EVERYONE wants to get back on the football field and netball court, especially if you’ve done the hard yards in the off-season, recruited well and are sitting pretty in finals contention.

But spare a thought then for Mid Gippsland club Hill End Grove Rovers, for many years the easy-beats of Gippsland football, but not in recent years.

In 2019, they got close, going down to Yallourn Yallourn North in the grand final, but this year, they’re in top spot, with nine wins from 10 games, only beaten by Fish Creek, and a red-hot chance of breaking a 40-year drought if only we can break clear from the COVID-19 restrictions.

Mid Gippsland Publicity Officer Rob Popplestone says there’s still a few hurdles to clear first.

“Obviously, it’s fingers crossed they lift the lockdown next Wednesday but what then? Letting the crowds back would be the next one because it’s been ‘no crowds, no footy’ up until now.

“To make it fair, we’d need to play those last two rounds, so that everyone has played everyone else, and we’ve got a few important games like fourth v fifth Fish Creek and Yinnar and sixth v seventh Morwell East and MDU.

“We’re just waiting to see what will happen. Obviously, we’re governed, at the moment, by the State Government as to the restrictions when they’re lifted and whatnot.

Hill End president Simone Clymo said the club can’t wait to return to action.

“Our next game is against Tarwin, so we’re hoping to be able to play that once the restrictions are lifted and get back into it. But there’s two games left, and then we go on to the finals.”

And hopes are high, according to Clymo.

“We’re sitting equal top with Mirboo North on percentage. We’ve lost one game to Fish Creek a few weeks back, but yeah, we’re hopeful we can go all the way.”

The Tarwin match at home looks a safe bet for Hill End.

“We’re pretty confident about Tarwin, but obviously we’ve just got to take each game as it comes.”

But the lockdown will be an issue if it continues.

“Obviously there’s a lot of things that need to be taken into account once the restrictions are lifted. Previously, when they’ve been lifted, we haven’t really been able to get back into playing footy and netball for about a week after that, because we’re also governed by AFL Gippsland. So hopefully they’ll make their decision and we can get back into it.

“I think most clubs are keen and players are keen to get back into football and netball, but like I said our hands are sort of tied at this stage.

“There’s a really positive vibe around the club and it’s really, really nice to see that we’re having some success both with football and netball after a long period of time.

“We came runners-up to Yallourn Yallourn North in 2019. So, as you can imagine, were keen to get back into footy, and playing finals footy, and have a crack at the flag because it’s actually 40 years since we won our last one.

“So, obviously we were hoping to play last year but the season got cancelled but, like I said, it’s 40 years since our last one which was in 1981.

“Like I said, it’s good to see some smiles on faces. We’ve got a lot of past players that still come up, that actually played in that 81 premiership. So, to see the look on their faces, now that we’re on the other end of the stick. Obviously we’ve suffered some fair losses in our time, but you just like to see the faces of the old past players after a game that we’ve won and to be so close to playing finals. You know, it really makes it all worth it.”

So, it’s all on the line for Hill End, the chance of a 40-year drought breaking premiership; but still with the likes of Mirboo North, Foster and Fish Creek with more than a shout… if only the season can get going again.

Down Woodside way, at the former Alberton club, the story is similar, with a long time since the Wildcats won a premiership in their own right, although they tasted success as part of the Allies and WWW.

President Ashley Walpole said this week on ABC Radio that everyone was raring to go again.

“We’re obviously having a really good year this year in the football and the netball. We’re top of the ladder in both so yeah, we’d be pretty disappointed if the season weren’t to go ahead and get to a final series so that we strut or stuff when it counts.

“It’s been a fairly interesting story, the Woodside story with mergers and demergers and so on but, it’s been since 2003 that Woodside was part of the Allies which one the last premiership and before that, as Won Wron Woodside in 1994 so it’s been a little while.”

But there’s still plenty of work

“We’ve all played each other once now in the North Gippy League and we’ve had nine wins and one loss but in saying that though, five of those wins have been by less than a goal. So, it’s been an extraordinarily close season. It’s really close from probably first spot on the ladder down to about eight or nine, so everybody is sort of still in it and I’m tipping there’s a lot of teams that have be hoping to sneak into the finals because it’s a pretty open race.”

There’s an exciting end to the season right across the board in Gippsland with three clubs looking to be the standouts in the Gippsland League; Leongatha, Wonthaggi and Moe with the Power due to host Sale when the season resumes.

Two Bass Coast clubs Phillip Island 40 and Inverloch-Kongwak 36 lead the way ahead of a chasing pack on 32 including Tooradin-Dalmore, NNG and Cora Lynn. While the next scheduled round looks innocuous enough, Cora Lynn plays IK and Tooradin plays the Island the following week, if we get another two rounds of home and away matches.

Meanwhile in the Ellinbank and District League, local sides Lang Lang and Poowong still have hopes of making the finals but Poowong will be hoping to get at least another round on before the finals, due to play lowly Yarragon while Lang Lang have a test against Longwarry but it certainly looks Ellinbank’s cup to lose.