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NSW growth key for AFL: Longmire, Matthews

John Longmire and Dave Matthews, two influential figures who helped the AFL develop in Sydney, have urged the league to maintain a focus on growth outside its traditional heartland.

The AFL’s full attention is currently on a June 11 season restart as it continues to sift through financial wreckage caused by the COVID-19 stoppage.

However, it will map out a path beyond 2020 at some point and the widespread expectation is that times could be tough throughout the industry for a while.

It is unclear what that will mean for the sport in Sydney, where the creation of GWS helped the AFL strike a $2.5 billion broadcast deal and formed part of a strategy to grow the game in rugby league heartland.

NRL guru Phil Gould memorably described Australian rules football goalposts as ”sprouting like mushrooms” throughout the city in 2011, now questions abound about future funding at every level.

“I’ve been here for nearly 20 years and seen how it has evolved. Now the game is in school programs, I’ve got sons and a daughter in the academy system,” Swans coach Longmire told AAP.

“The growth has been significant in northern markets. It’s so important that investment in the game’s growth doesn’t drop away.

“That’s critical during these times when we make decisions about the game’s best interests. We have to look at the present, but also maybe look at what it looks like beyond the virus.

“Let’s hope that incredible amount of work done by a lot of people is still able to come to fruition and that the code and every AFL club can still benefit.”

Matthews was appointed the AFL’s general manager of game development in 2004, played a key role in setting up GWS then left the AFL to become the expansion club’s chief executive in 2011.

Creating a fan base from nothing has proven predictably challenging but the Giants ticked off two significant milestones in 2019; a grand-final appearance and 30,000 members.

Matthews argued the AFL’s aspirations for NSW and Queensland have “in many ways now become more important”.

“Because you’re going to want growth opportunities, going to want to cement yourself as the nation’s game and the national competition,” Matthews told AAP.

“We will be forced to recalibrate but we shouldn’t deviate. You will see costs being cut across the competition, that doesn’t mean you back away from investments.

“Investments in AFLW is another prime example. It has to be protected and it will be … AFLW is not an add on and we certainly won’t be taking any backward step in our commitment to it.”

The Swans had made no secret of their desire to field an AFLW team and that vision formed part of the club’s plans for a new $70 million base at Moore Park.

However, that project has been paused because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

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