Football in Tasmania this weekend: A never-ending battle

Tasmania
UTAS Stadium in Launceston, where Hawthorn vs Essendon will be played this Sunday. (Picture: Melbourne Football Club)

Tasmania is set for a historic weekend with two AFL games taking place, but it is underpinned by a never-ending battle in the state.

The game is currently struggling in one of its original heartlands, and in what has become a theme at all levels of football within the state, this brews constant debate and scrutinisation.

When kids run onto the field at junior levels, concerns are raised over Tasmania’s fluctuating football participation numbers.

The State League (TSL) is in a perpetual state of having to defend the quality and standard of the league.

Questions are levied at key stakeholders within the TSL and Tasmania Devils program as to why Tasmanians aren’t getting drafted.

Whenever the AFL comes to town the debate always emerges on whether the state should have its own AFL team.

Last Sunday’s dismal crowd of 3,462 at Blundstone Arena for North Melbourne versus GWS was used by some as a critique against Tasmania having a side.

But surprisingly, a frigid winter game between this year’s lowest-ranked side and the youngest club in the competition, neither of whom are based in the state, didn’t get the turnstiles clicking over.

All of these concerns are not necessarily unfounded and are indicative of a code that is struggling, but it also represents a continual battle that the state constantly has to fight.

Uncertainty remains over the prospect of a Tasmanian AFL team (which is seen as the elixir to many of these ailments), and in turn, the future of Hawthorn and North Melbourne’s agreements with the state, that sees them play four home games in Tasmania each season.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has continually stated that the Government will not renew its respective deals with the two clubs, which expire at the end of this year, until it knows the status of a potential AFL side.

In amongst this political environment, Tasmania is set for an unprecedented weekend of AFL action, with two games being moved due to Victoria’s COVID situation.

Sunday’s clash between Hawthorn and Essendon is the biggest AFL match that the state has seen in years.

A storied rivalry that usually occupies a marquee timeslot at the MCG or Marvel Stadium is being brought down to UTAS Stadium in Launceston.

Essendon is the biggest club to play in Tasmania since Carlton in 2018, which is reflected by the fact that tickets sold out for Sunday in under two hours, with a crowd of around 15,000 expected.

Saturday’s game between North Melbourne and Brisbane, while not as high profile, boasts a unique Tasmanian flavour.

It’s the first game between coaches David Noble and Chris Fagan, two fellow Tasmanians who are friends from their time together at Brisbane.

The duo’s collective journeys intersect in many ways, with both men building their careers outside of the AFL system and taking unconventional routes on their path to becoming head coaches.

Their standing in the game is a reflection of the quality people that the state can produce, and hopefully this fact is celebrated in Hobart.

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But the fact that these two games are taking place at all is a vast turnaround from just 12 months ago.

Gutwein’s hard stance on borders saw no AFL games played in the state last season.

This was despite the AFL fixturing games two games in Hobart in July 2020, with Gutwein confirming just three days later that they would not be going ahead due to the state’s closed border to Queensland.

But this year, Gutwein was actively campaigning for this weekend’s games to be moved to Tasmania when the prospect emerged.

While the country’s COVID-19 situation has improved, the decision has come during a crucial period in Tasmania’s bid for an AFL team.

Former AFL Commissioner and Geelong President Colin Carter flew down for a week in May to review the business case for a 19th AFL licence in Tasmania.

The AFL Commission and club Presidents aren’t expected to consider the case until later this year, so any way to show and promote the AFL’s presence in Tasmania could be advantageous.

This weekend should be celebrated and it’s an occasion that the Tasmanian public will enjoy, but underneath it brings a never-ending battle to the fore.

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About Hamish Spence 35 Articles
Hamish writes about Aussie Rules, cricket, basketball and all things Tasmanian sport for The Inner Sanctum. His experience includes working for organisations like AFL Tasmania, The Mercury, the TSL, the Hobart Hurricanes and Draft Central. He recently finished a media degree at The University of Tasmania.

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