The siren has sounded on yet another footy season. Every year there's plenty to celebrate, winners, achievers, volunteers, community spirit, team work and sportsmanship.
But sadly, more than two weeks after an epic Hampden league grand final was decided by three points, the season isn't over. The game's darker side still has plenty to play out.
This week it was revealed two head-high incidents from the grand final are under investigation. One relates to an alleged hit on former AFL player Michael Barlow, who suffered a broken nose during North Warrnambool Eagles' loss. These investigations take the number to 12 this season. The Warrnambool and District league has had three. The game's custodians - law-makers, leagues, clubs, players - need to recognise the serious blight these incidents have on the sport. The 1970s and 1980s are regarded as the sport's toughest where on-field violence was considered part of the game, adding to the theatre. But community expectations have changed considerably. Violence cannot be condoned in any sport.
Country football clubs are fighting to maintain numbers - a drop-off from AusKick and juniors to senior ranks shows no signs of abating - yet the on-field bruises leave mental scars for would-be players, their parents and supporters. It's a case of the game shooting itself in the foot.
Ending violence is the most critical issue. How can that happen when the game has allowed it and tolerated it for so long?
The Hampden league, so concerned about incidents and the number of investigations, is considering installing security-style cameras into light towers at all grounds.
Such a move would help prosecute incidents. It should also act as a deterrent.
But seismic attitudinal change is needed. It's illegal to hit someone in the street, pub or home so why is it different on the footy field? By dishing out a suspension for a couple of weeks for a hit, the game is saying it can be tolerated. It can't. Penalties need to be tougher, longer so players don't even consider throwing a punch or raising an elbow to injure a rival. It is time to blow the whistle on thugs, the game's up.