Northies vote to leave BFL, board weighs up options
By Richard Jones
North City opted to leave the BFNL in late 2007 after just two years competition footy here with their aim to join the Ballarat league.
The proposed move created all sorts of problems, not just for the BFL board but also for the member clubs of the Ballarat league.
As Christmas closed in in late 2007 the BFNL was desperately searching for a 10th club as they were pretty sure the Northies would be leaving.
Then BFNL chairman Damian Drum said the league desperately wanted to retain North City as they’d originally planned on staying a full decade: 10 seasons.
“But if we’re unsuccessful then we’ll search for a replacement club,” he said.
“It’s one of those issues where we’re extremely keen to firstly hold North City but if they want to go back to the Ballarat league and are successful in their endeavours there’s no point in forcing them to play in Bendigo,” he said.
And while Mr Drum and his team were trying to sort out the North City conundrum a draft draw for 2008 had been released.
A start date of April 5 was on the drawing board with the opening round to be played over two weekends on April 5th and 11th: a split round.
The grand final was scheduled for the weekend of the AFL preliminary finals, a week earlier than had happened with the 2007 Big Dance.
By early December that year the majority of clubs of the Ballarat Football League had submitted their opposition to North City’s application to join.
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic. The clubs were split.
Four of the city-based Ballarat clubs – East Point, Ballarat, Lake Wendouree and Sebastopol --- were opposed to the move.
Then reigning premier Redan was “sitting on the fence” while four of the five eastern bloc clubs were supportive of the Northies’ admission.
These were Darley, Melton, Sunbury and Melton South while Bacchus Marsh --- like Redan --- hadn’t committed to a position.
With all the turmoil among the Ballarat league clubs the BFNL had in early December endorsed North City’s bid.
As we all now know North City’s application to join the Ballarat league for the 2008 season was successful.
But severe restrictions were placed on their entry. These related to player payments and player recruitment, particularly from current Ballarat league clubs.
The Northies improved from a poor first two seasons in their home league --- as they’d done in their second and final BFNL season after a winless opening year --- and ended up winning Ballarat flags in 2013 and 2014.
If the Northies’ decision to try and find a place in their home city’s league was tough, consider the position of then newly-appointed coach Aaron Clark.
In the same week as the club’s bosses decided to seek entry into the Ballarat league they announced Clark’s appointment as the new playing coach.
Originally from Warrnambool the new coach had spent the preceding five years (2003-2007) playing for the North Ballarat Roosters in the VFL.
He’d been Roosters’ vice-captain in 2005.
As well as service with the senior North Ballarat side Dean, 26, had also played VFL footy with Carlton and the Box Hill Hawks and had spent 1999 with the Geelong Falcons in the TAC Cup.
Following on from the year with the Falcons Clark had done pre-season training with Richmond in 2000.
When his VFL schedule allowed Clark had actually played for the Northies in the BFL. He’d turned out for North Ballarat against South Bendigo during that 2007 season.
Clark said at 26 he still had “plenty of good footy left in me.”
“I’ve played in every position on the field except the ruck and I think I have the requirements and skills to put my knowledge to the North guys and help to fast-track them,” he said.
The Northies won their first senior BFNL match on June 16th 2007.
After 24 consecutive losses, including no wins at all in debut season 2006, the Northies trounced Kangaroo Flat 21.10 (136) to 8.6 (54) leaving the Roos winless in the cellar.
North City had nine goalkickers with 16-year-old Daniel Ross-Smith nailing four (all in the first half) while Dyson George also slotted four, including three in the third stanza.
Strathfieldsaye turned down the chance to join the BFNL until their multi-million dollar sports facility had been completed.
Indeed, just before Xmas back in 2007 the talk was that the Storm wouldn’t join the BFNL at all.
The decision wasn’t going to be made until early 2008 about which league the new club would affiliate with.
Club president Ray Patterson said either the Heathcote or Loddon Valley leagues could be his members’ preferred options.
“Without someone coming in with a truckload of money, realistically I’d say the BFL wouldn’t come into the mix.
“From the people we have spoken to we need to go out and test the waters first.
“I would hate to see us go into the Bendigo league and be flogged by 20 goals every week. That would completely defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve,” Mr Patterson said.
As we all know now with the benefit of hindsight the Storm joined the BFNL for the start of the 2009 season.
And very successfully, too, it must be said.
Five senior grand finals for three flags (in 2014, 2015 and 2017), a Michelsen and Ron Best medallist in Lachlan Sharp and a very strong club membership out at Tannery Lane.
Returning to late 2007 and there were some major changes happening at Sandhurst.
Danny Ellis stepped down as Hurst president after 11 years in the top job, handing over to Kevin Walsh.
Ellis was in charge of the QEO club when they won the 2004 flag, ending a 21-year premiership drought for the Dragons and giving long-serving players Matt and Ben Sexton the highlight of their decorated playing careers.
But he wasn’t disappearing from sight completely.
Ellis was staying on as Hurst secretary a position his wife Kylie had held for the past eight seasons.
One of Danny Ellis’ last major duties was appointing Kieran Nihill as the Dragons’ playing coach for 2008.
And Michael Cornish had been named a week earlier as the Dragons’ senior skipper.
Cornish replaced Wayne Mitrovic (now playing coach of Maiden Gully-YCW) who had returned to his home club, Macorna.
Cornish had won the Dragons’ best and fairest award – the Sandy McPherson-Leo Hartney Memorial Trophy -- in 2006 and finished runner-up to Nihill in 2007.
Into the top Sandhurst job stepped Kevin Walsh. The new president had played 147 senior games with the Hurst and had been a member of their 1981 and 1983 premiership sides.
And that December former BFNL CEO and ex-champion Castlemaine full-forward Steven Oliver had spoken out in support of Geelong’s Nathan Ablett.
In a mid-December article in the Sunday Age Oliver said he appreciated Ablett’s decision to walk away from the big stage, which he’d done, following Geelong’s massive 2007 grand final win over Port Adelaide.
Oliver had been like Ablett, except without the huge family heritage, a country boy with a huge reputation.
Tales of his prodigious goalkicking talents had filtered through to Melbourne from the Maine and in 1987 Oliver was recruited by Carlton with its second selection at the national draft.
He was only 16 but would not play a senior game for the Blues for another five years.
And after another 11 games --- it was now 1993 --- he returned to playing for the Maine with his mates.
“Nathan will get what I got. People will ask how can you turn your back on the biggest game. But you make your decision and move forward.
“I’m sure Ablett didn’t wake up one morning and decide to chuck in his footy career.
“He would have asked and consulted the people he respects and values and at the end he’s made his decision. He has to be happy with it and move on,” Oliver said.