WITH the imminent demise of the Bendigo Gold from the VFL, Nick Carter believes it’s crucial the AFL Central Victoria Commission begins exploring new options to ensure the region’s best young talent isn’t lost from the area.
Carter is Bendigo’s most decorated VFL player, holding the games record (126), captaining the Team of the Decade announced in 2010 and winning three best and fairests with firstly the Diggers (2000 and 2002) and then the Bombers (2003).
The club’s best and fairest is also named after him - the Carter Medal.
As well as Carter’s exploits on the ground for Bendigo, he also served on the club’s board following his VFL retirement in 2007.
Following Wednesday night’s announcement that the Bendigo Gold won’t be renewing their VFL licence at the end of this season, Carter says Bendigo must still hold options beyond this year for un-drafted players out of the Bendigo Pioneers to pursue their AFL dream.
“I know how difficult this decision has been for the Gold board to make, but my personal view is I believe there is a model that could work and it’s not necessarily a closed book,” Carter said on Thursday.
“The two things I look at is, firstly, the community and football people answering the question of are we happy for a 19-year-old who hasn’t been drafted out of the Pioneers to go down to Melbourne to pursue that opportunity?
“If you see the players who have gone through the Pioneers, then played a couple of years in the VFL system with Bendigo and prospered back in local football, I think the answer is we’ve got to make sure we do something to make sure we don’t lose that.
“The second point for me is that AFL clubs are not going to come and watch Golden Square v South Bendigo to determine if someone is good enough to play AFL football.
“Some people still think that way, but I think they’re delusional. If there’s an opportunity for us to create some sort of under-23 program that gives us a chance to draw that talent out of central Victoria, we should be doing everything we can to have that pathway.
“Otherwise the players will retreat to Melbourne and interstate and it will be a loss to the Bendigo community.
“It’s something the AFLCV Commission can look at moving forward.”
AFLCV Commission chairman Collin Brady said ways of compensating for the loss of the Bendigo Gold pathway would be discussed.
“A disappointment for the commission is the loss of a local pathway for our players once they have graduated from the Pioneers program,” Brady said.
“With this in mind, we are examining a range of ideas to see if we can ensure that some of the young talent in the region has the opportunity to be exposed to a higher level of football.
“We are also committed to ensuring some VFL games in the region in 2015 and have already begun talks with AFL Victoria and the VFL with this in mind.”
Meanwhile, Carter - who now coaches Golden Square in the Bendigo Football League - says his over-riding memories of his time involved in VFL in Bendigo between 1998 and 2007 is the people, both on and off the field.
“What has happened is obviously really sad for the people who have been involved with the club for a lot of years,” Carter said.
“The business model and the financial pressures didn’t make it sustainable in the end, but for me, the biggest positive out of it is the great footballers and people who came out of the club.
“That’s testimony to me that it has been a success over the 17 years.
“If you pull out the best players, administrators, club people and support staff, they have been just a great group of really good people to have been involved with.
“That’s what I think about in all of this and no-one can take that away from us.”