THERE was a passage of play during the third quarter of Bendigo’s 34-point win over Gippsland at the Queen Elizabeth Oval last Saturday that for me perfectly encapsulated the spectacle of inter-league footy.
In this one particular play, Mitch Dole from half-back fed off a handball under pressure to team-mate Brodie Filo and followed up with a shepherd (pictured).
Filo put the after-burners on, had one bounce and kicked long inside the Barnard Street forward 50 to Stephen Milne, who marked, played on and bagged the sixth of his nine goals.
That play - at a crucial time in the game when Gippsland had closed within three points - featured the trio of players I rate the three most exciting in the BFL this year all not only on the one field together, but linking up.
In the build-up to inter-league there's always talk about league pride and the importance of winning to advance up the AFL Victoria Country rankings.
There’s no doubt climbing the rankings ladder is important in building the reputation of the league – and No. 6 certainly sounds much better than the No.9 Bendigo would have slipped to had it lost last weekend – but above all, inter-league footy is all about the spectacle of pitting the best against the best.
Last Saturday is the only time this year you’ll see the likes of Milne, Dole, Filo, Corey Jones, Tim Martin, Jack Geary, Matt Smith, Ryan Maldenis, Ben Weightman and co on the same field, putting club rivalries aside for a weekend to represent their league.
While the Dole-Filo-Milne third-quarter play epitomises the star power of inter-league footy, I took tremendous pride as a Bendigo footballer follower in watching the 23 blokes, who in some cases play for clubs that despise each other, band together under Rick Ladson, who added another accolade to his growing coaching CV.
That’s another of the great aspects of inter-league – the mateships that are formed. The 23 players who won on Saturday will now share a bond for the rest of their lives, although, that will be quickly put to the side when the ball bounces this Saturday arvo for the resumption of the season.
The best player for Bendigo was Milne, who summed up just what an inter-league victory means: “There’s nothing better than getting a win, especially with a group of boys I haven't played with before, so I'll really cherish it.”
For Milne at the age of 34 and on the back of 275 games in the AFL, three grand finals and 16 finals with St Kilda, he has fried far bigger fish than an inter-league game at the QEO, but to be part of Saturday’s triumph meant plenty and he played the game accordingly.
The same goes for former 157-game North Melbourne player Corey Jones on a day that again showed there’s nothing quite like the spectacle and camaraderie of inter-league footy.
Now, bring on Ballarat.