HAMPDEN will have to overcome a road trip of more than 490 kilometres to achieve its mission of climbing into country Victoria’s top four football leagues.
The venue for sixth-placed Hampden’s country championships clash against fifth-ranked Ovens and Murray (O&M) has been finalised with the game to be played at Wangaratta.
Hampden Football Netball League chief executive officer Mike Farrow yesterday revealed the showdown was likely to be played as part of a double-billing with a TAC Cup under 18 match between the Murray Bushrangers and Sandringham Dragons at Wangaratta Showgrounds on May 24. Farrow said the HFNL had negotiated the venue with O&M, which had looked to play the game at its premier venue at Lavington, north of Albury.
“It will save us an hour drive there and back meaning we save two hours of driving by having it in Wangaratta,” he said.
Farrow said that while the finer points of the fixture were yet to be resolved, they were planning on the TAC Cup game being played at noon, instead of its traditional 1pm starting time, followed by the country championships clash.
“We would start a bit later than normal, about 2.45pm, but at least we would be playing in front of a crowd,” he said.
Farrow said the league had already ruled out taking an under 18½ representative side because of the cost involved in transporting players to Wangaratta.
He indicated the league was planning a one-off showcase of the league’s under 18½ players later in the season but the details were yet to be finalised.
HFNL coach Nick O’Sullivan is far from pleased his side will have to travel so far.
He said Hampden had played its home game against O&M at the neutral venue of Carlton’s Princes Park in 2012 so both leagues had similar distances to travel.
“I reckon they should have reciprocated,” O’Sullivan said.
“We helped them out a few years ago, I reckon they could have done the same thing by us.
“It seems they get their own way a fair bit.
“I reckon we could have fought a bit harder but we have to get on with it now.
“We’ll just have to grin and bear it.”
O&M’s past two country championships matches have been on the road, suffering a 45-point loss to Mornington Peninsula Nepean last year at Princes Park after humbling Hampden at the same venue 12 months earlier.
O’Sullivan said his players would travel north on the Friday and stay overnight.
“It might be a blessing in disguise. They might be a bit comfortable and we sneak a win. It’s our big chance now to make the top four,” he said.
“It’s our second chance in three years to have a crack at them.
“There are blokes in our league who are equivalent to their players. You forget the calibre and talent they have and approach it as another football side — each player has two arms and two legs.”
O’Sullivan, lining up for his fourth year as interleague coach, is sticking to his successful approach of meeting all club coaches in the pre-season to involve them in the program and help garner enthusiasm for representative footy.
They will meet before the end of the month alongside his assistants Andrew Foster, Shane Threlfall, Kevin Russell and runners Brett Taylor and Jason Conheady.
The process worked last year when Hampden thumped Sunraysia by 94 points and in 2011 when it ended a country championships drought with a 69-point triumph over Murray at Shepparton.