What is the future of the TSL?

Launceston after winning this year's TSL Grand Final. (Picture: Solstice Digital/AFL Tasmania)

It’s not the Tasmanian football debate everyone’s talking about, but the future of the TSL is just as important to many within the state.

The long-waited timeline for a Tasmanian AFL licence has finally been secured, with club presidents set to vote on it at the start of next year.

But the clubs and key stakeholders involved in Tasmania’s state league have been fighting for that same amount of certainty on the future of the competition, yet still remain in limbo.

The league’s existence is guaranteed until the end of 2023, but its fate beyond then is uncertain, with the licences for the seven TSL clubs expiring at the end of that year.

The competition’s future will be known by next year at the latest, with AFL Tasmania required to give 12 months notice if it decides to end the TSL.

The disappointing fate of the TSLW looms as an ominous omen in the background.

The competition was snuffed out last year after only four seasons of existence, when the league was left with just three clubs who could participate.

All levels of football within the state are currently under review as part of the ‘Tasmanian Football Futures Project‘, with the results due to be released in December.

Its findings are sure to have deep implications for the TSL’s future.

But in the meantime, many involved in the league have become frustrated with living without clarity.

This came to a head at a weekly TSL press conference for the southern clubs last month, when North Hobart coach Clinton French passionately articulated his frustration and disappointment over where things stand.

Strong statements and debates on the state of Tasmanian football are not out of place at these press conferences.

Beyond your standard team selection news and thoughts before that weekend’s games, the pressers often evolve into deeper discussions that give an insight into where the code is situated in Tasmania.

Those Thursdays at Blundstone Arena have laid bare the friction and disconnect between the Tasmania Devils program and TSL clubs, and invited discourse on talent pathways within the state.

Quite often it can feel like the coaches are on trial, forced to repeatedly defend the existence and viability of the league they are a part of.

But last month, it was French who became the prosecutor.

Taking charge of the presser, he read a statement from the Head of Football in Queensland Trisha Squires, after Aspley decided to withdraw from the VFL to join the QAFL.

“Our QAFL competition continues to go from strength to strength and its standing as a genuine state league is building,” Squires stated.

“The inclusion of Aspley will see the competition expand to 12 teams in season 2022 and only further strengthens the QAFL competition.

“When a footballer starts at Aspley with NAB AFL Auskick, they can now aspire to playing with the Hornets in the QAFL or QAFLW, demonstrating Aspley’s commitment to providing participation pathways from juniors through to seniors.”

After finishing reading, French said he’d “love to see our game have that positivity around it”.

A former TSL player himself, Clinton French (pictured being chaired off after his 150th game with Glenorchy) spoke candidly on the future of Tasmania’s top football league. (Photo: TSL/Facebook)

He went on to describe the uncertainty clubs face.

“I don’t know if it’s common knowledge, but our funding’s been cut in half. We have no clarity on the future of our competition,” French said.

When asked when he would like to see a statement that strong from AFL Tasmania, French responded “tomorrow”.

“We’ve got people working extremely hard [at the clubs], those guys can only work so hard for so long. It’s really unfair that they give their all to try and make our clubs survive and our competitions survive, when surely we can get some answers around it,” he said.

Context not lost in this situation is one; Squires was AFL Tasmania CEO just over 12 months ago; and two, while Queensland has a proud football history, it’s not a heartland state like Tasmania.

But the sunshine state received a strong endorsement and show of support that many in the TSL have been yearning for.

It’s a situation French called “pretty embarrassing”. saying “we’re a footy state and we don’t even know what our state league is doing”.

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TSL clubs have now begun their off season, and like any team are trying to secure players for next year.

After finishing with another wooden spoon, North Hobart is on the hunt for experienced players to add to its developing list.

Lauderdale pulled off one of the biggest coups in the history of the league last year, when it recruited Allen Christensen straight out of the AFL system.

It’s a move the club would surely like to replicate again.

Glenorchy coach Paul Kennedy has sent out feelers to people in the AFL system as the Magpies search for a playing coach.

But clubs are already on the back foot when they start those conversations, because they can’t guarantee the future of the league.

“We talk about recruiting and retaining players, what are we actually selling to them if we don’t have clarity ourselves,” French said.

This also follows on from last summer, when many TSL players chose to leave the league to either compete at a higher level interstate, or head to lower grades for more money.

While most are invested in the decision on a Tasmanian AFL team early next year, the ‘Tasmanian Football Futures Project’s’ findings in December will have real and immediate impacts on football that is actually operating within the state.

Unlike a Tasmanian AFL team, the TSL and all its problems exist for everyone to see, and it is in desperate need of clarity on its future.

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About Hamish Spence 52 Articles
Hamish writes about Aussie Rules, cricket, basketball and all things Tasmanian sport for The Inner Sanctum. His experience includes working for organisations like 10 News First, 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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