THINK BIG Ballarat was the catch-cry when The Courier led a community campaign to redevelop the then-Eureka Stadium and bring AFL to Ballarat.
Exactly one decade on, the AFL needs to think big and consider us a league saviour.
The prospect of Ballarat coming to the AFL's rescue has probably seemed unlikely, even the past four years.
From that opening bounce on August 19, 2017, the historic first AFL match for premiership points on our turf, we have been ready.
If the AFL is looking to form a Victorian hub the next few weeks, we deserve to be part of the action.
Mars Stadium is one of only four AFL premiership season venues in this state and we offer an experience you cannot muster at the MCG, Docklands or even Kardinia Park anymore. We offer cosy, boutique.
The AFL can cry COVID all it likes when the camera pans barren stands for low-drawing games in the Victorian hub. But sparsity was so last year. Surely the players deserve more, like a close-up roaring regional crowd in any weather.
The AFL's broadcast partners - ultimately the game shapers - can cry limited crews all they like, too. We have ready-to-go broadcast facilities. Surely ground variation in coverage is only a good thing.
Ballarat has proven it can throw a great AFL party and, thinking big laterally, both our exclusivity in seating and regional distance compared to a venue like the MCG could only mean more people tuning in via television.
Mars Stadium had been bandied about as a venue to host Saturday's Adelaide-Brisbane clash and at the time of writing, this remained a slim possibility. Even if we do not get a call-up this week, we need to demand selection next round.
To be overlooked in a Victorian-only line-up would be a complete insult, not just to the hard work and passion of this city, but for all regional Victoria.
Kardinia Park is, and always will be, a fiercely parochial Cattery in Geelong.
Ballarat's Mars Stadium might be an alternate kennel for Western Bulldogs, and while we primarily remain 'Dog-friendly, we are prepared to share.
In that historic first AFL match, The Courier spoke with regional Victorians who had travelled far from cities like Wangaratta just to see an in-season AFL match in what was still a country town.
Visiting AFL coaches and players to step on Mars have repeatedly praised the surface as one of the league's best - a huge credit to City of Ballarat's ground curators.
All this should not just be brushed aside because staying in Melbourne might seem easier.
Ken Eyres, a man known about town as the Godfather, would fund sporting development with money raised in the city's first bingo games.
The North Ballarat Hall of Famer and Ballarat Football League past president held a dream and worked fervently to set this city on its path to hosting AFL games.
Mr Eyres died nine years before he could see this dream become a reality. But we have seen his dream come true.
Ballarat's Mars Stadium should not solely be a fad toy for Western Bulldogs to play on a couple of times a year. We offer the AFL something highly valuable to help save the game when they, once again, need it most.
- Melanie Whelan is a journalist for The Courier and weekly sports columnist
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