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New AFL teams 'need ready-made leaders'

By Roger Vaughan 19/02/2008 08:42:00 PM Comments (0)

The last man to steer an expansion club into the AFL thinks it is "critical" that the next two newcomers have established leaders among their players.

Comments by former Port Adelaide chief executive Brian Cunningham have highlighted one of the biggest challenges that will face the league - how to build the initial playing lists of the two expansion clubs.

Expansion is suddenly a hot topic in the game after AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said on the weekend that the league wants to set up a team in western Sydney, possibly as early as 2012.

The league is already determined to establish a Gold Coast club by `11.

Asked if the two new entities must have at least a few ready-made AFL leaders among their players, Cunningham replied: "Absolutely, in my mind - trying to build a club from scratch is a pretty difficult exercise.

"We were fortunate, because we had an existing footy culture and we had a pool of potential players within the local competition."

Cunningham was chief executive at the Power from their 1997 debut until their 2004 premiership.

The Power staged a recruiting coup for their debut year when they enticed Brownlow Medallist Gavin Wanganeen from Essendon - a defection that still rankles former Bombers coach Kevin Sheedy.

"It took us 18 months to get him over the line, so it was a long time," Cunningham said.

"That was his choice, he had a great career at both places and we all enjoyed that.

"I don't see Kevin Sheedy very often these days, but yeah, he always has a crack at me.

"It was a serious statement, it had to be a serious statement that we're in the market now and we don't just want to be there as an also-ran.

"We were there to be in the game and win."

Adelaide-based Cunningham has not kept a close eye on the media debate over the last few days in the eastern states about expansion.

But he has no doubt existing clubs will not make it easy for the newcomers, especially in the area of recruiting concessions.

Cunningham pointed to the recruiting benefits for West Coast when they became the first expansion club in 1987, and then their successors.

"As the years wore on, my view - and most people who would look at would say clearly - (is that) the concessions got less and less and less," he said.

"As more clubs came in, the other clubs lobbied harder and worked to keep the concessions pretty low."

Port also had the advantage of coming from a successful local club in a strong AFL state - the expansion clubs will have to develop in expansion Australian Rules areas.

Apart from gaining at least a few leaders among their players, Cunningham added the new clubs must have strong administrations.

"It's the way footy clubs have always operated, you've got good admin people, good staff, knowledgeable people, (then) you end up having a good club," he said.

"They recruit the right players and they develop the right culture in the organisation, notwithstanding (that) your key man there is your coach, and his panel of coaches.

"You've also got to think about the commercial side of it, you've got to start earning some money, too.

"It's a competitive environment."

Cunningham said the league appeared to have given the new clubs a good lead-in time of at least three years.

The AFL will work on plans for the expansion teams over the next three to four weeks before presenting their ideas to the presidents of the 16 clubs.

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