IT could well be that one of the Border’s finest hockey hours is the death knell to its place in the elite Victorian competitions.
The Strikers capped off a stellar State League 1 season with two wins at the weekend, finishing nine points clear of its nearest rival at the top of the ladder.
In the past that would have meant automatic promotion into the top tier — the Premier League.
But in the brave new world championed by Hockey Victoria no team can continue in the competition — Premier or any of the state leagues — without a reserve grade side.
Neither the women’s Strikers, nor the men’s Spitfires have the luxury of a second XI.
For those on the Border the reasons are obvious — distance, cost, numbers.
Playing in the State League allows the Border’s hockey talent to express itself at a higher level, showcase the talent on a bigger stage.
This year’s performance from the women is a striking example — raw, talented players with a blend of classy experienced heads demonstrating the strength of hockey here on the Border.
But it is a tough gig.
This year the State League was 22 rounds, four double-header weekends — 11 Saturdays spent on the road to and from Melbourne.
Eight hours up and down the Hume Freeway.
It is two training sessions a week for players who also maintain their ties to club hockey and the additional burden of further training and then playing on Sunday.
For many of these player the Albury and Wodonga hockey centres are their defacto homes — some spending five nights a week at one or both venues.
There is no doubting their commitment but coaches admit it is tough to get a squad of 15 and the necessary extras to cover injuries and other player losses through the season.
Those in the know say finding an extra 15 women and an extra 15 men as a minimum to field a reserve grade side in these competitions is simply beyond the Border.
But Hockey Victoria embarked on its plans several years ago and say Hockey Albury Wodonga has known this was coming for sometime and should have been prepared.
It has suggested the Border link with Shepparton to blend a side in the competition — players travelling between here and the Goulburn Valley, a lazy 2½-hour drive away to train and play.
It seems unless there is a major backflip this will be the last year for the Strikers and Spitfires in the Melbourne-based competition they have been a part of for more than two decades.
Talks are already well advanced with the Canberra league — the potential for only eight games away and finals on a Saturday so as not to disrupt local deciders.
Many say the deal is done, that the association and its juniors will look to the national capital in the future.
But the real question will be whether Hockey Victoria can afford to let them go.
They have a dream of growing the game from 18,000 registered players to 25,000.
At present Hockey Albury Wodonga provides more than 1100 of those players and as impressive a number as it is in its raw state — it is even more impressive when you know there are only 5000 registered players from regional Victoria. That is almost one in four from the Border.
Were they to defect to Canberra it is a big hole in Hockey Victoria’s aspirations and bank balance.
Deadlines for a final decision have come and gone and there is still no word.
But it may be the Strikers success forces the issue to a conclusion.