By Sam Watson

FOOTY and netball has been called off in Gippsland for the second week in a row, leaving clubs and leagues scrambling to get their seasons back on track.

But AFL Gippsland has assured they will be doing everything to make sure the seasons return as best as possible for everyone.

The option to play under 18s and 16s was available this weekend, but the logistical headaches around draws and the lack of time to prepare saw all leagues choose to wait another week before returning.

Currently AFL Gippsland’s return to play plan is at the mercy of the Victorian government, but discussions are being held about what that return may look like.

The Sentinel-Times spoke to AFL Gippsland regional manager Nic Fogarty about what the future holds for our local leagues.

* West Gippsland FNC

THE West Gippsland Football Netball Competition sits in an extremely difficult situation compared to most other leagues in Gippsland.

Dalyston, Inverloch-Kongwak, Kilcunda Bass, Korumburra Bena, Phillip Island and the Warragul Industrials are all classed as regional Victoria.

But Bunyip, Cora Lynn, Garfield, Koo Wee Rup, Nar Nar Goon and Tooradin Dalmore are all in the greater Melbourne area.

As it stands, the six regional clubs can only train, but they are hoping by next week, round 10, they’ll be able to return playing matches.

But if greater Melbourne follows a similar return to play timeline as regional Victoria, those six clubs may only be able to train come next Saturday.

Which means the league would miss a third round in a row.

It would also mean that even if regional clubs were allowed to play, they would be without their Melbourne players.

Melbournians make up a significant amount of many West Gippsland regional clubs’ senior lists, so they would likely not want to return to play until those players are available.

AFL Gippsland regional manager Nic Fogarty said the league hadn’t received any clarity from the state government on whether senior football could commence next week.

“We can’t even assume that anyone will be playing on Queen’s Birthday Weekend (round 10),” Fogarty said.
“We’re hopeful but we can’t assume anything.”

“If metro comes out of lockdown, they may not be approved to play senior football so there could be a further delay.”

But AFL Gippsland said they would consider anything when it came to re-fixturing the West Gippsland competition.
“There’s nothing off the table; we’ll look at all options.”

Luckily for West Gippsland, the league has a bye weekend scheduled for July 3 and AFL Gippsland said that could be utilised to make up for a lost round.

They also said there was a possibility the finals were pushed back one week, to allow another round to slot in at the end of the home and away season.

Making sure clubs have equitable opportunities in terms of opponents is a concern, but AFL Gippsland is also trying to make sure all clubs get equal revenue opportunities.

“We need to make sure that all clubs are given an equal number of opportunities to raise revenue by having home games,” Fogarty said.

“In the first few rounds there were a couple of clubs that couldn’t have home games because of renovations at their ground, so we don’t want to penalise them either.”

“There’s a lot to consider.”

But at the moment they’re predominantly looking at return to play precautions, so as soon as they get a concrete date on the return of matches, they can start to focus on the rest of the season.

* Gippsland League

UNLIKE the West Gippsland competition, all clubs in the Gippsland League are in regional Victoria, so they’re hoping for the season to resume on Queen’s Birthday weekend.

But, once again, if Melbourne follows a similar pathway out of lockdown it may mean some Gippsland Clubs would be without their Melbourne players.

According to AFL Gippsland, about 70 Gippsland League players reside in Greater Melbourne.

“That’s something we’ve got to definitely consider and assume is going to be a reality,” Fogarty said.
With rescheduling the season, the Gippsland League is also helped by the July 10 bye round that can be used to make up a round.

It was previously suggested that pushing the finals back a week to open up another round would be unachievable as it would mean the AFL grand final would fall on the same day.

However, AFL Gippsland has discussed the possibility of playing the Gippsland League grand finals on the public holiday (Friday) before the AFL grand final.

“That’s not off the table, it’s been discussed in office if that’s something that clubs want to consider,” Fogarty said.

They have also discussed the possibility of making it a night grand final.

“It’s pretty nice weather that time of year so that could be a feature.”

But the final decision will only come once all clubs have been consulted.

“I’m not sure how many clubs would want to be playing a grand final that weekend,” Fogarty said.

“But again, we’ll go through the consultative period where we’ll ask clubs for feedback and consider anything that they put on the table before the final decision is made.”

The Gippsland League also had the option to play Under 18s and Under 16s this weekend, but 7/10 clubs voted against it.

* Mid Gippsland FNL

MID Gippsland clubs are hoping they can return to play on Queen’s Birthday weekend, but they also have a tough challenge when rescheduling the missed games.

There is no bye weekend in Mid Gippsland, instead each round features a bye for one club.

They could decide to abandon the rounds altogether or wait until later in the year to speak about stretching out the season.

* Ellinbank and District FNL

LIKE West Gippsland, some Ellinbank clubs are within the Greater Melbourne borders.

So, they will also have to wait and see how Melbourne eases out of restrictions before determining how its season will look.

They also do not have a bye round so there will be further logistical issues when it comes to fixing the fixture.

* Chance the seasons are abandoned?

SOME Gippslanders have been concerned there is a possibility the seasons may be called off altogether, but AFL Gippsland is assuring that will not be the case.

“We’re doing everything we can to promote participation and to get people playing footy again,” Fogarty said.

“It’s just a matter of when, that’s the biggest question for us at the moment.”