COUNTRY football's professionalism has developed since Michael Barlow's last game in the bush 12 years ago.
The former AFL midfielder is excited to see the changes first-hand when he lines up for North Warrnambool Eagles in the Hampden league on Saturday.
"I think it's probably advanced a little bit in game plans and structures and even having a small amount to do with North Warrnambool over the summer with Adam Dowie and their leadership group, they are pretty well regimented compared to what was the norm back when I played at Shepp United in 2006-07," Barlow told The Standard.
"I probably expected a higher level of professionalism and football knowledge."
Barlow, whose VFL side Werribee has a bye, chose the Eagles as his feeder club because of family connections.
Brother Herb is a former senior player at the club while another brother, Dom, also lives in Warrnambool.
Barlow, 31, played in the Goulburn Valley league before embarking on a VFL stint which ultimately led to a 141-game AFL journey with Fremantle and Gold Coast.
He collected 35 disposals in his final game for the Suns in round 23 last year and re-joined Werribee - the club which launched his career - this season on a two-year deal. Barlow has had an interupted start to the 2019 season and said North Warrnambool was the perfect place to help build his continuity.
"I know I haven't got a lot of football left and having missed a lot of football over the journey as well, I am pretty keen to play as much as I can," he said.
"I missed four weeks in the VFL this year with a broken jaw so I am relatively fresh.
"Before I came down to play for Werribee, I made a decision that in my byes, whether it be one or two games for the year, I'd look to play a game at local level because funnily enough when you're playing at AFL level, that is something you do miss."
Barlow expects to play "70 or 80 per cent" game time for the top-placed Eagles against Hamilton Kangaroos at Bushfield Recreation Reserve.
He said he wanted to build form to take back to Werribee, which is aiming for a finals berth under first-year coach and Port Adelaide premiership mentor Mark Williams.
"We're going quite well, we're 5-3 and fifth on the ladder so we're in a pretty good position," Barlow said.
"I've played four games and I have gone OK without setting the world on fire. It is a slow build for me and this will all be a part of that, getting another game in."
Barlow said he was unsure if his long-term football future included a full season at country level.
"I am looking to either go down the coaching route at state league or AFL level and I have media interest in some stuff that is really gaining momentum at the moment as well," he said.
"I have signed a two-year contract with Werribee and I came out of the AFL thinking 'I want that two-year period to investigate what I want to do'."
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