By Sam Watson
LAST night, the Mid Gippsland Football Netball League and its clubs held a meeting to determine whether football and netball would return this weekend.
If play was to resume, it would mean the league got both remaining rounds in, before getting into the finals.
But it would also mean no crowds would be allowed at the games and no Melbourne players would be able to compete, with greater Melbourne still under tight restrictions.
After much deliberation, there was a resounding vote for play to resume this weekend, even if it meant clubs would be without their Melbourne-based players.
Most of the few who were opposed to starting this weekend eventually conceded they would need to follow the majority.
One club voted for the league to head straight into finals, but that suggestion was quickly quashed.
The decision, which was made by the clubs and not the league, has been fiercely debated on the league’s Facebook page, with former locals frustrated because they won’t be able to travel back from Melbourne to play for their long-time club.
Mid Gippsland publicity officer Rob Popplestone said clubs who voted in favour of returning this weekend cited the uncertainty about how long Melbourne would take to come out of the lockdown.
“They didn’t want to wait for another week, two weeks or three weeks hoping that Melbourne players were available, while most clubs are waiting ready to go,” Popplestone said.
“There was a fear that players would start to drop off because of too much time without playing sport, so the number one priority was to get people back out on the park.
“It’s not ideal, but it hasn’t been ideal all year.”
MDU president Jason Harris said his club was happy to start back this weekend.
“There’s no certainty when Melbourne players are going to be allowed into the region, so we had to start this weekend or who knows when we’ll start,” said Harris.
“There’s a lot of netballers and footballers who are local and want to play, regardless of crowds, so I think it’s best to start and give everyone the opportunity to play as much as they can towards the end of the season.”
Harris said the Demons will have three to five footballers and one or two netballers who will miss this weekend because they live in Melbourne.
And with the senior side vying for a spot in the finals and the reserves sitting second on the ladder, Harris said they won’t have any issues filling both teams.
But Foster president Ian Lyon said the possibility of his club fielding both sides was slim.
“As our Melbourne-based players will not be able to participate, whether we can run a reserves side is yet to be seen,” Lyon said.
“We’ve got to ring around to see if we can get sufficient numbers for a reserves team but at the moment, we probably won’t have reserves, so we’ll have to forfeit that game and we’ll play Boolarra with what we’ve got in the seniors.”
Although he was disappointed with the decision, Lyon said the club was always prepared to go with what most of their counterparts wanted.
“If we have to play, we’ll play. The clear majority of clubs wanted to get back and play the last two games.
“It’s just difficult for clubs that have formerly local players who now live in Melbourne.”
But he said the league will have to make some different rulings before finals begin.
Foster currently sits in third position on the senior ladder, and Popplestone said every club was empathetic to Foster and other clubs who have a large contingent of Melbourne players.
Tarwin is also one of those clubs and president Tom Williamson said it’ll be difficult to put their best side on the park, but they understand why the decision to return was made.
“We certainly respect the decision that was made, and we’ll do everything we can to be as competitive as we can for however long,” Williamson said.
“It’s not going to be easy (to field a reserves side), but we certainly intend to – we don’t want to forfeit.”
Williamson said the netball won’t be an issue at Tarwin, but Popplestone acknowledged there’s many different issues around finals eligibility that will arise from the decision.
Some clubs who are forced to play B Graders in A Grade this weekend, because they don’t have
Melbourne players, want assurance that it won’t mean those players don’t qualify for B Grade finals.
More information on those decisions will be available in the coming days.