If, as Irish author Jonathan Swift once wrote, 'vision is the art of seeing things invisible', then Terang Mortlake and Kolora-Noorat football-netball clubs are forward-thinkers.
The two proud clubs on Thursday night revealed they had opened discussions about merging.
To those outside the Terang area, where football and netball are central to the town and neighbouring communities, it might have come as a shock. Kolora-Noorat has been a football powerhouse in the Warrnambool and District league winning five senior premierships between 2009 and 2019 and had COVID-19 not cut short last season, it could have been six. Terang Mortlake, which won three flags between 2004 and 2008, has always been a fierce competitor with a secondary school and two primary schools to draw its talent from.
But officials from both clubs see things that might be invisible to others.
They don't want to see either of their clubs struggle. But since the return of sport after no action in 2020 and an interrupted and ultimately unfinished 2021 because of the pandemic, they are cognisant of the area's population changes and societal shifts.
Sadly, volunteers, the life-blood of sport and community clubs, are dwindling, families are smaller these days so there's not the number of people to draw on, costs of living are rising and dollars to support clubs are likely to be harder to come by. As Terang Mortlake president Matt Clarke said "it's tough going".
That's why the clubs have kicked off talks about the future.
"We are one community and if we continue the way we are, it actually ends up being divisive because we're trying to draw from the same pool of players. You have to draw a line in the sand and say 'now is the time we have to be proactive'," Clarke said.
The clubs are to be congratulated for making the move. It can't have been easy and any potential merger will have its challenges but the football landscape is dotted with examples of proud clubs putting their heads in the sand until it's too late. These two clubs are determined to forge a bright future.
The talks come just weeks after AFL Western District formed a working party to look at the footy landscape because there are clubs stretched across the region struggling in one way or another, some in the short-term, others for years.
Mergers and seismic league restructures have been talked about for years but clubs, officials have found ways to survive. But social, demographic and financial reasons, some hastened by the pandemic, might be the catalyst for wholesale change.
Can Warrnambool continue to sustain three Hampden league clubs and five district league teams? Can the Heytesbury region continue to sustain Timboon Demons, Cobden, Simpson? Can neighbours like Camperdown and Cobden, Koroit and Port Fairy prosper for years to come? Can the Mininera league, which marked its centenary last weekend, remain viable as some clubs seem to be constantly struggling for numbers?
No one wants to see towns lose part of their rich heritages and only those in the inner sanctums can truly answer if the future is bright. Clubs, leagues wouldn't be doing their due diligence if they didn't look to the future.
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