With another week of football allowed to go ahead, once again there has been curveballs thrown for clubs across the competition to navigate.
The extension and subsequent curfew of the Melbourne lockdown has thrown selection plans into chaos for some clubs, while the prospect of no finals crowds continues to hang over the league’s head with one round to play.
Premier Daniel Andrews decision earlier this week to add an extra fortnight to Melbourne’s restrictions is inadvertently set to rob the league of some star power come finals times.
The likes of North Warrnambool’s Tyrone Vickery, Camperdown’s Jack Williams, Portland’s Jake Edwards, plus others are all set to miss at least the first week of finals, assuming their teams play.
It’s disappointing for some clubs to not be able to fully access their top-end talent, but given the nature of the season, it’s just another obstacle the league must overcome.
The Melbourne shutdown and New South Wales lockdown has impacted other leagues across the state significantly, some to the point where they may not have played games for the best part of a month (and for some even longer) due to restrictions.
We need to be appreciative and consider ourselves extremely lucky of the fact that we will get 13 home and away games completed and then hopefully an uninterrupted finals series.
In a perfect world, we hope the restrictions are eased and we can enjoy country footy at its purest once again – with our best talent and our strongest teams in front of our passionate supporters.
With six rounds completed, we’re now a third of the way through the season and for the first time in a long time, it feels as though this league finally has a level playing field in terms of opposition clubs.
While we have a clear top three already starting to establish itself, it is a fair assessment to say the remaining positions from fourth to 10th are almost anyone’s game.
Early results have shown all 10 sides to be competitive and capable of winning multiple games, but equally more so is the variety of results in the clashes between teams outside the top three.
We’ve had fourth-placed Portland challenged by eighth-ranked Terang Mortlake and beaten by bottom side Cobden, fifth-placed Camperdown narrowly defeat previously ninth-placed (now seventh-placed) Warrnambool, the Blues defeat Terang Mortlake by 20 points and the Bloods record a 10 point win over Port Fairy.
Port Fairy has subsequently beaten Cobden, Hamilton Kangaroos defeated the Seagulls and Warrnambool and Terang Mortlake both accounted for the Kangaroos to add to the merry-go-round of results we’re witnessing.
While this has only added another layer of intrigue to the competition this season, followers can expect the next three weeks to give a true indication of where those clubs outside the five really sit.
Followers can also expect this period to be exciting and season-defining for a number of these clubs as the competition gets closer to the halfway point of the year.
Each of those clubs still have an opportunity to get a true gauge on their game styles and plans and a chance to figure out exactly what does and does not work before their seasons may head in differing directions.
What we will learn though is those clubs that navigate this upcoming period strongly will more than likely be the ones that feature in finals action this September.
Of all the things missing this Hampden league season, there still remains a glaring omission on the calendar.
After five rounds each season normally we would be about to enjoy a week’s break, with the league’s best players traditionally preparing for the annual interleague clash awaiting the competition.
Unfortunately the decision by AFL Victoria to put away the 2020 Country Championships has carried into this season, which has left the league without an interleague clash to look towards.
While the reasons for AFL Vic forgoing the championships had a number of valid reasons, it’s left a bit of an empty feeling for a league which has a rich history with interleague football.
In the 70s and 80s the league had status as the number one competition in country Victoria and while it’s been a long time since we’ve reached those heights, in more recent time we have risen up the rankings on the back of the coaching of Brisbane great Jonathon Brown.
Last season the league would potentially have had the opportunity to play a blockbuster clash against the Ovens and Murray league, a side which has proven formidable for us in years gone by.
But having come so far under Browny in the space of three years, we can only ponder what a crack at one of country Victoria’s top leagues might have been.
Given the progress, it would have been the perfect challenge and one our competition deserved after identifying four to five years ago interleague football still had a rightful place in the Hampden season.
We’re also left to ponder a missed opportunity in seeing the best of our league, take on the best of the O and M, a competition littered with ex-AFL and state league.
The league in a sense may have been robbed of the chance to see the likes of Jackson Bell and Liam Hoy taking on former Richmond midfielder Anthony Miles, Sam Cowling and Jack Williams facing former Melbourne forward Michael Newton, Jeremy Hausler rucking against former GWS big man Dawson Simpson and Alex Pulling challenging ex-Geelong and Richmond winger Taylor Hunt.
Add in the likes of Sam Dobson, Dallas Mooney, Jarrod Korewha, Cameron Spence, Jack Hutt and co coming up against O and M regulars including Albury’s Brayden O’Hara, Myrtleford’s Matt Dussin, Wodonga Raiders Jarrod Hodgkin and Jydon Neagle, as well as top liners including Shaun Mannagh, Leigh Masters, Kurt Aylett, Mark Whiley, Jeff Garlett, Aidan Johnson and Abraham Ankers among others and our league would have been given the perfect opportunity to test exactly where it stood in terms of representative football.
While we may never get the opportunity again to see exactly how far we could have gone or even the opportunity to test ourselves against a league like the O and M, the league should at least look at trying to facilitate an interleague clash of some form in the future.
Whether its an under 23s contest against the Warrnambool and District Football Netball League, or a potential showdown with leagues from Ballarat or Geelong, any chance to see the Bottle Greens jumper in action again is as much for the players and coaches as it is for the leagues followers too.
Author: Fraser Lucas