THE Heathcote District Football-Netball League has taken its first step in the potential expansion from nine to 11 clubs next season.
The HDFNL board on Wednesday night ratified a decision that it would accept Maiden Gully YCW and Marong if cleared from the Loddon Valley league as two new clubs from next year.
The previous week the prospect of the Eagles and Panthers joining the HDFNL had received majority support from HDFNL clubs.
However, the process still has plenty to play out given neither the Eagles or Panthers can officially apply to AFL Central Victoria to transfer leagues until August 1 as per AFL Victoria rules.
The two clubs would also both need to be cleared by the LVFNL before any move could be made.
"Our clubs are in favour of Maiden Gully YCW and Marong coming and we as a board ratified that decision last night," HDFNL chairman Peter Cole said on Thursday.
"It's step one of the process; now the two clubs can lodge their application to leave after August 1.
"We understand there's a process that has to be followed through, but from our point of view, we've done our due diligence and ticked it off at our end."
Should the Eagles and Panthers be successful in their desire to join the HDFNL, it would leave the Loddon Valley league with just seven clubs.
LVFNL chairman Simon Tuohey described the situation as "business as usual" for his league until an official application is received to seek a transfer from the Eagles and Panthers.
"At this stage there is no application, so it's business as usual for the Loddon Valley," Tuohey said.
"We don't want to put the cart before the horse because there are a lot of stages that need to go through as part of the process.
"We're aware of what is happening and we're not silent on the issue, but at the end of the day, there is no official application yet."
Marong president Danny Tyler last week told the Bendigo Advertiser the Panthers' desire to seek a move to the HDFNL was to provide a stronger pathway for the club's junior footballers and netballers.
The Panthers are one of only three clubs - along with Bridgewater and Inglewood - that has enough numbers to field an under-18 team in the LVFNL this season, while there are also three junior netball grades that don't have a full quota of teams.
"For us it's about making sure we've got as strong a pathway as possible for our 200 junior footballers and netballers," Tyler said.
"Looking to make the move is nothing to do with the senior scenario in the Loddon Valley league, it's purely about our kids coming through and it's not just football-related, it's netball-related as well."
AFL Central Victoria is currently undertaking a "third tier" review of the under-18 football structure across the region.
Having been a perennial power of the under-18 competition in recent years - playing in every grand final between 2016 and 2019 - the Eagles withdrew from the under-18s this season.
The futures of the two clubs being discussed off the field comes at a time when Marong is in a strong position to win its first senior premiership since 1989, while Maiden Gully YCW is on top of the A grade netball ladder.
Marong has been in the LVFNL since 1983 and the Eagles since 1985.
Cole said both the Eagles and Panthers had made strong presentations to the HDFNL and its clubs outlining their visions moving forward.
"Both clubs came to us in regards to this... certainly under no circumstances was it us who approached the clubs," Cole said.
"The clubs both presented compelling cases to us with most of their case based around looking to the future for their juniors.
The clubs both presented compelling cases to us with most of their case based around looking to the future for their juniors- Peter Cole - HDFNL chairman
"They are very much like us in that they want their under-18 teams to be able to play at the same venue as the rest of their club every week and with the netball, it's becoming harder for them to have the opportunity for their junior sides to play a game every week."
The most recent club to enter the Heathcote District league was Leitchville-Gunbower in 2010 from the Central Murray league.
The Bombers have won two senior premierships in 2017 and 2018 since joining the league, but are going through a rebuilding phase at the moment.
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