LIONS' INTEREST IRONIC

Sunbury's Greg Hay and Nial McGovern after the Lions' 2012 grand final win. Picture: Adam Trafford.

Sunbury's Greg Hay and Nial McGovern after the Lions' 2012 grand final win. Picture: Adam Trafford.

IMAGINE the irony if Sunbury leaves the Ballarat Football League to join Bendigo next year.

The Ballarat Football League has made no secret of its attempts to poach Gisborne from the Bendigo league over the past decade - and came frighteningly close to doing so in 2009.

However, could there soon be a case of what goes around comes around?

Sunbury has served notice that it wants to explore its options for a possible move from the Ballarat Football League, with Bendigo listed as one of the new homes the Lions may consider, along with the more location-friendly Riddell District Football League.

Among the reasons reported why the Lions are putting their future direction on the table is club supporters questioning Sunbury's relevance to the Ballarat Football League, where it won a flag only two years ago (pictured) and remarkably, has never missed the finals in its 17 years in the competition.

If the supporters feel the club is suffering from a lack of relevance, that’s disappointing and obviously frustrating for them, but how will that improve in the Bendigo league?

Sure, a Gisborne-Sunbury clash would have plenty of spice to it down the Calder, but there lies an issue for the Lions – it’s down the Calder and well out of the spotlight, much like a West Coast-Fremantle AFL Derby over in the west.

Geographically, Sunbury is 17kms south of Gisborne, itself a club that questioned its relevance to Bendigo when it almost jumped ship to Ballarat five years ago.

Of what would be Sunbury’s other fellow “country-based rivals”, Kyneton is 50kms away; Castlemaine 85kms away; and Maryborough 133 kms away; while the Lions would have six 117km trips a year to face the Bendigo-based clubs.

Currently, Sunbury has four clubs within 40km of it, with the Lions among five “eastern bloc” teams in the Ballarat Football League.

In fairness to Sunbury, Gisborne faces similar travel distances and has certainly been able to become a relevant club in Bendigo based on its constant ability to remain ultra-competitive, having only missed the senior finals twice since joining in 2000.

The Bulldogs raised the bar of the BFL during the 2000s when they won four flags and have built rivalries, most notably with Golden Square and Eaglehawk on top of the obvious one down the road with Kyneton.

With Sunbury throwing Bendigo up as a possible option and Bendigo’s recent play at trying to lure Echuca back from the Goulburn Valley Football League, it raises the question of does Bendigo need an 11th club?

One hand says that for the league to continue to grow and move forward, all opportunities should be explored and at least be discussed.

Bendigo has proven to be open-minded to expansion, with the recent inclusion of start-up club Strathfieldsaye in 2009, and remember North City – the Ballarat-based club the Bendigo league threw a lifeline to in 2006 for two seasons.

Over the past 25 years, the BFL has also welcomed Maryborough (in 1992), Lockington-Bamawm United (1997-2000) and Gisborne (2000).

The other hand says considering the dramas Kyneton and Maryborough have gone through over the past 18 months, plus the continued battles Castlemaine has faced for the best part of a decade, the focus should be centred on working to ensure the existing clubs in the league are as strong and viable as possible.

Plenty to think about for the BFL board and clubs.

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