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By Russell Holmesby

The Bentleigh Football Club and St Pauls Football Club achieved something in 2003 that in many ways is more rare than a premiership.

The clubs merged their respective under-19 sides and the union went off without a hitch. So smooth was the under-19 merger that both senior clubs had no hesitation in announcing this week that they will field a merged side to play again in the VAFA in 2004.

St Pauls’ senior side plays in the Southern Football League and Bentleigh is in the Victorian Amateur Football Association.

As neighbouring clubs there has always been a keen rivalry between the two especially when they were competitors in the SFL.

But old antagonisms were cast aside last season and the side improved as the year progressed. With a six game winning run at the end of the year the team missed the finals by just one win.

A minor registration discrepancy saw the team stripped of a win that would have earned it a place in the finals.

But the Bentleigh-St Pauls combination could gain some satisfaction from beating eventual premier St Bedes Mentone in the final round.

The coaching of Mick Lee and Geoff Brew bore fruit in the closing weeks and there were also some final individual playing efforts. Next year the team will draw on players from last year’s Bentleigh and St Pauls under-17s, but experience has shown that injuries, work requirements and promotion to the seniors means that a list of 35 players is needed.

There will still be plenty of spaces available for new players wanting to join the team. (Contact 0418 103 595 for details). Players must be born after 1 July 1984.

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