The 2015 VFL season looms as one as the most even on record after 12 rounds. With just two wins separating top placed Box Hill and eighth placed Port Melbourne, the fight for the premiership is on in earnest. However, a glance at the ladder reveals one side that is struggling to keep pace with the rest of the competition in the Frankston Dolphins.
Frankston is winless in 11 games this year with a percentage of just 47.2, trailing second last North Ballarat by three games and 16 percent. The low point of the Dolphins’ season occurred two weeks ago in round 11, as they fell to the 10th placed Northern Blues by a mammoth 157 points, kicking just three goals for the match in perfect conditions at Etihad Stadium.
While their effort last week was much improved against top of the table Box Hill, losing by 65 points, it doesn’t get any easier this week with a trip to Point Gellibrand to take on the second-placed Williamstown.
With just seven games to go in season 2015, there remains the real possibility of a winless season for the Dolphins.
The lingering concern for the Frankston Football Club is that the stand-alone side has struggled to be competitive for a few years now. The Dolphins last played finals in 2008, when they finished in seventh place with 10 wins, and were eliminated from the finals race after a heartbreaking one-point loss to Williamstown in the first semi final.
Since 2009, the Dolphins have not finished above 12th, and have won just 18 games in this seven-year period.
After winning the wooden spoon in 2010, 2011 and 2012, there was a brief improvement in 2013 under the coaching of Simon Goosey as the Dolphins won six of their 18 games, finishing 12th of 14. However, after being asked to re-apply for his job, just weeks after being re-appointed to coach for a sixth season, Goosey last year left to coach Cranbourne in the South East Football/Netball League, replaced by former Box Hill assistant Patrick Hill. Unfortunately for new coach Hill, Frankston has clearly slipped away again this year as the league worst performed side.
A further concern for the Dolphins is that their VFL development side is struggling just as much as the senior team, having won just one of ten games this season, where they also sit at the foot of the ladder.
It’s a far cry from the heady days of 1996/97 where upon the forming of the VFL from the ashes of the old VFA, Frankston was one of the strongest clubs in the competition, where under the coaching of Carlton premiership player David Rhys-Jones, the Dolphins made consecutive grand finals, only to fall to Springvale in 1996 by just three points and Sandringham in 1997 by 29 points.
With the alliance between North Ballarat and North Melbourne coming to an halt at seasons end, and the demise of Bendigo Gold last year, one year after Essendon abandoned their alignment, the pressure on the stand alone VFL clubs such as Frankston to remain competitive is a year-to-year battle that will only become more difficult in the future.
The issue for the Dolphins is for how long they can sustain an uncompetitive side in the VFL, in regards to attracting quality playing talent while also retaining their existing better players. The club sees itself as a breeding ground for young talent to be drafted into the AFL, and with notable players such as Matthew Boyd, Michael Hibberd, Mark Baguley, Sam Lloyd and Nic Newman all originating at the Dolphins, perhaps they can just position themselves as purely a nurturer of young talent, while sacrificing their on-field success.
While this may be great for the young kids in the area, having a VFL team to nurture and foster their future talent, for the coaching staff and senior players, the prospect of losing most weeks against the bigger and stronger bodies of AFL listed players will not be a pleasant experience.
Either way, the club will need the support of the local community and business, as well as from AFL Victoria if it is to remain a long term viable outfit in the VFL, or the Dolphins may find themselves in a similar position to Bendigo Gold, and out of the VFL before too long.