The end of a season before it begun

By Andrew Johnston

THERE was a disappointed sigh across the region on Thursday afternoon.

News filtered through that the Kyabram District League had been called off for 2020.

It was a blow to people across the community who play netball or football in the competition.

Including the entire sport department of the Riverine Herald.

You see, I am a (very) mediocre reserves player with the mighty Girgarre Football and Netball Club.

After making one appearance in 2018, I managed eight games last year in a much-improved showing.

Midway through the season, after many attempts by me to convince him, my fellow journalist Brayden May officially made the move to join Gig as well.

Mazie, who was once referred to in the 5th Quarter magazine as “AJ’s mate” when our teammates forgot his name, ended up pulling on the blue and white on nine occasions.

Though our team didn’t go as well in 2019 as in 2018 (where we played off in the grand final) it was an enjoyable year.

And going into 2020 there was a good feeling around the club.

With the departure of our great mate Shannon Tucker we had a new senior coach in the VFL-hardened Billy Barnes, who brought a new style of training and match preparation, as well as a new game plan.

While fitness was still incredibly important, our ways of building our base had completely changed.

Laps of the oval, beep tests — those were not a part of it anymore, and for someone who hates running I was completely okay with that.

And yet, by our first (and in the end, only) practice match I was probably the fittest I had been in more than a decade, able to run out drills comfortably where in the past I would have had to take multiple breaks (I am quite fat, you see.)

The bond between the playing group was also fantastic.

In my three years at Girgarre we have always been a close club, and while there were little groups with whom you were closer than others, there wasn’t one person that I couldn’t turn to if I needed help or support.

Shan had fostered that environment, and Billy had worked to continue it, and while you will often read stories about successful teams where the players didn’t really like each other, I have always felt that being close as a group will get you even further.

While the reserves played finals last year and a grand final in 2018, it has been a long time since the seniors were even in the finals, let alone contending for a flag.

In 2018 we fell agonisingly close to making it, but just couldn’t get over the line.

This felt like the year, there was an air around the place that something might happen in 2020.

But as we got closer, the murmurs of COVID-19 started to build, and it began to have an impact on football.

First was the instruction to stay away if you felt even slightly unwell, then to bring your own water bottle, and then finally that we were putting training on hold.

That was all in the space of a couple of days.

The league, along with everyone else in the valley, put our season on hold until at least the end of May, though I think deep down we all knew it was going to be a lot longer than that.

We were given activities, different conditioning blocks that we could do away from the club in order to keep fit, as hope remained the season would get up at some point.

And as it started to look like we were doing well in our battle with COVID, the dream stayed alive — though I was probably kidding myself.

I was simultaneously reporting about all the issues we were facing up to, while telling myself I’d be back on the park before I even knew it.

The reality is with the way restrictions were moving we were always going to be up against it.

And when the Heathcote District League was called off, I think I knew we weren’t far off.

So on Thursday, we got the news — no sport for our club in 2020.

Our 100th year celebration would go by without us pulling on the colours.

And though I understand why the decision was made, it doesn’t stop me from being desperately sad about the matter.

There is a large group of people across our community who just lost football and netball for an entire year, who put in the hard work for months in pre-season in order to play, who continued to do the work in their time off, who are now without a season.

It’s a damn shame.

I don’t know if other comps will get off the ground this year — personally, I hope they do.

I hope the GV, Picola and District and Murray League all get the opportunity to do what they love, and I hope it is viable to do so.

And I’m excited for football to return in coming weeks, kicking off for me in the only way I would want it to as Hawthorn takes on bitter enemy Geelong.

Not to mention the excellent news that Super Netball isn’t far off either.

And that will fill a lot of the void the absence football and netball has left in many of our lives.

But we also now have an opportunity to make our 2021 season better.

We have close to a year to build up to our returns to the courts and ovals of the region, get fit, sharpen our skills and make the best of our opportunity when it finally comes.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, so let’s hope it does for all of us as players.

Hell, I might even do some running in my time away (not heaps, I know my limits).

Here is hoping 2021 is a special year for us all.