Winning the premiership in the OAFL's premier division is a herculean achievement that requires a multitude of factors falling into place at precisely the right time. There is however one ingredient that has proven key in all 22 premiership recipes so far, and it's not a star Aussie import, super coach or band of Canadian Aussie rules veterans. As they say in real estate, it's all about location, location, location.
The numbers are so clear cut you can put all the teams into clearly defined zones. Around 30 minutes from the heart of footy in Toronto is the premiership zone. If your club is located within this zone it probably already has a premiership flag, 6 of the 7 clubs do. The one that doesn't has made it to the big dance on three occasions. The Conacher Cup has never travelled outside this area in it's entire 22 years of existence. The next zone is located around an hour from the epicentre of the GTA. We'll call it the battler zone. If your club is located here it has a win-loss record of less than 50% over the past five years. In recent times one good year of footy is usually followed by a slide back down the ladder the next. Venture further out, two hours plus and your located in the survival zone. Here the numbers are grim. No team has survived longer than five years in what has become the OAFL's wasteland. A wasteland that is littered with the bones of now defunct clubs the London Magpies and Windsor Mariners.
At the very edge of the OAFL universe, an unprecedented six hours out from ground zero is Montreal. Although still only an OAFL division 2 club the speculation on whether the Saints franchise will enter the OAFL's top tier rages on year after year. The motives behind the young clubs reluctance to roll the dice in division 1 more apparent as the undeniable facts of road warrior teams are slowly unveiled.
There are exceptions to the rule of course. Hamilton were runner-up in '96. And Guelph have had two terrific regular seasons in the past three years despite first round exits in both finals campaigns. Both clubs have had strong 9 win seasons in one of the past two years, the final piece to their premiership puzzle may in fact be the creation of a shared division 2 squad that would help both clubs hopefully maintain momentum on their push for a premiership - not unlike the momentum the Blues have enjoyed and are likely to keep enjoying with their successful division 2 team. But more importantly both teams are also located in the battler zone, not the survival zone.
There is one team that has the unenviable title as sole division one occupant of that survival zone, and yet the Ottawa Swans are likely the best equipped team to deal with the OAFL's uncompromising travel curse. After an expected tough inaugural year that failed to yield a single win. The Swans improvement in 2009 was such that after it's round 11 victory against the Toronto Rebels in just it's second official OAFL year, it was still mathematically in the hunt for a finals position. At that crucial moment when the Swans were ready to thrust themselves forward from pretender to contender they slipped up. Current head coach Chris MacLean was unknowingly handed a leaky ship at the start of the 2010 season. The exit of many of the Swans top line players along with injuries to a few of their stars made even their single victory this year somewhat of an achievement, especially in a season when the team endured many heavy defeats, one in excess of 200 points.
2011's motto for the Swans should be 'All or nothing'. For in the next three years the Swans need to lay down a solid plan that sees the club improve each year and make the finals in year 3. That will be the club's sixth year in the OAFL and a timely announcement that success on the edge of the Ontario AFL's limits is in fact achievable. And maybe, just maybe that the curse of the 'survival zone' is broken.