Northern NSW Football will run the game in the region after the dissolution of Northern Inland Football - a "momentous" development that has nonetheless failed to placate disaffiliated Armidale-based clubs, who will continue to play in unsanctioned competitions.
NNSWF chief executive David Eland denied the move was a failure, given Armidale clubs would continue to play in the SportUNE Football League, which was launched last year.
The league was started after Armidale clubs severed ties with NIF following longstanding acrimony over the running of the game in the region.
Prior to holding a press conference in Armidale on Friday to outline NNSWF's plans for the region, Eland told the Leader that he was "disappointed" those clubs had opted to remain in the SportUNE Football League.
However, he said the "door is wide open" for them to play in the new NNSWF-run Northern Inland junior and senior competitions.
NNSWF, he continued, is "determined to reunite the game in the region". "Football Australia and ourselves absolutely have an obligation to run the game - and that's what we intend to do," he said.
Eland described NNSWF running the game in the region via a new, unincorporated body as "momentous" and "exciting times" for the sport.
And while he "respected" the decision of the Armidale clubs, "at the same time we have an obligation to make sure that the game thrives well into the future".
"And we're not about to sit back and let a private entity [the University of New England] do that - that's our job."
We're very keen to work with the disaffiliated clubs.David Eland
He added: "We're very keen to work with the disaffiliated clubs ... we would love them to affiliate and get back involved in sanctioned football and link the game again."
Eland believed that "a vast quantity of the community in Armidale will really welcome our announcements today [Friday]".
"I think they'd be pretty disappointed if Northern NSW Football took direct control of the game and we didn't have a plan for Armidale, and that's certainly not the case: we do have a plan."
Northern NSW Football is now directly responsible for the administration, growth, development and promotion of the game throughout the Northern Inland region following last night’s final meeting of Northern Inland Football Inc.— NNSWF (@NNSWF) January 29, 2021
Read more here: https://t.co/s6Gix6PLZUpic.twitter.com/lEMnHaep15
On Thursday night, NIF clubs approved the NIF board's motion to wind up the organisation, NNSWF said.
Eland said there was "a real positive vibe" at the meeting. The clubs, he added, "see great potential in being aligned with NNSWF more closely".
He said Tamworth-based NIF was an independent body that "no longer had the capacity to meet its members' obligations", while NNSWF did its best to bring the disaffiliated clubs back into the fold.
But Alan Gray - SportUNE Football League manager and Armidale District Football Association secretary - said Eland had "made it worse" when he came to Armidale to speak to the clubs almost a year ago.
"Because the clubs then united as a one, saying: 'No, we're not going to [come back],'" he said.
Gray said he met with the clubs at the conclusion of the inaugural SportUNE Football League season last year, and they all insisted they would not participate in "any competition organised by Northern NSW Football".
"And they were more than happy with what the university was doing," he added.
The clubs, he continued, would only align with NNSWF if there were "a massive shift" in their "attitude towards David Eland and Northern NSW Football".
"They've just been disappointed with what's gone on in the region with the administration of football. And it came to a head last year, where they just decided, 'No more, we've had enough.'"
Gray said UNE was "not closed" to there being talks with NNSWF regarding Armidale clubs linking with the governing body.
"But it will be the clubs themselves who make that determination of where football goes in Armidale - not the university," he added.
The attendees at NNSWF's press conference in Armidale included Eland, Football Australia general manager (member federations) Robbie Middleby, Newcastle Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna and Matildas player Gema Simon, who hails from Armidale.
The announcements included a new, centralised MiniRoos hub at Presbyterian Ladies' College in Armidale.