Geoffrey Walker, right, a budding AFL player.
Geoffrey Walker, right, a budding AFL player.

No battle, just choice

SOME of the Northern Rivers' most promising young athletes are being groomed to play AFL for the new Gold Coast franchise to kick off in 2011.

Starting today, 14 high school-aged children will begin an elite training program funded by the AFL's $45 million nationwide Future Fund - a money pool aimed at growing the code's supporter and player base.

AFL Northern Rivers board member Bob Lodge said the program was an investment in local talent.

"It is starting with 14 kids: half who have played AFL and half who haven't," Lodge said.

"One has played rugby at State level. One has played soccer at State level.

"They have all been identified thought various networks as having the potential to play senior AFL for the Gold Coast.

"It is giving kids the pathway.

"In three years time they will be looking at getting local 18, 19 and 20-year-olds to play in the AFL."

Lodge said the move by the AFL should not be seen as a battle of the codes.

"Competition of codes is irrelevant," he said.

"The greatest concern for youth at present is getting them to play sport, full-stop.

"Competition is something that adults worry about but getting kids to play is something parents are concerned about.

"If there's a kid who is six-foot-three who wants to develop all his skills and the AFL provides a pathway, then bring it on.

"If I was a parent with a kid in another code and suddenly found out your kid can get higher quality coaching in aerobic capacity, dietetics, injury prevention, etcetera, I would say that's fantastic what ever sport it is."

Since AFL Queensland took over the administration of football on Northern Rivers, 13 local primary schools have been put through the code's Auskick program, according to Lodge.

"We now actually have from AFL Queensland two full-time development officers living in the community, here purely to develop the game," he said.

"This year it has been purely in primary schools, but they'll be targeting high schools.

"They've started to organise a high school inter-school competition.

"The eventual aim is to have more kids actually playing AFL and to develop awareness so there's a bigger fan base leading to when the Gold Coast comes into the AFL.

"It's not as if they are doing it through pure altruism.

"The long-term belief is if they support the community, the community will support the game."

And the support has already started coming with Ballina High School soon to receive a permanent set of goal posts.

"An AFL community development officer came and inspected all the local grounds," Lodge said.

"He asked where do we need goal posts, goal post pads, or new changerooms or exercise stations.

"I think we should all get on the back of this.

"We can't get enough money out of the government to fund these things an here's a code that's willing to put money into the community.

"We can all piggyback on this.

"There's the potential to develop other grounds that we can all take advantage of.

"They're asking people to see it as an opportunity and not as a threat.

"I'm speaking from a community angle rather than an AFL angle."

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