Ainslie withdraws from NEAFL
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Ainslie withdraws from NEAFL

Eastlake coach Ben Waite believes the lure of playing in the NEAFL will help overcome the strong rivalries between Canberra clubs and lead to the Demons becoming a representative team filled with ACT talent.

Waite wanted the other Canberra clubs to get behind the Demons, who are now the ACT's sole club in the NEAFL following Ainslie's withdrawal from the competition on Thursday.

Eastlake will be the only Canberra side left in the NEAFL when  Ainslie drop out in 2016.

Eastlake will be the only Canberra side left in the NEAFL when Ainslie drop out in 2016. Credit:Matt Bedford

Ainslie's decision continues the rapid withdrawal of Canberra clubs from the NEAFL, with Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Queanbeyan also having left the competition over the last two years.

It also means the team that won just one game in 2015 and finished bottom of the ladder will represent the region in the now 10-team competition.

Waite hoped the football community would get behind his team and help them become a representative team full of the best local talent.

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But history suggests that will be a tough sell.

An undefeated Belconnen will field a near-NEAFL-strength side in the AFL Canberra first grade grand final on Saturday because most of their best players didn't want to play for Ainslie or Eastlake this year.

Similarly, Queanbeyan experienced a mass exodus of players who opted to chase the money of bush footy rather than play in the NEAFL.

But Waite was hopeful the lure of playing in a second-tier competition and coming under the eye of AFL recruiters would help bolster Eastlake's playing stocks.

Melbourne midfielder Aaron vandenBerg showed it was possible to get to the AFL through the NEAFL with his efforts for Ainslie last year.

"People want to play the best football they can so if they're motivated by that then I think that's going to outweigh any of the existing stigmas that are around," Waite said.

"There's nothing worse than someone cutting their talent short through an existing rivalry.

"Time heals all wounds so in a couple of years' time this won't even be a talking point."

Ainslie had a NEAFL license until the end of 2016, but the board decided to withdraw after the AFL rejected their proposal to be Canberra's sole team from 2017.

While the AFL have pushed for one Canberra team, they wanted it to be either a combined Ainslie-Eastlake side or a representative team funded largely by all the local clubs.

This rep team would've played in blue and yellow with Manuka Oval as a home ground.

The Tricolours, who finished ninth this season, opted to withdraw from the NEAFL instead to avoid the significant financial drain the competition has become.

"With this understanding, as a club we have decided to withdraw from the NEAFL competition, effective immediately as it was not sustainable to continue to play for just one more season, and to invest our financial resources back into the facilities and infrastructure of the Ainslie Football Club precinct," Ainslie said in a statement.

Eastlake's NEAFL license also expires at the end of next season, but AFL NSW/ACT chief executive Sam Graham all-but guaranteed their spot beyond that.

Graham said a Canberra NEAFL team was crucial as part of the pathway to the AFL, which also included the NSW-ACT Rams and the Greater Western Sydney academy flowing into the draft at the junior level.

He said the AFL already provided various levels of funding to NEAFL clubs and would come up with the best financial model to help Eastlake.

"Eastlake are the license holder in 2016 and we'll work with them for 2017 and beyond," Graham said.

"Canberra has a proud and rich football history and absolutely deserves a team in the NEAFL, and for the talented players and the pathway in Canberra linking through to the Giants it's very important that we have a Canberra representative in the NEAFL competition."

A points salary cap system, which rewards clubs for playing home-grown talent, is planned for football in Victoria, NSW and the ACT next year to try and stop rich clubs from being able to buy players and premierships.

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.