Crisis-hit Benalla Saints are considering a return to the Ovens and Murray in a bid to keep the club alive.
Decimated by mass departures and struggling to recruit, the Saints may fold in the coming weeks unless a solution is found to bolster playing numbers in both football and netball.
Benalla president Lloyd Johnson insisted all options were on the table, including a switch back to the O and M after 24 years in the Goulburn Valley league.
"That would certainly be on the table if it made it more attractive to players," Johnson said.
"All options are open.
"We haven't had any communication with the O and M through the couple of years of COVID because it's been too hard to plan but over the next couple of weeks, there will be discussion around that.
"If that was a way for the next couple of years and it was going to set the club up for stability going into the next five or 10 years, that would certainly be discussed."
The door for Benalla's return has been left open by Ovens and Murray chairman David Sinclair, although he stressed the league wasn't actively pursuing the Saints.
"They're a former O and M club and most of their history is with the Ovens and Murray football league so if that's a path they wanted to go down, we'd be more than happy to try to facilitate them coming back into our competition," Sinclair said.
"They'd be welcomed back with open arms."
Time, however, is running out for Benalla to find a suitable rescue package.
"We've got three to four weeks and if we haven't got sufficient numbers, that could be the end of the club," Johnson admitted.
"We all know that to field a senior and a reserve side, you've got to have 45 players and right at the moment, we've only got 25.
"If Benalla doesn't survive, you've got no under-18 football (locally) and you end up with two clubs in the Ovens and King league that have no thirds so it's vitally important.
"It's a big part of the community, it's a big part of many people's lives and we can see that on game day.
"We see it during the week once the season kicks off, it's a massive part of the community."
Benalla played in the Ovens and Murray league from 1922 to 1930, rejoining the competition in 1946 and staying until 1997.
The reluctance of players to commit because of the impact of COVID on the last two seasons was one of the major factors Benalla cited as contributing to their plight.
"I was shocked but not surprised that a football club is having trouble finding players in the current climate," Sinclair said.
"Benalla is probably the first but won't be the last that it's going to be an issue for given the two years we've had.
"There's going to be a lot of players that would normally be playing football who have done other things for the last couple of years and may not come back to the game.
"Anything that can be done by either a league or any of the AFL Goulburn Murray or AFL North East Border to assist these clubs, needs to be done to ensure the survival of great clubs like Benalla in a fantastic competition like the Goulburn Valley league."
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The Saints have been flooded with messages of support but Johnson stressed that actions, not words, would keep them afloat.
"Many players who have left the club have made the comment 'I will be back in a year or two' but unfortunately, the club may not be here for their return," he said.
"Once a club is gone, history tells us they do not come back.
"Please do not sit back and say in a couple of years 'I should have gotten involved' as it will be too late.
"We need players and we need them now.
"I played under-18s with the club when it was in the O and M.
"I know where the football sits in Benalla and how important this club is, that we do get it right.
"We're looking at all options because we need this club to survive."
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