We need to take our game to next levels | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

ACTION: Players like Bacchus Marsh captain Scott Sherlock, a former Victorian Football League footballers, wear the BFL jumper with pride in interleague clashes. Picture: Dylan Burns
ACTION: Players like Bacchus Marsh captain Scott Sherlock, a former Victorian Football League footballers, wear the BFL jumper with pride in interleague clashes. Picture: Dylan Burns

AFL Victoria is again dangling an impressive carrot to boost interleague football. But the real factor to inject more excitement and enticement in the concept needs to be set at the game’s highest level.

Ballarat Football League has a chance to showcase its best players on the MCG in an AFL Country Game on Saturday. In an exhibition-style contest, the BFL will take on Goulburn Valley Football League in an AFL curtain-raiser to Essendon and Melbourne.

Yet a parochial best-of battle in the AFL has long since petered out.

State of Origin is huge in rugby league but in AFL, what once was a highly emotive clash of legends is now mere folklore that died out, bogged down in the commercial business of the game.

This serves up legitimate concerns in the grassroots where the standard set at the highest levels filters down. Country clubs, like AFL, have good money on the line when it comes to star power. Why should a player risk getting injured or exacerbating a niggle? In a hectic, modern world, why not simply enjoy the weekend’s break to spend time with family and friends or to rest your body?

Why put your body on the line?

To revitalise the whole concept, we need buy-in from the AFL and AFL clubs in some all-star form - even if in an end-of-season special like the American NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

A rebooted International Rules series is hardly the same as the best in the nation pulling on the Big V.

This is the third year of a revamped AFL Victoria Community Championships interleague concept. For those who dare to wear the league jumper, there is strong pride.

LEADERS: BFL coach Shaun O'Loughlin with Sebastopol's Tony Lockyer, a former VFL defender, who will get his first chance to play on the MCG. Picture: Lachlan Bence

LEADERS: BFL coach Shaun O'Loughlin with Sebastopol's Tony Lockyer, a former VFL defender, who will get his first chance to play on the MCG. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Interleague is about training and playing alongside the best in your league against that of another. This is a chance for players to push their games to another level and learn from each other. At the core, what players take back to their club from the experience should help to make the league stronger.

Footballers lining up in the BFL guernsey this weekend have an incredible opportunity many players can only dream about – playing football on the game’s most hallowed ground.

Retired AFL 300-gamer Drew Petrie played his first match at the MCG under lights in year 11 with St Patrick’s College in schoolboys’ MCC-Herald Sun Shield final. It is an experience still so vivid in his memory and hopefully will be just as special for our region’s top senior footballers.

Reflecting in a column for The Courier in 2011, Petrie recounts a largely empty stadium, but this did not matter: “The St Pats’ war cry echoed about the whole stadium...It was a great thrill to jump into the crowd at the end of the match and celebrate with them.”

Undoubtedly the BFL could draw a larger, parochial crowd at home – a prime example will be in Buninyong for the Central Highlands’ clash against Riddell District. But playing at the MCG, as the highest ranked all-country league match, will also be an incredible reward for BFL players who dare to test their game.

If only the AFL would dare to take its game to the next level too.