By LIAM DURKIN
PLAYERS, coaches and essential staff will feel like VIPs in the Gippsland League this weekend.
History looks set to be made, albeit for all the wrong reasons, as the gates will be slammed shut to spectators and supporters wanting to see their team in action.
Just how much of an impact the no-crowds factor has on the games themselves remains to be seen, although there can be little to no doubt the absence of fans will make a difference.
Given it is only natural for the mind to wander when not as many people are watching an activity, defensive structures particularly could be down this weekend.
As crowds contribute greatly to the sense of tension usually felt by players when the ball is inside the oppositions attacking 50, there may well be a reduction in intensity or the demand players feel for aggressive defending.
Visiting teams could be the beneficiaries this weekend, as without a parochial home crowd the feeling of being in enemy territory simply won’t exist.
Most Gippsland football followers and players dread going to at least one venue due to the opposition supporters making it seem as though the home team has an extra player at times, but with them out of the equation, it balances out to 18 on 18 with three umpires.
The day will also present challenges never before seen for those who thrive on the energy and adrenaline of playing in front of a crowd and love nothing more than turning to the bar after a goal.
While another restart has frustrated all involved in local football and netball, the fact that the end of the regular season is near means there is still incentive for teams in with a chance of playing finals to remain upbeat.
Regardless of whether or not their team plays finals, the players themselves from all 10 clubs deserve a pat on the back for continuing to front up to what has effectively been three preseasons in 10 months. No playing group in local football history has ever had to deal with the challenges of stopping and starting so many times as the 2020-21 cohort has, and it would be hoped they are remembered for their resilience and dedication in generations to come.
Just three rounds remain in the home-and-away fixture, which will mean a 13 round season by the time the final ladder is put together. Although an equal draw is not possible, 13 rounds is probably the best outcome given it is only five games less than what is usually seen and arguably still constitutes what one would term a ‘proper’ season.
TRARALGON and Moe will renew hostilities.
The Maroons will travel to Ted Summerton Reserve but take home team responsibilities.
There will be no shortage of motivation for players from either team to walk off the ground victorious, as the Traralgon-Moe rivalry has been built over decades and been passed down from generation to generation.
Moe was beaten by a better team in Wonthaggi last game and will want to get back on the winners list.
Traralgon enjoyed a solid fortnight before the lockdown with character building wins and has an opportunity to go in front of their win-loss ledger.
Tye Hourigan was in good touch for Traralgon pre-lockdown, while ball magnet Matt Northe will give the Moe coaching panel plenty to think about.
Moe defender Charlie Rieniets had his hands full last game taking on Troy Harley, and his task gets no easier with Maroons playing-coach Jake Best more than likely his next assignment.
Rieniets should receive support from the likes of Tom Long, Declan Keilty and Ben Maslen.
Foot speed could well be a feature of this match.
Traralgon has livewire Jeffrey McDonald up forward, while Moe has Hayden Prestidge often seen roaming up and down the wings.
The Lions experimented playing Mitchell Stanlake forward before the lockdown, and his ability to thump the ball long distances off one or two steps may prove decisive if entries are a bit shallow. Half-forward Harri Sim has been busy around goals this season with 12 to his name, and has also applied countless pressure acts and sacrificial running to help set up scoring opportunities.
Northe will more than likely be joined by two men with the same first name but different spelling in Connor Ambler and Conor Little in the Traralgon midfield.
The Maroons have no shortage of players to roll through the engine room, with Jackson McMahon or even veteran Mark Collison to help sure things up if the opposition happens to get on top.
MORWELL will be desperate to secure victory when it hosts Bairnsdale.
The Tigers became the first team this season to lose to Warragul last game, and will be out for happier times when the final siren sounds at home on Saturday.
The Redlegs however will be equally desperate, as they have not won a game since the opening round of the season.
With the combatants only separated by one win and one ladder positions, a close game should be on the cards.
Tyler Brown and Josh Galea had been playing well for Morwell, and will want to contribute to a winning performance.
MAFFRA and Drouin meet in a game that could see drastic repercussions depending on the result.
The Hawks sit equal fifth and two wins ahead of the Eagles, who are not quite out of the woods yet as far as finals are concerned.
WONTHAGGI and Sale clash in a game between two top four sides.
After this round every side will have played each other once which should give Sale an understanding of where it sits in the pecking order.
IT will be top versus bottom when Leongatha and Warragul face off.
The Gulls do go into the match with winning form under their belt, but taking on the Parrots away from home will surely be their most daunting task this season.