Football and netball clubs in for the long haul

By Andrew Johnston

FOOTBALL and netball players across the Goulburn Valley are in for a long few months.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought seasons to a grinding halt, with most competitions across Victoria and NSW on hold until the first week of June — at the very earliest.

Preparations for the 2020 season began just weeks after 2019 campaigns ended — players were straight back on the track, building towards another big year.

Now, chaos reigns supreme.

Clubs’ players have been instructed not to train together, making their continued preparation even more difficult.

It now appears even smaller group training may be cancelled after federal and state governments put further restrictions in place on Sunday, including shutting down several non-essential services until further notice.

For many, sport has provided the ultimate distraction in difficult times and is a key component in their mental health, so the loss of an outlet of escape has further compounded the issues of the crisis.

While for many, the loss of sport is far from the biggest issue in life, players and officials are facing a reality without football and netball, as measures to stop the spread of the virus seem all but certain to increase.

The biggest feeling within his playing group, according to Echuca United coach Guy Campbell, is disappointment.

“The mood around the club was great,” he said.

“When you’ve been working through summer, you really start to get excited as the first games approach. We were two weeks away from playing and suddenly it’s on hold, and there is nothing anyone can do.

“We felt our two practice matches had gone really well. Overall we thought we were in a great place.”

For now, Campbell said his team was putting a program for the current situation in place.

“We’re still having those discussions,” he said.

“And they will continue on until we have the process right, which may take time.

“A lot is probably going to change before we start playing again, so we will continue to modify our programs and get the best out of every player we can in a way that won’t burn us out.

“What we control from here is what happens next — how we stay in the best condition and get ready to go again.”

Echuca co-coach Andrew Walker said, while there was a negative air about the delay, the club was looking at its people as the positives.

“We think there is an excellent opportunity for developing leaders within the group,” he said.

“As coaches we decided one of the best approaches would be for our lines to get together to train. If we can get all our forwards or defenders together, we will have relatively small groups.

“That forces people to step up. A lot of the time at football clubs, you have the same group of guys doing the talking and setting the energy level. When you move into smaller groups, they aren’t necessarily going to be there.

“It means new guys are going to have to step up and fill those shoes. Players are going to have to take it on. In the long term, having more guys wanting to stand up and set an example is a great thing for our football club.”

Echuca moved quickly to ensure its players were looking after themselves in preparation for the new year.

“We had programs over summer which have been adapted for now,” Walker said.

“It gives the players a clear set of instructions, what they can do to prepare and to try and keep themselves in the best possible condition while we wait.

“It’s a very strange circumstance for us all, we can’t do anything about it, and we will make sure we comply with the requirements that have been put in place. But we’re also going to do our best to keep ourselves in condition.”

New Moama netball coach Jodie Lake said there was an awkward feeling around the players as they awaited further instruction on what they could do.

“It’s a very strange position to be in,” she said.

“No-one has been through something similar, and I don’t think you can see a situation like this coming.

“We just have to put up with it. We are taking the message from those above us, listening to the best instructions and using it as a guide of what to do next.”

Lake said the playing group would continue to focus on individual preparation.

“On advice from the club we aren’t doing any formal training,” she said.

“We may see really small groups get together and go for a shoot and do things away as individuals. I think it’s going to be important for everyone across every sport just to find ways to keep themselves in a good place and ready to go.

“Hopefully we get some good news sooner rather than later.”