NOTWITHSTANDING the COVID hiccup this week, football and netball in the local area is picking up a head of steam with little more than a month to the kickoff.

And clubs that some might have expected to struggle are well and truly in the mix.

Here’s the first instalment of our pre-season club round-up:

One club that’s “absolutely flying” towards the new season is the Tarwin FNC, regularly getting 30 senior players to footy training on a Monday night, 20-plus on Wednesday and looking forward to the new season and new league ahead.

“I can’t remember a year when we’ve been attracting these numbers to training at this stage so it’s good,” said president Tom Williamson.

“There’s record enrolments at the primary school so you can see growth continuing for the next five years,” he said.

The club will be fielding Seniors (Mark Garnham) and Reserves (Tom Giroud/Nick McRae) and while they won’t have Under 18s in the first year in Mid Gippsland, they’ll be building up to that with Under 15s, 13s and 11s in the Central Gippsland League.

They look certain to have at least three senior netball teams; A, B and C plus juniors but a fourth team is possible if numbers pan out.

The club is also looking forward to having the new playground in place by round one; a project by the recreation reserve committee with support from the user clubs including bowls, frisbee golf, pony club, and football/netball boosted by $20,000 from the Bald Hills Wind Farm.

Even after a season off because of the pandemic, COVID-19 is still playing havoc with preparations for the 2021 season. At Foster FNC they were supposed to have their annual general meeting this Wednesday to select a new president with Mark Prain due to step down as president but that’s up in the air now after the snap Victorian shutdown.

“We’ve started training on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Foster and Wednesdays in Melbourne and while we have lost a few from our 2019 premiership team, we have gained some others but it’s pretty hard to line it all up at this stage,” said Mark Prain.

The club will be fielding Seniors, Reserves and Thirds (Under 18s), plus five or six netball teams and will be supporting junior teams in central Gippsland (Under 15) and southern (Under 13s) as required.

“The upgrade of the stadium is the big one this year and is expected to start in the next few weeks,” said Prain.

Football coaches include: Seniors Sam Davies, Reserves Wayne Sparks and Thirds Bill Davy.

Another of the new Mid Gippsland clubs, Stony Creek is looking forward to the season ahead and they’ll have a newly renovated ‘Racecourse Oval’ ready for the start of the new season. Things are coming together fairly well with Jay Accardi continuing as senior coach but with the club looking for a Reserves and Thirds coach after a late change in personnel. They could also do with some more Under 18s, 15s and 13s to fill the ranks.

“There’s plenty of kids around but getting them motivated enough to play is the issue,” according to club media liaison officer Josh Brown.

The club has a practice match against Churchill on March 27 at Churchill lined up and expects to be training on its own oval in the next few weeks.

Training has been in full swing on Mondays and Wednesdays while summer sports are continuing.

The netball is in particularly good shape with five teams confirmed and a likely sixth (Under 13s) if Mid Gippsland goes that way.

The order has gone in for the new club jumpers updating sponsors on the back and including a number, for the spectators on the front but even with Foster coming into the Mid Gippsland League this year, Mirboo North will still wear the traditional Tiger sash throughout season 2021.

“We haven’t always been a club to attract huge numbers early in the pre-season, they know how to go about getting success, but you’re definitely seeing bigger numbers and a lot more enthusiasm at this stage in the season,” said Senior coach Josh Taylor.
“Yes, really good numbers which is good to see.”

The club has appointed Linc Oddy to coach the highly competitive Thirds outfit, joining the coaching panel of Josh Taylor (Seniors), and Brent Harriage and Ben Steortebetker (Reserves).

Training has been Mondays and Wednesdays (obviously off this week) but there will be an intra-club match this Friday if the restrictions are cleared.

As usual, the strong Mirboo North netball group is back in training, under head coach Ebony Best, and are shaping up again as very competitive.

Mirboo North has its first practice match at Mirboo North against Glengarry on Friday evening, March 26, under the lights.

Fish Creek Football Netball Club was supposed to have their season launch last Saturday but officials had to hit the phones and post messages to say it was all off after the snap COVID lockdown across the state.

Many players also usually kick off the season with the Waratah Bay Fun Run but that didn’t go ahead this year again either so it has been a slightly disjointed preparation to date.

But according to senior coach John Danckert, numbers have been good at training on Tuesday and Thursday nights and the club looks to have had net gain in playing numbers.

“We’ve lost a few since 2019 but we’ve probably gained more than we’ve lost so we should be in pretty good shape there,” said Danckert this week.

One of the players welcomed back by the club this season is Ethan Park who won the best and fairest at Mt Eliza while playing there in 2019. He’ll slot into the line-up perfectly in the new league.

“There’s a lot of excitement within the club for a new challenge which I imagine is the same at the other clubs as well,” said Danckert.

The club has a practice match lined up for Saturday, February 27 although some changes might need to be made there as well.

The netball section of the club is also flying at the moment with good numbers and the prospect of using a new facility in 2021.

Fish Creek is due to host Tarwin at Fish Creek on Saturday, April 10.

The level of excitement about going into a new, bigger competition is palpable out at Meeniyan where numbers at training locally and in Melbourne have been excellent and there’s been a net-gain on the recruiting front.

Senior coach Pete Harris has been delighted with the level of interest from both players and supporters as the countdown towards the two practice matches on March 20 (Yarram at Meeniyan) and March 27 (YYN at Meeniyan), continues.

“We’ve been adjusting our days of training to suit but regularly getting mid-20s at Meeniyan and the regular 7/8 in Melbourne,” Harris said this week.

“It’s definitely the interest in the new competition that’s driving it, 13 clubs instead of six, and where we might sit in that structure. Playing the former league premiers of 2019, Yallourn Yallourn North on March 27 should give us some idea where we are.

“The travel isn’t a concern for us, heavily outweighed by the level of interest in the new, bigger competition.”

Also of interest at MDU is that junior training, for Under 18s and Under 15s, starts on Thursday, February 25 from 5pm-6.30pm with the club placing a big emphasis on juniors this season, both football and netball.

Anyone wanting a game of netball can contact Wendy on 0400 534 694.

As good as the footy list looks at Toora ahead of the start of the season, a lot of the excitement at Magpieland revolves around the netball courts at the moment where the club has recruited strongly at the top-end and has great numbers right through the senior and junior teams.

There should be tremendous interest there for supporters in the new look 2021 season.

The football teams look good as well, however, with senior coach Luke Manders, reporting on a stronger list in 2021 and plenty of enthusiasm on the track. They’ve added Daniel Mock from Killy-Bass and a handy selection of players from the Peninsula leagues to an already promising list.

They’ve been training on Monday and Wednesday nights but will soon switch to Tuesday/Thursday. Practice matches include Gormandale on Saturday March 27, also the club’s big feature draw day.

Reserves Coach is Jamie Maurilli-Pullin.

It’s altogether a very healthy scene for the Alberton clubs preparing to enter the Mid-Gippsland league, starting April 10.