs where players not selected to play Bairnsdale seniors could play with their aligned club instead.

But that arrangement could end if the club fields its own reserves team next year.

Bairnsdale will meet East Gippsland and Omeo and District clubs tonight before making a final decision.

“Several junior Bairnsdale players are now ‘top-agers’ and it is incumbent upon us to provide them the opportunity to remain at Bairnsdale and in the Gippsland League,” club president Rob Soulsby said.

“A Bairnsdale reserves team would open the opportunity for young players to transition to senior football at the highest level in Gippsland. In the future, they can still return to an East Gippsland club with improved skills and experience.”

Football Netball East Gippsland president Andrew Powell has already backed the move. He said he did not think it would affect his competition, but said Bairnsdale might “struggle to get the player numbers they are hoping for to run a reserves team, especially when they travel”.

“A lot of our clubs won’t be against the alignment system dropping out,” he said.

“They’ve always believed it is hard for them not knowing if they’ve got players available each week. (Bairnsdale has) got good support from members and I don’t see any of our clubs, or for that matter Omeo clubs, being overly concerned they’re going to lose too many players to that.”

Omeo and District league president Ray Gallagher said the proposal would not have a “major impact”.

“It will be good if Bairnsdale are successful,” he said. “They will attract better players and better coaches then that feeds back into us a little bit.

“Finding an extra 20 players in the first few years may be difficult, but that is up to all the clubs to do their best.

“It’s good to have a successful major league club in the area because it gives the players who aspire to go a long way the opportunity to do so.”

Football administrator Rod Twining, who covers both the Omeo and East Gippsland leagues, said he felt the impact on those leagues would be “minimal”.

“When we started this up in 2010-11, there was a lot of interchange and the alignment system was working really well,” he said. “But over the last couple of years very few players come back and play from Bairnsdale now, their list is really pruned right back.”

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