IT’S often said that a footy season is just like a marathon.
Lay a solid foundation with a good start, consolidate through the middle of the race and then time your run to peak at the finish line – September.
But halfway through the Loddon Valley Football League marathon, it appears the top five sides have sprinted out of the blocks with little hope of being mown down by the four stragglers behind them who are already gasping for air trying to keep up.
While there’s still half a season of football to go, this year has been quick to weed out the finals contenders from the pretenders.
As expected, powerhouse Bridgewater, coached by Andrew Collins (pictured), is setting the pace out in front and barely broken a sweat yet with an unblemished 8-0 start in pursuit of five flags in a row.
Bunched up behind the Mean Machine, but with plenty of work to do to catch the race-leaders, are Newbridge (6-2), Pyramid Hill (6-2), Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (5-3) and Marong (5-3) from second to fifth.
While Bridgewater is headed for a top-of-the-ladder finish, the jostling for the other two spots in the top three and the coveted double chance promises to be enthralling, with just one game separating second to fifth.
However, the gap from fifth to the rest has already opened up to a massive three games, which shows something will have to go horribly wrong in the second half of the marathon - like slipping on a banana peel with the finish line in sight - for one of the top five to drop out and miss the finals.
Compare that to the halfway mark of the previous five years when the finals race was still well and truly alive with just one game between fifth and sixth in 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010, and only half-a-game in 2009.
As well as the three-game buffer, the gap between the top five and the rest – YCW, Mitiamo, Calivil United and Inglewood – is also highlighted in that none of the bottom four sides are yet to beat a team in the top five, with the average margin in those 20 contests 70 points.
Mitiamo has proven the most competitive of the bottom tier sides against the top echelon, with three of its losing margins inside three goals, which is why this Superoos' 125th anniversary season that started with such great optimism looks destined to go down as one of missed opportunities.
While the race for the finals appears done and dusted, the battle for the double chance has plenty of life left in it and will ultimately be decided by matches when second to fifth play each other – good old fashioned “eight-point games”.
So far, no more than 21 points have separated the Bears, Panthers, Maroons and Bulldogs in any of the games they’ve played against each other, with the average margin in those 12 clashes just 13 points.
Go back to the old days of the top four and you had those four teams, it would be one hell of a race for the premiership.
But the LVFL is a top five and the team casting the shadow over the rest of the competition is the side that has won the past four flags and taken its game to a whole new level this year – Bridgewater.
Because for as big as the gap between the top five and bottom four has been so far, Bridgewater’s average winning margin against the Bears, Panthers, Maroons and Bulldogs has been just as significant.
The Mean Machine have laid the challenge down in the first half of the 2014 LVFL marathon and said: "Catch us if you can".
The question now is can any of the chasing pack find another gear – or two - and make a race of it in the second half?
• LVFL LADDER:
1. Bridgewater (8-0).
2. Newbridge (6-2).
3. Pyramid Hill (6-2).
4. BL-Serpentine (5-3).
5. Marong (5-3).
6. YCW (2-6).
7. Mitiamo (2-6).
8. Calivil United (2-6).
9. Inglewood (0-8).
SEASON RESULTS SO FAR:
• TOP 5 V BOTTOM 4
BL-Serpentine d Inglewood by 76
BL-Serpentine d YCW by 43
BL-Serpentine d Mitiamo by 10
BL-Serpentine d Calivil United by 98
Bridgewater d Inglewood by 103
Bridgewater d YCW by 24
Bridgewater d Mitiamo by 93
Bridgewater d Calivil United by 142
Marong d Inglewood by 18
Marong d YCW by 80
Marong d Mitiamo by 10
Marong d Calivil United by 44
Newbridge d Calivil United by 75
Newbridge d Inglewood by 193
Newbridge d YCW by 50
Newbridge d Mitiamo by 57
Pyramid Hill d YCW by 45
Pyramid Hill d Mitiamo by 17
Pyramid Hill d Calivil United by 116
Pyramid Hill d Inglewood by 104
• 2ND TO 4TH V EACH OTHER
BL-Serpentine d Marong by 3
Marong d Newbridge by 16
Newbridge d BL-Serpentine by 21
Newbridge d Pyramid Hill by 21
Pyramid Hill d Marong by 12
Pyramid Hill d BL-Serpentine by 5
• BRIDGEWATER V 2nd TO 5th
d BL-Serpentine by 76
d Newbridge by 40
d Pyramid Hill by 84
d Marong by 72
• BOTTOM 4 V EACH OTHER
Calivil United d Inglewood by 17
Calivil United d Mitiamo by 32
Mitiamo d Inglewood by 41
Mitiamo d YCW by 13
YCW d Calivil United by 48
YCW d Inglewood by 18