RIVAL coaches are imploring Portland to stick with the Hampden league.
The Tigers - the closest club to the South Australian border - are considering leaving the Victorian-based competition after 11 seasons.
The SANFL has approached the club about joining either an expanded Kowree-Naracoorte-Tatiara or Mid Southeast competition in 2024 and will hold an open meeting with members, supporters and players at Hanlon Park on Wednesday from 5.30pm.
But Hampden opponents are urging Portland, which played senior football finals for the first time last season, to commit to the major league as they believe it is an important cog.
The Standard spoke to the nine opposition coaches who highlighted strong relationships with Portland.
"I'd clearly love Portland to stay. I think they've been a great addition to the league," Koroit coach Chris McLaren said.
"We've always had a great relationship with Portland. We used to play them in practice games every year before they joined the Hampden league.
"We have met a lot of good fellas and people over there."
New Warrnambool mentor Dan O'Keefe praised the way Portland conducted itself as a club too.
"We loved going over to Portland in round one and what the club did for us," he said.
"We had a past players' bus go over there and they really looked after us."
South Warrnambool coach Mat Battistello echoed the sentiments.
"We like going over there to play them and we think they go about it the right way as a club," he said. "We really want them to stay."
Cobden co-coach Dan Casey was sympathetic to the Tigers' plight, saying they might feel left out as the furthest club west of the league's base.
"You can understand where they're coming from," he said.
But rival coaches are aware of the issues the Tigers face geographically - they're four hours from Melbourne and three from Geelong - which makes it hard for them to retain and recruit players.
Many of its brightest stars, who live and study in Geelong, opt to play for a club there as a six-hour round trip to play for their home team is too onerous.
"I can see why they want to head that way (to South Australia) a little bit with the (player) numbers they lost this year," Hamilton Kangaroos coach Hamish Waldron said.
"But with what they've approached them with it is going to be a fair bit of travel, they're saying Keith could be the longest one.
"For us here it is three hours which is a long way to go and play a game of footy."
Camperdown and Portland are more than 170 kilometres apart.
"We are the furthest (from there) - two hours - and yes it is a long way but it's once a year. It's just part of it," Magpies coach Neville Swayn said. "It's hard to recruit because everyone has to go through Warrnambool if they're trying to draw that way. We reckon it's hard to recruit from our end (an hour from Geelong) but it would probably be harder for them."
Port Fairy coach Dustin McCorkell said location was a challenge many clubs faced. "I understand they have a fair bit of travel every second week but I suppose that's just where Portland is," he said.
"They are probably going to be travelling whatever comp they play in.
"They have always been a really strong footy club. I think if the club remains strong it can certainly be a force in the Hampden league if they keep at it."
North Warrnambool Eagles mentor Adam Dowie said "Portland has to do what Portland thinks is the right thing to do".
"They're not getting players travelling back from Geelong - and I think that was part of the reason they joined the Hampden league," he said.
On the flip side, coaches say it's important for a regional city of 10,000 people such as Portland to have a club feature in the highest standard of competition available.
"I see no reason from a performance perspective why they'd want to leave a div one comp," Battistello said . "Would you really want to step back to a lower league for the town? I think that town probably needs it (a major league club)."
McCorkell said it was important players felt challenged.
"The Hampden league is such a good, strong country footy league I think a town like Portland will continue to strive to play at that level," he said.
"If you drop back a level, your elite players may possibly want to go somewhere else.
"I think it's such a good competition, it would be a shame if they did go anywhere else."
O'Keefe was hopeful a town of Portland's size would benefit from having a major league outfit.
"Ideally we don't lose a club from our competition particularly a one-club town, it's quite a big club," he said.
"But I guess at the same time if there's challenges behind the scenes that we don't know about then clubs have to do the best thing by themselves."
Portland's potential defection would also force a bye in the Hampden league and leave one of Victoria's best country leagues with just nine teams which weighs heavily on many coaches.
Swayn said the decision "shouldn't just be based around performances" as success ebbed and flowed.
"We need at least 10 clubs in our league to be a major league," he said.
"The bye is not a bad thing but I just don't think nine teams is enough."
Dowie coached in the Hampden league before Portland and Hamilton Kangaroos joined from the Western Border competition in 2013. He said it was a battle when there were only eight teams.
"As a Hampden league person it's a real worry to only have nine teams in the competition and only four games a week," Dowie said.
"If you want to be classified as a major league and you only have eight (or nine) teams in your competition, you have a final five and only have three teams miss out, I don't think that's great."
O'Keefe agreed, saying "to have an odd number would be challenging".
"I am not sure if there is a way where another club could come in if they did go," he said.
"I have some sympathy for the club but selfishly would hate to lose them.
"You'd hate to drop below 10. You don't want to be playing a team three times in a home-and-away season. It gets a bit monotonous."
Hamilton is also a one-club 10,000-strong town.
"I hope they don't go. It's a good strong league at the moment," Waldron said.
"Clubs spend a bit of time down the bottom and unfortunately it's Portland and Hamilton who are down there at the moment. It turns around."
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