THERE'S a saying that when one door closes, another one opens.
And it perfectly sums up the Bendigo Football League's inter-league win over Gippsland at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on Saturday.
The exodus of star power from the competition after last season that included 10 members of the 2013 inter-league team created opportunities for a regeneration of Bendigo's representative side.
Of the 23 players who pulled on the new-look Blue and Gold jumper on Saturday, 15 were first-time Bendigo inter-league representatives, and they thrived on the big stage, leading all day in a 19.14 (128) to 13.16 (94) victory in an entertaining contest against Gippsland in their third meeting in five years.
One of those inter-league newcomers was livewire forward Stephen Milne, who produced a match-winning nine-goal performance for the Blue and Gold.
The 34-year-old - who was still kicking bags of five in the AFL last year - was unstoppable in the forward line in a dazzling display of one-on-one marking power and bodywork.
Milne kicked two goals in the first quarter, three in the second, two in the third and two in the last.
In what was a game packed with brilliance, two of Milne's highlights included his second goal when he sprinted from outside 50 on the swimming pool flank, sold the dummy to two opponents and goaled, while his ninth goal in the final quarter came from a high-flying pack mark that is bound to make it onto The Footy's Show's Almost Football Legends segment.
It looked like Milne had kicked his 10th goal late in the final quarter when another of his customary mark, play-on and snaps sailed through, only for it to be touched off the boot.
As well as Milne's nine goals, Bendigo's other ex-AFL forward, Corey Jones, kicked four goals, including three in the second half.
The 13 goals Milne and Jones combined for equalled Gippsland's tally of 13 as the pair, who played 432 AFL games between them, showed there's no substitute for class and experience.
Bendigo was never headed once Milne kicked the opening goal in the first minute when he snapped under pressure from 35m.
When Cam Rinaldi marked three minutes later and converted, Bendigo had the first two goals on the board.
However, just as had been the case a year earlier in the first term against Ballarat, Bendigo squandered opportunities in front of goal for the rest of the quarter.
The Blue and Gold’s last six scoring shots of the term yielded 1.5 as they went into quarter-time leading by eight points, 3.6 to 2.4.
The first quarter pattern of Bendigo making the running before Gippsland fought its way back would prove the trend for the remainder of the match.
Twice Bendigo got out to an 11-point lead during the second quarter, and twice Gippsland replied to reduce the margin back under a kick.
Back-to-back goals to Jones and Milne - his fourth - midway through the term pushed Bendigo’s advantage out to 17 points, but again, Gippsland answered with goals to captain James Gibbs and full-forward Darren Sheen to pull the margin back.
However, Bendigo kicked three of the last four goals of the term in the final five minutes, including a captain’s goal to Jack Geary after the siren, to lead by 17 points at half-time, 10.7 to 7.8.
Again in the third quarter, Bendigo threatened to bust the game open as Jones began to make his mark on the contest.
Bendigo kicked two of the first three goals of the third term - both through Jones - to extend the Blue and Gold’s margin to 22 points.
The second of Jones’ goals was a 45m shot from the flank that was Bendigo’s ninth goal from its previous 10 scoring shots since quarter-time.
Still, Bendigo couldn’t break the spirit of Gippsland, which replied with three unanswered goals either kicked by or set up by skipper Gibbs in a seven-minute burst.
With momentum back on its side, Gippsland cut the margin back to three points, but couldn’t edge in front.
Just as they did in the second term, the Blue and Gold finished the third quarter strongly with three of the last four goals, including two to Milne to re-establish a 17-point buffer at three quarter-time, 15.10 to 12.11.
Gippsland pressed hard early in the final quarter, having the first four shots in the opening eight minutes.
However, only Sheen was on target as Gippsland kicked just 1.3 to close within eight points.
But those missed chances early in the term proved the last roll of the dice for Gippsland as Bendigo finished the game in style with the last four goals through Milne (two), Jones and ruckman Tim Martin, who nailed a 45m set-shot.
Bendigo’s last four scoring shots were behinds, but between quarter-time and Martin’s goal, the Blue and Gold kicked 16.4.
Down the other end, Gippsland squandered early opportunities to apply scoreboard pressure, kicking just 2.8 from its first 10 scoring shots and 6.8 after half-time.
Bendigo’s win moves it back to number six in the AFL Victoria Country rankings and sets up a rematch in 12 months with arch-rivals Ballarat, which last year defeated the Blue and Gold by 23 points.
Bendigo 3.6 10.7 15.10 19.14 (128)
Gippsland 2.4 7.8 12.11 13.16 (94)
GOALS – Bendigo: S. Milne 9, C. Jones 4, M. Smith, C. Rinaldi, J. Geary, M. Dole, T. Martin, B. Weightman 1. Gippsland: D. Sheen 4, J. Gibbs 3, J. Gooch 2, M. Geary, D. Bedggood, M. Davis, B. Kearns 1.
BEST – Bendigo: S. Milne, M. Smith, N. Stagg, J. Coe, B. Filo, J. Geary. Gippsland: A. Ware, R. Pendlebury, B. Scalzo, S. Mooney, B. Kearns, J. Lipman.