By Rob Popplestone
IF THERE is one thing that has become obvious in recent weeks, maybe even recent months is that we all should expect the unexpected.
Without even realising it, the season is more than halfway over and each and every club are currently facing more challenges than normal as they prepare to return to the field after a month on the sidelines.
Planning with this in mind for the MGFNL and its 13 clubs has been front and centre of its thoughts, but still, there remains a degree of uncertainty as we look to the recommencement of the 2021 season, this weekend.
As it stands “today”, round 11, after the cancellation of rounds eight, nine and 10 due to the outbreak of COVID-19 should look like this:
* MDU v Foster
* Boolarra v Toora
* Morwell East v Hill End
* Tarwin v Newborough
* Stony Creek v Fish Creek
* Mirboo North v Thorpdale
* Yinnar (bye)
It was only 18 months ago that East Gippsland were devastated by fires, and a little more than 12 months ago that the world was confronted with a virus that until this day, is still seeing us wrestle with almost every part of our life, community football in Mid Gippsland just a small but not insignificant part of this, and of course in the past week, floods and the lack of communication, and power have hit most of Mid and South Gippsland, adding to the cocktail of unexpected hurdles confronted by all clubs.
After a season lost in 2020, three weeks lost in 2021, has all clubs on edge and eager to not only recommence, but also complete the 2021 MGFNL season, but still there remains some uncertainty, that the league is aware of, but unable to influence.
The most pressing issues, even less than a week before round 11, are, will the restrictions around metropolitan Melbourne be lifted, if not how will those many players that reside in that area, but travel weekly to play with their respective MGFNL clubs participate?
The likelihood is that they will be lifted to allow travel, training and play but another, equally pressing problem anticipated is crowds. Will the number of spectators allowed to the planned matches continue to be restricted? And, if so, how will clubs justify playing and for that matter, paying their players if no income can be generated by admission and the sale of food and beverages?
On Sunday this week, during a media conference at Traralgon, the Acting Premier James Merlino gave no guarantees, but did offer hope of a return by crowds.
“We want to get crowds back to netball and football and also to theatre productions and the like but I don’t want to be announcing that now. By later in the week, my expectation is we will be in a position to be announcing a further easing of restrictions in regional and metro areas,” Mr Merlino said.
Still a further problem has popped its head up in the past few days, and this is that many clubs within the Mid Gippsland competition have had no power and or phones, meaning communication with players and volunteers, has, in some cases, been non-existent.
All of this, on the back of an unexpected month-long loss of football in the middle of the season!
What the coaches said
The coaches are doing their best to lead their sides back to the field.
- Sam Davies, Foster coach: “We won’t really know how it has affected us until game day, I think. Obviously, we were starting to gel as a group and play quality footy, so hopefully, it doesn’t take long to get back into the groove. We have a dedicated group and strong numbers. It’ll be fantastic just to get community sport back and going across Victoria, as it’s an integral part of all communities.”
- Boolarra Coach, Tony Giardina: “We have had no power here for three days and no phone service until now, and that’s all of South Gippy. I’ve actually been trying to keep the cattle safe in recent days but can’t wait for footy and most of the boys are keen. We have only trained once as the ground has no power.”
- Fish Creek coach, John Danckert: “We were not scheduled for a bye until round 13, so definitely a freshen up for us is handy. Training as a group has been difficult with the lockdown, but the boys are jumping out of their skin to get back into it. We still have no power in Fish Creek and very sketchy phone and internet service.”
- Josh Taylor, coach of Mirboo North: “We had the bye in round seven so it means a month off footy. The positive is we have a full squad back for selection. The negative is the month off. We have prepared ourselves the best way possible with three practice matches plus another against Leongatha. We expect a big six weeks honing in on the top two.”
- Peter Harris, MDU coach: “The boys set their own expectations during the break, and they have met them exceptionally well. They should be proud of the work they have put in and will be ready for next week’s return to footy, which is a huge challenge for us against one of the form sides in the competition.”
- Peter Ainsworth, coach of Newborough: “It hasn’t affected us too much, but the boys are keen as for this week’s return.”
- Mike Santo, Hill End coach: “Not sure how it’s affected us yet, hopefully it doesn’t affect our momentum, looking to build for finals now. It’s been a good chance to get blokes healthy.”
- Daniel Taylor, Yinnar coach: “Unfortunately we have the bye this week, which means five weeks between matches, which isn’t ideal. On the positive side, we had a lot of injuries leading into the break, so we should be nearly full strength by round 12. The boys are keen and ready to go.”
- Devon Soutar, Morwell East: “Following a pitiful display in our most recent game, the break has given us the opportunity for plenty of honest conversations, to really narrow down on what we want to stand for this season. On return we draw some of the best in the competition, which is exactly the way we want it.”
You get the feeling that those clubs that remain, positive, agile and a very tight group will be those that rise as the pressure around them builds.
In fact, hasn’t the AFL had to deal with pretty much the same problems, not knowing week to week, where they may be playing, how long they may be away from home, and whether there would be another round of footy week to week.
Brendon Gale the CEO of Richmond said at the launch of the MGFNL season back in April, that as satisfying as their first premiership was in 2017, winning in 2020, with all of the unknowns that swirled around the Tigers and all teams in the AFL during the year, made it stand out from the rest, it showed just how strong they were.
Coaches are confronted weekly with unexpected and quite diverse challenges, like injuries, players’ weddings, the arrival of babies, wet and windy conditions, maybe even poor umpire decisions and that is in “normal” circumstances.
Right now a few more challenges have been thrown in the mix and it will be those that “expect the unexpected” and have contingencies in place that will perform best.
The message from the MGFNL is: “Support your local football and netball club.”