Something strange and wonderful happened in the state of Victoria over the weekend. Just about everybody in the sporting world missed it because they were too busy wailing and gnashing their teeth over the “death of Victorian football“.

As the Demons and Bulldogs succumbed to interstate power teams, even Ron Barassi, a huge advocate of the national AFL competition, was moved to call for an inquiry into why Victorian clubs can no longer keep up with interstate rivals. For the sixth straight year, the premiership is heading out of Victoria.

But while all this was going on, so was something else. Entire staffs of AFL reporters were sitting idle at the major newspapers. Free from the usual AFL finals commitments, they began to roam.

About 140km west of Melbourne is the town of Colac. Having travelled over the Otways from the coast, the Lorne Dolphins (slogan: “We get our kicks on the coast!”) faced their moment of truth in this western town on Saturday afternoon. Lorne had lost four grand finals in the past five years but in 2006 had lured local real estate agent Michael Coutts out of retirement to become playing coach. Lorne had been undefeated all year until it dropped the second semi to Irrewarra-Beeac but now faced that team again in the grand final.

More than 4000 people turned up on a sunny afternoon to watch Lorne’s famous win. Not surprisingly, Monday’s Colac Herald gave the day a huge coverage, including a wrap-around picture spread.

But, guess what? Chloe Saltau, a senior Age sports writer, had also drifted down to Colac and suddenly Lorne’s victory received a full page of the Sunday Age sports section.

On Monday, the Omeo District League premiership received a double page spread in The Age, bumping the VFL preliminary finals to the side. Has a Benambra v Swifts Creek match ever had such a metropolitan following?

Maybe we should embrace the elevation of AFL football to a national, elite level? Victorians are still barracking for their AFL clubs – no longer even pretending to be a suburban venture – while also spending weekends cheering genuinely local teams of amateurs or semi-professionals. As somebody who has watched many Dolphins games at the Lorne oval, with a tinnie in hand and the best view ever from a footy oval as a backdrop, I can tell you there is a lot to like.

Peter Fray

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