IT’S time for Bendigo to take a stand against Ballarat on the football field.
That’s the challenge from coach Brett Fitzpatrick to his players ahead of Saturday’s AFL Victoria Community Championships match between the rivals at the QEO.
Ballarat has won the past two encounters between the two leagues, and three of the past four over the previous decade.
Ballarat goes into the game ranked ninth, while Bendigo is 10th.
“They have certainly had the wood on us over the past four meetings,” Fitzpatrick said on Friday.
“The opportunity to play them on the QEO will be some advantage to us. Having a local crowd behind us and knowing the venue quite well, we should be able to give it a good shot and, hopefully, run the game out well.”
A win would also get Bendigo off what is becoming a monotonous inter-league merry-go-round.
Since the previous round robin format was scrapped after 2008, Bendigo has played just three rival leagues – Ballarat (2009, 2013, 2015 and this year), Gippsland (2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and Geelong (2011).
Bendigo has essentially tread inter-league water for the best part of a decade, good enough to beat Gippsland four times to climb rankings, but unable to take the next step and string together wins in consecutive years to continue to climb higher.
Bendigo’s team of 23 to take on Ballarat has 17 players who have previously represented the league, with the most experienced being Adam Baird with five games under his belt.
With Jack Geary out injured, Lee Coghlan – playing his fifth inter-league game – will captain the Blue and Gold.
The six first-time inter-league representatives for Bendigo are Jonathan Lanyon, Kaiden Antonowicz, Andrew Collins, Kallen Geary, Blair Holmes and Jake Moorhead.
“It’s fantastic to have so many players who have experienced inter-league before, and of the new players, most have played at a higher level in terms of state-league football, as well as Andrew Collins in the AFL,” Fitzpatrick said.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for a young player like Jake Moorhead from Strathfieldsaye to get a taste of the next level.”
Lanyon – in his first year at Kangaroo Flat – previously represented Ballarat three years ago against Goulburn Valley.
Ballarat has a former Bendigo inter-league player as captain of its team in Shane Page, who was part of the Blue and Gold sides in 2011 and 2012 before he left Kyneton for Darley.
The level of talent at reigning premier Sandhurst is highlighted by seven Dragons players – Coghlan, Collins, Codie Price, Matt Thornton, Tim Martin, Holmes and Joel Wharton – having made the side.
“The way most games are played these days with elite-level players, it’s about maintaining possession, so skills are going to be really important, as well as winning the contested ball,” Fitzpatrick said.
“We believe we’ve got a really good mix of that, but we’re also wary that Ballarat over years has gone by has had a great group of midfielders who are good at the stoppages.”
Fitzpatrick has also identified getting a spread of goals from the midfield to support the likes of Dylan Johnstone, swingman Matt Thornton, who has been named centre half-forward, and Antonowicz as crucial to Bendigo’s chances.
And while it sounds obvious, so too is making the most of scoring opportunities inside 50.
In Bendigo’s past two losses to Ballarat – which have been by a combined 100 points – the Blue and Gold have kicked wasteful scores of 4.12 and 8.17.
Saturday’s game starts at 4pm.
B: Tom Toma (1), Brenton Conforti (1), Tyler Miles (3)
HB: Harry Conway (2), Jon Coe (3), Codie Price (1)
C: Kalan Huntly (1), Trent Donnan (1), Adam Baird (5)
HF: Jonathan Lanyon (new), Matt Thornton (2), Andrew Collins (new)
F: Kaiden Antonowicz (new), Dylan Johnstone (1), Nick Lang (2)
R: Tim Martin (2), Kallen Geary (new), Lee Coghlan (c) (4)
Inter: Blair Holmes (new), Isaiah Miller (1), Ben McPhee (1), Jake Moorhead (new), Joel Wharton (1)
Senior inter-league games for Bendigo in brackets.
B: Scott Sherlock, Ryan Hobbs, Callum Currie
HB: Nathan Horbury, Adam Short, Shane Page (c)
C: Chris Graham, Nick Kommer, Nathan Pring
HF: Liam Hoy, Dean Heta, Braeden Kight
F: Chris Giampaolo, Jarrah Maksymow, Will Young
R: Ben Sortino, Brian Graham, Shane Hutchinson
Inter: Jack Walker, Ryan Luke, Grant Bell, Daniel Tung, Jake Bolton
Meanwhile, Bendigo’s under-18 team, coached by Jason Stevens, will also be in action in the first game of the day against Ballarat from 11am.
“There is talent on every line and a great opportunity for these players to represent their league,” Stevens said.
“Our pool of talent in the league is deep and it was tough to reduce the squad of 43 to 23. I’m confident the boys will put on a good show. Hopefully, we get lots of support at the QEO.”
B: Billy Robertson, Joe Kenny, Lleyton Chisholm
HB: Connor O’Shea, Riley Walsh, Seb Spijkerman
C: Hunter Lawrence, Daniel Clohesy, Joel Mullen
HF: Hugh Schaeche, Mitchell Cheesman, Liam Ly
F: Mitch Goodwin, Jack Bouwmeester, Jordan Waldron
R: Nathan McHugh, Isaac Ruff, Zane Keighran (c)
Inter: Will Keck, Darby Semmens, Tom Walters, Jack Larkham, Sam Dean