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North disappointed to lose Ballarat zone to Bulldogs

Luke McDonald of the Kangaroos marks during the 2014 NAB Challenge match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Carlton Blues at Eureka Stadium, Ballarat on February 15, 2014. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)
North Melbourne and Carlton during a 2014 NAB Challenge match at Eureka Stadium
We are disappointed because as a club we valued our relationship with the local community and its people very highly
North CEO Carl Dilena
NORTH Melbourne is disappointed by a shift in AFL strategy that has seen Ballarat repositioned from a Roos' development zone to Western Bulldogs' territory.
 
North has worked hard to entrench itself in the Ballarat region over the past six years, forming an official partnership with the Ballarat City Council that saw it conduct annual community camps, partner in community programs and play pre-season games at Eureka Stadium.
 
However, the AFL announced on Tuesday that the Western Bulldogs – and not North – would next year host a NAB Challenge game at Eureka Stadium, against Melbourne.
 
AFL.com.au also understands that North has also been told by the League it will no longer hold its pre-season community camp in Ballarat.
 
AFL scheduling manager Simon Lethlean told AFL.com.au that with North now focused on developing its fan base in Hobart the Bulldogs had moved to extend their western corridor growth strategy to Ballarat.
 

"The Bulldogs have entered a relationship with the local council in Ballarat, which is based essentially on their western corridor strategy," Lethlean said at the NAB Challenge fixture launch.
 
"North Melbourne is focused on Tasmania and elsewhere, so they (the Bulldogs) asked whether we would support a game there?
 
"We were certainly keen to support the Dogs and the Ballarat City Council, who are starting off a new relationship.
 
"If you look across the natural areas of Victoria – the hot spots to develop the clubs – that western strategy certainly extends to Ballarat for the Bulldogs.
 
"We're keen to help them with that strategy as it extends down there and again support councils who want to support our clubs."
 
North CEO Carl Dilena told AFL.com.au North was disappointed in the AFL's shift in thinking on Ballarat, stressing that the Roos had not voluntarily abandoned their relationship with the region.
 
"We understand the AFL's thinking that the Bulldogs are the team of the west and should now be the club to work with the Ballarat region," Dilena said on Wednesday.
 
"But we are disappointed because as a club we valued our relationship with the local community and its people very highly.
 
"Over the past six years we have worked closely with the City Council and a wide range of community groups, and it is a shame we won't get to continue to build on all of that.
 
"All I can do is stress that this is not something we're doing voluntarily. We had hoped we would be continuing as we had over the years, but the AFL obviously had other plans."
 
Dilena did not see North's development work in Hobart and Ballarat as mutually exclusive, saying that despite the Roos' membership gains in Tasmania over the past three years they still needed to grow their fan base in Victoria.
 
The Roos boss said the club could continue to concentrate on its existing Melbourne growth areas Wyndham and Hume, but still needed to establish a regional Victorian stronghold.
 
North has played two pre-season games at Ballarat's Eureka Stadium, this year against Carlton and in 2012 against the Bulldogs.
 
In 2013, when the ground was unavailable for the NAB Cup because of ongoing works on its changerooms, North played an intra-club game there at the end of its community camp.

North Melbourne and Carlton in action during this year's NAB Challenge. Picture: AFL Media