Mick Malthouse has thrown his weight behind Wahgunyah's survival bid.
The three-time AFL premiership coach will take the Lions for training on May 26 as part of a fundraiser to support the embattled Tallangatta & District League club.
Malthouse will spend that evening in Wahgunyah's rooms holding a Q&A session, stay in the area overnight and then take five raffle winners out for breakfast the following morning.
"It's something that has come out of the blue," Lions president Darryl Hore said.
"For a guy of his calibre to volunteer and say 'I want to come down and help' is unbelievable."
The experience of working with the former Collingwood and West Coast coach will come as an unexpected reward for the Wahgunyah players who have kept fronting up each week despite a series of crushing defeats in the TDFL.
A crippling player shortage left the club facing the prospect of going into recess just weeks before round one and although the Lions did get on the start line, their first five games have been lost by a combined 1607 points.
"Because of the courage they've shown, we've now got people of Mick's calibre saying 'I want to help these blokes,'" Hore said.
"They didn't take the easy option.
"The easy option would have been to forfeit and we were quite prepared to do that but if we did forfeit, we wouldn't have been getting any of this attention now.
"We've done interviews with Seven News, Nine News, Neil Mitchell and Jonathan Brown.
"If the result was 'Wahgunyah forfeited on the weekend', it would have been what it was but because they put their hand up and said 'no, we're going to play anyway' they've now got people going 'they're showing some guts, how about we get behind them and help them out?'"
Hore has been taken aback by the interest Wahgunyah's plight has generated beyond the region.
"It's hard to put into words," he said.
"Moreton Bay Lions, the reserves to the Brisbane Lions, have contacted us saying 'tell us what you need.'
"The net has been cast wide and the ones that are coming back, offering their help, is huge.
"We've got people randomly ringing up or sending messages to our Facebook page, saying 'I've just bought a membership, don't worry about sending the card, please give it to someone who can't afford a membership.'
"These people are saying 'country footy just needs to survive.'
"We might be the poster boys of the underdogs at the moment and that's not what we're after, we're just trying to run the club, but I tell you what, the response has just been amazing."
Support has been growing for the Lions ever since their players refused to forfeit the senior game against a powerful Chiltern side expected to compete for the premiership this season.
The Swans won by 317 points but their coach Luke Brookes made a point of going into the Wahgunyah rooms after the game to encourage the Lions players.
"We 100 per cent sympathise with Wahgunyah and their plight at the minute," Cartledge said.
"We have got the utmost respect for the players and volunteers who front up each week, just so the club can survive.
"The club was COVID-ravaged on the weekend and could have easily forfeited the match.
"But for them to get a side up is a testament to the club's fighting spirit."
Wahgunyah should welcome back some of those absentees for Saturday's trip to Tallangatta, while Hore was hopeful on Thursday evening of being able to name a reserve grade side as well.
Coach Rod Garthwaite and a handful of players have COVID but nowhere near the numbers who were ruled out of the Beechworth game.
"Yes, it was a record score and we've had two of them this year but it's footy - take a bit of the pressure off for a while," Hore said.
"It's a game where the boys can come and play and just forget about the working week for a couple of hours.
"That's what it should be.
"Are they enjoying it?
"Probably not as much as we'd like them to but they're hanging around the club and they're the ones who are actually building the club again.
"I'm the one who's getting all the phone calls and I'll defend the boys against all the negativity.
"In 12 months or two years' time, I want to be sitting over on the fence, having a beer and watching the club go forward without me.
"I just want to know it's still there and that people are there enjoying themselves.
"It's about the community."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.