COMMENT: HENRY DALKIN
Great Western 79.41 (515) def Ararat Eagles 1.0 (6)
It's an eye-watering scoreline and I don't even know where to begin describing the range of emotions I felt when I heard about it.
At first I thought someone was making a joke, especially when I read the Lions piled on 30 goals in the final quarter. That's better than a goal a minute, it couldn't possibly be real...right?
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Unfortunately it's very much real, and it says just as much about the Ararat district as it does about the Ararat Eagles Football Netball Club.
The Eagles have made headlines far and wide for all the wrong reasons these past few years. ABC television dubbed them 'The Team That Never Wins' in 2017 and most recently every news service in Western Victoria had something to say about the Eagles' senior football team forfeiting a match because only a dozen players showed up to play.
It's easy to shrug off the Eagles' struggles as a sign of the times but the issue runs far deeper.
It's time for football people from across the district to put parochialism and bush footy politics aside and work together to keep the Ararat Eagles alive.
Most of the players running around today never played in the Ararat and District Football Association and might not have even heard of it but for 71 years the ADFA was a significant part of Ararat's identity, until reaching an unceremonious end in 1999.
Five ADFA clubs - Caledonians, Miners, St Mary's, Prestige and Trinity - found a way to live on after the ADFA, first through mergers within the ADFA followed by rebranding and rebuilding in new leagues. Ararat United (Caledonians and Miners) joined the Mininera and District Football League while the Ararat Eagles (St Mary's, Prestige and Trinity) competed in the Horsham District Football League for a year before joining the now defunct Lexton Plains Football League.
By 2004, the Ararat Eagles had overcome some early struggles and managed to attract several supporters with deep pockets who helped them woo a number of high profile recruits from the district's top-tier team - the Ararat Rats, a team experiencing their own period of upheaval and uncertainty following an era of significant on-field and off-field success in the Wimmera Football League.
Ararat United on the other hand had not been so fortunate and were forced into recession following a tough 2003 MDFL season.
During 2004 in a last-ditch effort to preserve their history as well as give members, supporters and the last remaining players a place they could call home, Ararat United Football Club made overtures to the Ararat Eagles in an effort to merge the clubs and get them playing in the Mininera league.
I still would have loved to have seen it happen - The Ararat United Eagles: five historic Ararat District Football Association clubs proudly living on and fighting side-by-side to compete in a competition that's been passionately supported by Ararat district residents since 1925.
In hindsight, if we all knew then what we know now, the entire remains of the Ararat teams from the ADFA should have joined forces at the end of 1999 to play in the MDFL. But it wasn't to be.
It's too simplistic to say the Eagles had gotten ahead of themselves by 2004 and developed a hint of arrogance when it looked like they'd managed to put together a winning formula, it's not fair to everyone involved at the club at the time to put it that way...But that's probably how the history books will summarise it 50 years from now.
When the Eagles' club spokesman of the day boldly declared to Ararat Advertiser there was "a snowball's chance in hell" of a merger happening with Ararat United, he might as well have said the Eagles had all the personnel, resources and wisdom required to be successful and to hell with anyone and everyone who were once rivals of St Mary's, Prestige or Trinity back in the ADFA days.
Even more telling was the misguided belief a number of Eagles members held, that the club was more likely to thrive in the Lexton Plains than in the Mininera, despite overwhelming evidence economically, geographically and anecdotally to the contrary.
So Ararat United folded, consigned to the history books, while Ararat Eagles forged ahead utterly convinced they were on the path to success.
By 2008 however, it was was starting to look like the Eagles needed all the help they could get.
The money had dried up, the star players who promised so much and delivered little were moving on, and the club was toiling away in a dying league that no Ararat locals cared about following.
The Mininera league finally became the Eagles' home in 2010 following the collapse of the Lexton Plains Football League but after years playing virtually out of sight in a far away league with no real success to speak of, it was clear the club had developed into nothing more an afterthought for many footballers and supporters in the district.
Now in their ninth Mininera campaign, the Eagles senior football team has won a total of just 16 matches out of 150 since joining the league.
Maybe I'm being too optimistic here but I reckon the Ararat Eagles have well and truly paid the price for a few bad choices along the way and deserve significant help in this time of need.
The folks who have kept this club running on nothing more than the sniff of an oily rag these past few years should be congratulated for digging in and not letting the club die, and it's up to the wider community to make sure their efforts aren't in vain.
There are so many people in the district who fondly remember the Ararat and District Football Association and miss the camaraderie and competition it stirred up in us all. With the Ararat Eagles on their knees in need of desperate help, this is the perfect time for everyone to get behind the club and ensure its survival as a way of paying respect to the footballers, netballers and volunteers who once made the ADFA a fixture in this region for several generations.
You can't tell me there aren't enough experienced football heads in town to help the Eagles navigate their way out of the dark,
There definitely is. Ararat is full of great footy people and has a proud footballing heritage...If the town wants the Eagles to succeed, they'll succeed.
So, Ararat people past and present....What do you think? Should people rally to help save the Eagles? Or is it too late and is the club doomed?
- HENRY DALKIN was an Ararat Advertiser sports journalist from 2004-2007.
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