Condition report good for Ballarat roles on biggest stage| From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

OPPORTUNITY: Lake Wendouree and North Ballarat battle the Ballarat Football League under-16 senior final on Mars Stadium this month. Each clubs boasts top quality grounds on which to develop juniors. Picture: Dylan Burns
OPPORTUNITY: Lake Wendouree and North Ballarat battle the Ballarat Football League under-16 senior final on Mars Stadium this month. Each clubs boasts top quality grounds on which to develop juniors. Picture: Dylan Burns

BALLARAT’S reputation in producing not just AFL players but AFL premiership players has been strong for decades. 

This is going to lift up a notch – and not just because of those in action for this weekend’s big dance.

Our reputation in producing high-quality, skillful players can only lift because we as a community, and a city, have stepped up our game.

Adelaide and Richmond's flag showdown will feature six Ballarat football exports. Four are completely homegrown – Adelaide’s Crouch brothers, Shaun Grigg who arrived at Richmond via a Carlton stint, and young Tiger Dan Butler. Daniel Rioli, from the Tiwi Islands, boarded at St Patrick’s College from age 14 until becoming a Tiger. The sixth, David Astbury is from Tatyoon.

All six were drafted via North Ballarat Rebels.

The Rebels sport highly-regarded TAC Cup under-18 program, and has done so for many years. Now branded as Greater Western Victoria Rebels, the program fosters promising players in an elite, mini-AFL environment.

The Rebels feature satellite training bases across the state’s west but, by the program’s very nature, demands committed hard workers prepared to fine-tune their skills as a footballer and person.

Our junior footballers have become noticeably sharper in the past couple of seasons.

Our grounds are, one-by-one, transforming into incredible surfaces: Wendouree, Sebastopol, Alfredton and the Northern Ovals (this includes the Rebels’ home Mars Stadium).

Muddy grounds are bogging down junior games less frequently. Just like in senior football, more carpet-like surfaces take less of a toll and recovery time on the body.

This is both a testament to City of Ballarat’s groundkeepers and clubs in pursuing and maintaining surface innovations. 

Former Rebels coaches Chris Maple and David Loader have each told Press Box they could see a difference in the junior game.

Both hold key AFL development roles, Maple now as Western Bulldogs’ football general manager and Loader at North Melbourne where he is preparing to lead the club’s new standalone Victorian Football League arm.

Each understands the potential for where this could lead.

At the least, this lifts the standard of Ballarat football as a whole.

Loader says top surfaces allow all footballers a chance to concentrate on the things they want to most. This is without worrying about conditions in the same extent as footballers in decades past.

TAC Cup development squads are a big jump in intensity, on and off the field.

Juniors across Ballarat will undoubtedly have a head start in what is needed to match up with the state’s best.

TAC Cup is the clear leader in creating AFL players. This weekend’s final alone will boast a wealth of TAC Cup exports.

The Rebels can be proud to boast such a strong representation on such a massive stage.

It is pretty exciting to see the talent emerging in junior ranks across the city and the potential this holds for pathways in AFL and for our exciting youth girls to the expanding women’s game.

ROAR: Lake Wendouree's Dan Butler, set to play in the AFL grand final, celebrates the night he became a Tiger in November 2014. Picture: Lachlan Bence

ROAR: Lake Wendouree's Dan Butler, set to play in the AFL grand final, celebrates the night he became a Tiger in November 2014. Picture: Lachlan Bence