SENDING talented players to a Victorian Football League club is an investment.
If clubs really want the move to pay off, then sometimes they need to say goodbye for awhile in the hopes the player will one day return a stronger, skillful, more professional version of their game – on and off the field.
There are no guarantees, except perhaps a little pain to a club’s ideal starting line-up.
But it is a gamble for the state league club, too.
Essendon’s new VFL head coach Dan Jordan ordered Buninyong gun forward Joel Ottavi to find another home club outside the Central Highlands Football League.
This is not about Buninyong so much as it is about the huge discrepancies in the league, including ground conditions.
Buninyong, with a good home ground and facilities, reached the CHFL preliminary finals last season. In such a big league the drop in playing standard can be dramatic – and player like Ottavi could be called up to play on an AFL-listed defender within a week.
VFL clubs must have match-ready players.
Coaches, like Jordan, need to know any player they call up has the right level of match fitness and skill sharpness to match it against full-time professional footballers and the state’s best.
The minimum standard Ottavi can play in this region, when not required by the Bombers, is the Ballarat Football League.
This is the league in which Jordan’s superstar forward status with East Point included the 2006 Henderson Medal (shared with Redan’s Jarrod Edwards), four consecutive Tony Lockett medals as league leading goalkicker.
Jordan has been a captain, coach and decorated interleague player. He knows the Ballarat football landscape.
And he knows what it takes in the VFL.
Ottavi is far from the first player told to reconsider their home club but Buninyong understandably had their hopes dashed after he put pen to paper in a welcome return next season.
Buninyong now just has to trust this will be for the best in the long term.
Only in the past four seasons, clubs have had potential for in-season access to their VFL players at North Ballarat. The Roosters axed their reserves at the end of 2013 moving to a one-team squad, a model all clubs must adopt next season. Until then, clubs had to let players go completely to push their game at the next level.
BFL club Redan had a particularly strong philosophy on encouraging players to achieve the highest level in the game they could and welcoming them back when ready. This sets a strong culture in support and drive.
Redan premiership midfielder Isaac Smith was pushed to the Roosters midway through the 2010 season, initially playing reserves. He finished the season with a VFL premiership and drafted to Hawthorn where he has become a triple AFL premiership player.
It would have been far from easy for Redan to give up a star amid a title defence, knowing he might not playing VFL seniors straight up.
Buninyong might be disappointed but, as a club producing VFL-quality players in a city without a VFL team, this can be a good investment. Just wait.