As Victoria's major cities like Melbourne and Geelong keep growing, sometimes it's to the detriment of our smaller country towns.
The Horsham District Football Netball League is made up of 12 teams that draw from these country towns; some bigger than others.
Of the 12 teams, six are merged clubs that have been forced to do so, mainly because of population decline.
As populations decline so to do the pools of players that these clubs can draw from which has significant impacts on them.
Clubs may not have the same pool of players to draw from that they once had, meaning they have to spend more money and player points to attract better players and fill their list.
Harrow-Balmoral coach Nick Pekin knows firsthand the impact that a declining population has on a club.
According to ABS Census data in 2006 Balmoral had a population of 542 and in 2016 that had dropped to 294. Harrow was listed as having 315 residents in 2011, before dropping to 200 in 2016.
The results are yet to be published for the 2021 Census.
Pekin said recruitment is a "huge issue as clubs are all trying to fish out of the same pond".
Pekin is a fan of the salary cap and player points measures because it "makes clubs chase their locals harder".
"That's our main goal is to always get the juniors back," Pekin said.
"You let them go and spread their wings and and gain insight into the world, but as they're a bit more mature they come back.
"If you look after them right early on they'll look after you when they're ready to come back."
Pekin does admit however that Harrow-Balmoral are "very fortunate" to have a bigger area to draw local players from than some other clubs.
Harrow-Balmoral also have the added advantage of having had recent success.
The Southern Roos have won the last two senior football premierships and played in the grand final the last four completed seasons.
They have also won three of the last seven A Grade netball deciders.
"To have a successful club it does bring others into it," Pekin said.
"I wouldn't say it's easier to retain, but it's a lot harder if you're not as successful.
"You've always got to just keep aiming high and put good people in good positions."
On the other side of the spectrum, Rod Weidemann is Rupanyup's president and said populations declining has meant teams have had to recruit players "from further and further away".
Rupanyup are one of many clubs in the HDFNL who had to recruit numerous non-local players to bolster their list in 2021.
ABS Census data shows that Rupanyup's population has dropped from 624 in 2006 to 536 in 2016.
Weidemann pointed to the effect of population decline on juniors and their quality of sport as a significant impact.
"The biggest impact is around the juniors because you're not getting junior players in from elsewhere so keeping your junior numbers up and strong across the league is not going to be an easy thing to manage going forward," Weidemann said.
In the 2020 HDFNL Under 17 football competition there were big discrepancies among the top teams and the bottom teams.
Edenhope-Apsley and Harrow-Balmoral were the bottom-two sides and both were regularly undermanned against full strength sides.
This resulted in some big margins in games which could lead to discouragement for the losing side and stunting development for the victors.
"Going forward we'll definitely have to look at how we do structure that to get the best for the kids," Weidemann said.
"It's one thing thinking about the club and how the club sits, but is it the right thing for the kids?
"Are they getting the competition that they need to get the football and netball that they need to play."
"In the 17s it's a struggle. Under 14 numbers not too bad I think.
"If the competition could somehow be enhanced it would help our juniors."
Weidemann admits that creating a solution is a "tricky subject".
"The way it's done at the moment the whole family goes to the football netball and there may come to a time where things have to be split up," he said.
"The kids might have to go to another area or there might be less clubs.
"The whole thing's a can of worms, it probably does need some people with some outside thinking to really look at options going forward because it's probably not perfect, but I suppose for the numbers we've got it is."
Even in the Wimmera Football Netball League where teams are based in higher populated towns like Horsham, Stawell and Ararat, there have been negative impacts on sporting clubs associated with changing populations.
Ararat, home to the Rats in the WFNL, according to ABS census data from 2011 and 2016 has increased in population from 8,076 to 8,297.
The age demographic has however changed; the amount of people aged five to 34 (typical age bracket for football and netball players) in 2011 sat at 40%, while this fell to 32.9% in 2016.
According to Ararat Rats president David Hosking, this is something that is noticeable within the community.
"When I was a younger person there was three secondary schools each one of them had a few hundred students," Hosking said.
"Now there are two secondary schools with significantly less younger people in the community and that just simply means that it is harder to fill sporting bodies and sporting clubs."
On top of a somewhat aging population, Hosking is also of the belief that "young people's priorities have changed" from sport.
"The other thing is, I don't like criticising young people and it's not a criticism on them as such," he said.
"When I was a young fellow there wasn't a whole lot else to do except play sport on weekends.
"Young people have a lot more disposable income now and the way they choose to spend their weekends has changed."
"They choose to play sport when it suits them. In the old days you played every weekend because you didn't want to let your team down."
Sporting clubs are an ornament to their communities and are a big part in their area's ability to thrive.
As country populations decline it is always going to place a strain on these towns' sporting clubs and time will only tell the lasting impacts of this.
As seen in the past some clubs may have to fold, while others may have to merge with neighbouring clubs to stay afloat.
However the past has shown us that these communities are resilient and that sport will march forward in one form or another.
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