‘Listening to what the issues are’: Head of AFL Victoria visits the region

A new dawn: The new head of AFL Victoria, Ben Kavenagh, landed in the Goulburn Valley on Thursday and met with AFL Goulburn Murray to discuss the major announcements last week from the AFL. Kavenagh and Country Football manager John O’Donohue are flanked by AFLGM’s Julian Perta, Zara O’Keeffe and Jo Spencer. Photo by Aydin Payne

After only four weeks in the position of AFL Victoria head, Ben Kavenagh says he has done a whole lot of listening.

Whether it be country community football concerns or wider issues that face Australian Rules at grassroots level, he has sat and listened with open ears.

And that was exactly what he did on Thursday when he landed in the Goulburn Valley.

Kavenagh, who was appointed to the lead role in November, said it was vital that the governing body connected with its community clubs.

“Part of this is about getting out and forming relationships and listening to what the issues are in community football,” he said.

“Where we can play a role in helping with that, we will.

“And where we can facilitate with the locals who are driving those outcomes, we will assist where we can.”

Kavenagh, born and raised in the south-west districts of Victoria, understands the intricacies of country football.

He has also spent time involved in local football, including stints as director of the Ballarat Football League and Werribee Football Club.

Kavenagh has a strong background in administration and was the former chief executive of SANFL club South Adelaide and NBL club Adelaide 36ers/Lightning.

Joined by Country Football manager John O’Donohue, Kavenagh met with AFL Goulburn Murray representatives to discuss the health of the local game.

The junior football landscape, women’s football, umpire shortages and the survival of football clubs were all hot topics.

“It’s early in the listening period but there are a lot of positive things happening in the Goulburn Murray region,” Kavenagh said.

“The three junior leagues working together is an enormously positive step forward for the game. It should provide some great outcomes for young players ... it’s a big ‘well done’ to the local area for getting that done.

“Also understanding that, like a lot of regions, there are some district clubs that have got some challenges at junior level, and I know there is a lot of work going on at the moment to try and make sure those clubs are around for a long time to come.

“But at the moment, it’s a lot more listening than anything.”

Kavenagh’s appearance in the region came days after the AFL announced a nationwide $8 million investment for clubs at the community level following the past two COVID-19-impacted seasons.

Two of the key components of the package are the $1.6 million towards volunteer support and $1.4 million to remove coaching and umpiring fees in the 2022 season.

“I think it’s a real visual way of showing the importance the AFL places on community football,” Kavenagh said.

“It’s a significant announcement, there are some real tangible benefits in it as well.

“We want to make sure that we are supporting clubs. It’s an absolute priority area.

“The announcement of abolishing (umpire) registration fees gets rid of one of the barriers that was there in the past.

“It’s an area that we know is absolutely important, it’s a statewide issue.”

AFLGM commercial and operations manager Zara O’Keeffe welcomed the visit from Kavenagh.

O’Keeffe said it was a step in the right direction to help reconnect the AFL and grassroots football.

“There has been criticism in the past about how (the AFL) operates in the regions, so having Ben here who has just started in the role, who is already showing interest, is a great step forward,” she said.