By LIAM DURKIN
FOOTBALLERS and netballers across Gippsland will be counting down the days like an advent calendar between now and Saturday, August 7, which looms as the most likely date when players will get back onto the field.
Local leagues are holding out for further easing of restrictions between now and August 7.
As has always been the case whenever COVID and local football and netball is concerned, stipulations surrounding crowd numbers and access to change rooms remain the biggest sticking point.
While community sport can technically resume, the fact that it must currently be done behind closed doors makes it impractical for local clubs to operate.
There was renewed hope that players would be back on the field this weekend when Premier Daniel Andrews made his announcement on Tuesday, however, euphoria gradually turned to confinement as the reality of the situation set in.
As clubs are businesses themselves, most of whom work on shoestring budgets, the potential for them to run at a loss is seen as a risk not worth taking. Adding to that is the complexity of putting unnecessary strain on volunteers associated with clubs in policing crowd numbers or those deemed ‘essential’.
Gippsland League clubs met last night where it was decided that senior and junior competitions will resume on August 7.
The Mid Gippsland Football-Netball League has been steadfast in its view surrounding crowds, advocating a ‘no crowds equals no play’ mentality.
A crowd cap of at least 500 people is generally seen as the minimum number required.
There is a sense of familiarity in local football at the moment, as what has happened follows an identical timeline to the previous lockdown in May which saw the season put on hold for three weeks.
In terms of fixturing, exact details were not known by the time The Express was sent to press, however logic would suggest the Gippsland League will adopt a rolling fixture and work it so the next round of matches sees it reach a stage where all clubs have played each other once in season 2021.
The MGFNL wants to complete the last two home-and-away rounds it has in its regular season, while the Mid Gippsland club Thorpdale faces the strange prospect of waiting five weeks to play one game.
The Blues, out of finals contention, have a bye in the penultimate round before needing to roll up the following week just to see out the season.
The North Gippsland Football-Netball League has made the call to abandon the rest of its home-and-away season.
Therefore, the next matches to be played in the NGFNL will be finals.
As the NGFNL season had reached a stage in the last round before lockdown where every team had played each other once, the ladder after Round 11 will be deemed the final home-and-away ladder.
In senior football, that means it is season over for Gormandale, Cowwarr, Glengarry, Heyfield, Sale City and Rosedale.
Clubs still with games to play have wasted no time getting back to training, with Tuesday and Thursday night sessions again on the agenda.
Players have been doing their best to make do in the interim, but will no doubt welcome getting back as a group and not needing to run laps of their local oval with nothing more than street and security lights to illuminate the ground.
With rules surrounding crowds again the main bone of contention, perhaps now more than ever local football and netball has proven it is a game that belongs to the people.