It was one of the AFL's most controversial experiments - splitting the football community and drawing ridicule from the game's purists.
Yet, one Ballarat Football Netball League club hopes it can kick-start its charge towards a long-awaited premiership.
Melton centred its pre-season around AFLX, a shortened version of football played on a rectangular field.
Introduced as part of the 2018 AFL pre-season calendar before being scrapped a year later, the venture was meant to appeal to a wider audience with teams of eight neglecting defence and launching into all-out goal-fests.
Fully committed, the Bloods even held an intra-club draft before beginning their makeshift competition.
"It gave us something to look forward to," coach Aaron Tymms said.
"We picked a few coaches, who had a draft and picked their own sides. We even had a mid-year draft after the Christmas break.
"There was a bit of banter too. They started their own Facebook page and had a bit of a laugh about it.
"We had a grand final day and had a couple of beers afterwards with trophies, medals and all that sort of stuff.
"We had a bit of fun with it, which was good."
There was a method behind Melton's left-field move.
Tymms said he was wary of running his charges into the ground for no reward.
"We just tried to make pre-season as fun as possible because we had a massive (pre-season) the year before," he said.
"It was probably the biggest one I had in the three years I've been at the club, and then it all got shut down.
"We've still done a lot of work (this year), don't get me wrong, but we just tried to make it a little bit more fun because we didn't know if a season was going to get off the ground or not.
"We really didn't want to be flogging the boys and making it a torture sort of thing.
"We think we've done that, and all the boys are pretty keen (for the season)."
THINK MELTON'S PRE-SEASON APPROACH WILL WORK? HAVE YOUR SAY IN OUR POLL HERE.
Melton was not alone in taking a different approach to preparations for the 2021 season.
Redan coach Jarrett Giampaolo trusted that his group hadn't let their fitness levels slip and decided to jump straight to ball work.
"We tried to do a lot of footy-specific stuff straight away. We already had a lot of guys running over the lockdown period, so we were straight into footy stuff," he said.
New North Ballarat coach Brendan McCartney went one step further.
"It hasn't been your normal pre-season, in regards to running and standing around doing basic fundamentals," he said.
"We pretty much jumped into match play and contested ball drills.
"Forever and a day what happens is you can do all pre-season, you can run and be fit, but then when the games start it is a different type of fitness.
"It's high intensity, ballistic, there's contact. You've got to make a multitude of decisions, and the most fatiguing type of exercise you could ever do is high-speed changes of direction with contact.
"That's what we've prepared them for."
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For most, pre-season kicked into gear around early December when contact training was allowed to resume under eased COVID-19 restrictions.
Travis Hodgson, however, had his Sunbury group on the track not long after Victoria moved out of its second lockdown.
The players may have been split into groups and drills severely limited, but the intent was clear.
"We took the approach to go back earlier and just work as hard as we could," Hodgson said. "We just felt having that season off that we're going to be a fair bit behind where we would usually be at that time of the year.
"The boys train with GPS, so we've got a lot of data from our 2019 season, and we're able to monitor where they're at.
"Usually, when they start, they've got that base level of fitness from a full season of footy, and they've had about eight weeks off.
"So, our starting point was a lot further back, but we have caught up. We feel like we're in a position now that we're every bit as fit as we would usually be leading into a season."
Despite the obvious excitement about football returning, not everyone jumped in all guns blazing.
Melton South coach Heath Pritchard was tentative about overloading his players.
"It's a little bit tricky because the inclination would be to get involved really (early)," he said.
"Obviously, the players were keen, but you've got to understand it's a long season. The last thing you want to be doing is hitting your peak in June or July rather than August or September.
"I think some clubs have probably gone harder during the pre-season than others.
"I guess the correct way of going about it will be found out through the season."
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