By Sam Watson
THE possibility of football and netball finals suffered another huge and potentially fatal blow on Friday night, when AFL Gippsland announced all of Saturday games would be cancelled.
When the government advised all sporting leagues to cancel their events on Friday night, it became clear a lockdown would come into effect on Saturday.
And that lockdown may be the final nail in the coffin of the 2021 football and netball season.
With cricket season approaching, the likelihood of squeezing in finals series is becoming very slim.
Saturday was going to see the Gippsland League play their last home and away game before getting into a three-week finals series.
Melbourne players wouldn’t have been available for Gippsland League clubs, but they all agreed the season needed to be finished.
Teams were picked, ready to go, but the email on Friday night meant that no players would take the field on Saturday.
If they haven’t already Gippsland League clubs will be meeting very soon to discuss the future of the season.
The West Gippsland Football Netball Competition hasn’t been anywhere near as close to returning as the Gippsland League, with half the clubs within the greater Melbourne boundaries.
Out of all the leagues in Gippsland, it seems like West Gippsland are going to struggle most to get back on track.
It is through no fault of their own, but half the clubs in the league haven’t even been able to train for months.
Dalyston president Andy Thomas said his club were starting to lose hope, but it’s been an especially tough time for the Magpies, with the grand final due to be played at Dalyston Recreation Reserve.
“We are trying to be positive about hosting the grand final but without committing too much money, as everything could blow up overnight,” Thomas said.
The Mid Gippsland Football Netball League were the only league in the Sentinel-Times readership to get one round of football and netball in between lockdowns, and like the Gippsland League they were due to play one more home and away game before getting into finals.
They too were without Melbourne players, throwing a major spanner into the works for Foster and Fish Creek.
The league and its clubs were due to meet to discuss how finals would go ahead last night, but the lockdown meant the meeting was postponed.
The Ellinbank and District Football League will also be meeting to discuss the viability of their season this week.
League operations manager Ken Moore said the board intends to press on with two junior preliminary finals on September 11 but it’s too early to tell what will happen in the seniors.
He said if the lockdown is extended beyond September 2, it may spell the official end of the season.
If it extends past that date, it would be highly unlikely they’d be able to have crowds when the league could return and the gameday restrictions could be worse.
And the league will not play senior finals without a crowd.
Every senior league also wants to allow their players at least two weeks of training before re-taking the field, which would also push the season well past a traditional date.
Ultimately, all the safety and financial precautions in place, may make it impossible for the season to get back on track.
But no one will know until there is more clarity until how long the lockdown will last.