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THE TEAM behind the surface many AFL players laud as best in the league knows it has to be Ballarat's "bad boys" sometimes.
City of Ballarat's sports grounds curators have remained focused throughout the pandemic to ensure their turf remains in top condition - even on weeks without play.
Sometimes this meant saying no to club training requests or match-day plans in a bid to keep all grounds in good condition for play.
The City's showpiece is Mars Stadium and, with a changing AFL fixture, the team has proven it can be ready for anything.
City of Ballarat sports ground co-ordinator Greg Spratling said the infrastructure was in place, and AFL supports were strong, but the key juggle was managing the workload without completely cutting Mars off from the community.
"We usually only get two AFL games up here, so it's not a big deal with the Rebels and North Ballarat," Mr Spratling said. "We know the ground might cut up if teams train or play on here, but if we're showcasing Ballarat in AFL games we need to be ready."
Ballarat picked up two extra AFL matches - with one transferred late to Sydney amid developing pandemic concerns earlier this month.
Mr Spratling said grounds were made to be played on but the very nature of community sport meant there was the continuous pressure of their work being in the public eye all the time - whether this be Mars Stadium of Sebastopol's number one football oval.
Muddy conditions were not a good look and clubs could be dirty if kept off grounds for training.
During lockdowns, families and friends kicking goals at venues such as City Oval had proved a popular activity. Mr Spratling said this was all part of the challenge in managing a ground because you did not want to discourage or bar juniors from having a kick.
The team manages 64 sporting surfaces, including refurbished soccer pitches at Wendouree West, Victoria Park and Royal Park.
Weather plays a massive role in dictating how the team works.
Mr Spratling said this winter had offered little drying weather and, despite efforts to aerate grounds, too much of any sport created major headaches.
"Even if there's no sport on them, they still take the rain," Mr Spratling said. "We are like the bad boys a bit telling people to stay off and protect the grounds but we're doing it for them."
The extensive preparation work on grounds though, had earned City of Ballarat a strong reputation in elite sporting ranks.
Mars Stadium, while an AFL ground, has also become an alternative home base to A-League soccer club Western United and Super Rugby franchise Melbourne Rebels.
Eastern Oval plays host to Women's Big Bash League matches and in the past has been a training base for BBL men's franchise Melbourne Renegrades.
AFL returns to Mars Stadium on Saturday afternoon with Western Bulldogs hosting Adelaide with no crowd.
Mr Spratling and his team must keep grass height between 22 to 26 millimetres. Ground hardness testing must be submitted to the AFL with readings down the corridor, on the wings and on the synthetic turf about the boundary. Results are approved and sent to AFL clubs for their match preparations.
"We have really good relationships within the AFL, especially the Bulldogs and clubs that have been here and players like Jeremy Cameron (Geelong) or (Brisbane coach) Chris Fagan and (Bulldogs' coaching director) Chris Maple," Mr Spratling said. "It's an enjoyable job and our guys are very passionate about our work."
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