Ainslie to depart the NEAFL

Ainslie and Eastlake clash in 2014. (Photo: Ben Southall)

The North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) will be a 10 team competition in 2016 after Ainslie notified the AFL of their withdrawal, leaving Eastlake as the sole Canberra team in the league.

Over recent months the AFL have been involved in detailed discussions with both Ainslie and Eastlake.

The talks focussed on providing highly competitive representation in the NEAFL from Canberra as well as the best pathway for talented players and the best outcome for the AFL Canberra competition.

AFL NSW/ACT Chief Executive Officer, Sam Graham, acknowledged the time and effort both clubs had committed during the process.

“First and foremost I would like to thank both the Ainslie and Eastlake Football Clubs for working through a thorough process with the AFL in such an open and co-operative manner,” Mr Graham said.

“It is disappointing to see a foundation club of the NEAFL elect to withdraw from the competition but we respect their decision. We now look forward to working with Eastlake to get the best possible outcome for football in Canberra.”

Founded in 2011, the NEAFL has evolved into a highly-competitive second-tier competition providing genuine opportunities for players from Canberra, Sydney, Queensland and the Northern Territory to continue to pursue their AFL dream, playing against AFL club reserves teams at premium quality venues.

The increased attractiveness of the NEAFL as an AFL pathway was underlined this year when Aaron Vandenberg, who last year was drafted from Ainslie to Melbourne Football Club, excelled immediately at the elite level.

The midfielder, who finished runner-up in last year’s NEAFL MVP Award, played 14 games in his debut AFL season and finished just outside the top ten in Melbourne’s best and fairest.

Eastlake Licensed Club President Lorin Joyce said his club was excited by the opportunity that lay ahead.

“We didn’t have a great season from a results perspective this year but we feel we are building really strongly. We now have the opportunity to work with all of the AFL Canberra clubs to provide a genuine pathway for players wanting to stay in Canberra and play at the level that is only one step below AFL football. We are really looking forward to the challenge,” Mr Joyce said..

The 2015 NEAFL Grand Final will take place in Darwin on Saturday night between Aspley and the Northern Territory Thunder and soon after that planning will start in earnest for season 2016.