Parents beware: Keep kids grounded
By GREG WHITE
THIS week's series in the Coffs Coast Advocate outlining the growing tension between city and bush rugby league clubs over Development Fees has drawn a response from the region's most senior football operative.
As the man in the middle, VB Group 2 secretary Peter O'Grady is best placed to see fluctuating fortunes as youngsters chase their dreams of making it big in the NRL.
O'Grady is the man who processes the clearances, sorts out the stumbling blocks and in more cases than he likes, is the one who first learns the details when far too many kids come back to earth with their dreams shattered.
"How do you say to a kid being courted by an NRL club that they should be wary of all those big promises they are hearing?" he asks.
"Far from trying to stop them turning their dreams into a reality, we start them off in hope that one day they'll become a very successful footy player at the highest level.
"But it's near impossible to get them to realise that for every one that makes it, there are dozens who for a variety of reasons never get to see their name in lights."
O'Grady believes one of the biggest difficulties is the attitude of parents.
"Some get really aggro if you try to keep a grip on reality, they think you're trying to stop their kids from making something of themselves when too often the parents are trying to live their dreams through the kids," he said.
"In my job, I just do what the system demands but I hear blokes in the clubs talking about it all the time.
"These NRL clubs are getting worse, they're getting greedier, they won't be satisfied until they've ripped every kid out of the bush they can find and if they can get away with it without paying Development Fees, so much the better."
He makes no bones about his growing alarm at the infiltration into the local area by the Gold Coast and South Sydney.
"They just marched in and set up their operations without bothering to contact Group 2 to see if we had any objection, or ask straight out if there was something they could help us with," O'Grady said.
"One of the worst parts is they have the help of public funds from people who have no idea how rugby league works and their blundering is actually working against the interests of the football community.
"I know that a couple of articles in your newspaper upset the authorities but you know what, the truth hurts.
"If they have plans to benefit the locals, let's see them out in the open ... or is it really there are no plans, other than getting help to strip everything they can get their hands on and leave when there's nothing left?"
With an estimated 120 Group 2 juniors picked up by NRL clubs or their 'feeders' in the last four years, O'Grady believes the local Under-18 and junior system is at crisis point.
"I bought Big League last week for the first time in years just to check the lists for where all those kids have got to," he said.
"The first thing that stood out was how few have made first grade and they no longer publish the list for Flegg and Ball so I can see where the others have gone.
"We get bugger-all in the way of Development Fees and I just know all those kids are hidden so they don't have to pay what rightfully belongs to us.
"You should see the look on the faces of the kids who don't make it, who feel they've let everybody down and are lost to footy.
"They should be staying at home and not have these mongrels using them as cannon fodder, it annoys me so much."