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What I See with Peter Fiorenza: On JJ Clune Medal night, I ask is local footy a shadow of its former self?

Peter FiorenzaGeraldton Guardian
An early GNFL representative side.
Camera IconAn early GNFL representative side. Credit: Courtesy Ron O'Malley/Geraldton Guardian

Tonight is a special night for the local football fraternity.

It’s the night an individual will be honoured with the highest award in the Great Northern Football League, the JJ Clune Medal.

The medal was first presented in 1961 to Jim Scott, who played with distinction for the Chapman Valley Football Club.

It was presented to him by, and named in honour of, the inaugural president of the Great Northern National Football League (later changed to GNFL) Jeremiah James Clune.

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Clune, a successful farmer originally from the New Norcia district, is arguably the “father” of the sport in our region.

He is credited for bringing together the Geraldton Football Association and the Northampton/Upper Chapman competition in 1961, to create a league that has gone on to be the envy of others.

In retrospect, his vision is responsible for the successful 1960s and 1970s when the league attracted exceptional individuals, who could play at the highest level, not to mention the fostering of talent that continues through to the present day.

I think JJ would be chuffed with his legacy, but in recent times several factors have conspired to see football in the Mid West steadily becoming a shadow of its former self.

Despite still developing young, talented athletes, somewhat custom-made for the AFL, the very health of our competition is waning fast, and I’m not sure if there is a panacea.

Maurie Drennan, a household name in the Great Northern Football League, walked into the land of the Royals in 1982 — when the Chapman Valley club was struggling.
Camera IconMaurie Drennan, a household name in the Great Northern Football League. Credit: Supplied

I hear of the halcyon years when champions like Barry Dalton and Maurie Drennan came to town and never left, when Murray Criddle led a star-studded side to win the first ever Country Championships, or when the great Gus Mourish put the fear of God into his opponents.

When Putter and Mike would call the grand final that was broadcast live on radio and TV.

When the Clune Medal was the biggest event of the year — the place everyone wanted to be, and making the country week team was an honour not an ask.

Today, our clubs struggle to make it to the field each week, because usual players just don’t have the time — it would seem that playing is now considered a chore, rather than a pleasure.

And the same, few people are running the clubs.

And the once almighty GNFL can’t even be bothered sending a representative team to Perth.

Have we hit rock bottom?

Now, people who know me know that I am fully invested in local footy and care about the clubs and the GNFL in general.

I have been both on the board at club level and also the GNFL board of directors, I’ve called football on radio for 20 years and have always supported country week.

And I’m not laying the blame at any one person or any one group.

It is my opinion that we have all gone to sleep at the wheel, or there actually isn’t anyone at the wheel at all.

Perhaps, now is the time for another Jeremiah James Clune.

Peter Fiorenza hosts Fiorenza on Sunday between 10am and noon on Radio MAMA

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