WHEN footballers step onto pristine grounds this weekend, it seems a world away of what it was like just 10 years ago.
During the last big drought of 2006-08, the region’s sporting grounds were essentially dust bowls which turned into mud heaps once winter set in.
Many teams had to move home games until grounds became softer out of genuine safety concerns for players.
The first six rounds were moved to grounds in towns like Sunbury and Melton.
But just 10 years later, and despite another dry summer, grounds are in as good a condition as they’ve ever been thanks to new drainage, surfaces and drought proofing.
Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh said when she looks back over the last decade, she is proud of what the City of Ballarat had achieved in fixing up its ovals.
“We suffered the consequences of 10 years of drought, but what that did, was give us a focus,” she said.
“As a result of that, we came up with a great strategy that mapped out the appropriate individual requirements of the ovals.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but we have a schedule of how we can spread across the municipality. This approach allows us to see the gap, and its very clear to us the areas we still need to work on.”
Federation University Associate Professor of Health, Sciences and Psychology Dara Twomey, who specialises in human movement and sports sciences including injury prevention, ran a study at the time on the correlation between hard grounds and injury.
“The danger of hard ground will always be with traumatic head injuries, but the other thing that came through was chronic injuries what most people know as things like shin splints,” Professor Twomey said.
“Back then we tested the fields every Friday and then we collected the injury data from the clubs. What we saw was it wasn’t the trauma injuries as players tended to avoid those areas or not tackle as hard, it was more because of inconsistencies across the grounds.
“The other thing we noticed is that when the grounds became too soft, you would get more facial injuries like broken noses, often from players sliding in to one another.”
Professor Twomey said she was thrilled with how grounds now looked, but now sees increased participation as the next issue that could arise.
She said it crystalised in her mind the importance of synthetic and hybrid ovals.
“You get about three times the amount of play on a synthetic field,” she said. “Hybrid systems, where you inject synthetic fibres into the grass are becoming increasingly popular.
“Full synthetic turf is good for training and overflow, but at this stage haven’t taken off for competitive use.”
Central Highlands Water also played its part General Manager of Customer and Community Jacqueline O’Neill said.
“In 2008, Ballarat Superpipe was a crucial project for Ballarat, securing the future of water supply to the Ballarat system,” Ms O’Neill said.
“The Superpipe has not only provided security of supply to residents but increased growth and green spaces to the region.
“Opportunities have been created for recycled water to be used at Ballarat Grammar and Wendouree Primary School ovals.
“CHW also provides alternative supplies to several ovals within the city, including City Oval, Northern Oval and Wendouree Oval.”