Glimmer of hope still for central Victorian leagues by Richard Jones

While neighbouring district footy and netball leagues have pulled the pin on their 2020 seasons three central Victorian bodies have still got their collective fingers crossed.

Despite the Heathcote District and Kyabram District leagues cancelling their competitions for this year due to the coronavirus pandemic Bendigo, Loddon Valley and North Central have kept their options open.

The BFNL board and representatives of the 10 competing clubs have been meeting regularly and awaiting advice from the State government and AFL Victoria. General manager Cameron Tomlins says no decision on a start date for the 2020 Bendigo league season will be made until 5 June.

Melbourne-based players such as Sandhurst’s Lachlan Tardrew, who’s on Collingwood’s VFL list, continue training hard but haven’t committed to switching to a VAFA club with persuasive teammates should the VFL and BFNL seasons both be cancelled.

LVFNLMeanwhile Loddon Valley clubs and their delegates decided this week not to follow Heathcote’s lead and cancel the 2020 season just yet. Like the BFNL Loddon Valley chairman Simon Tuohey said his clubs would wait for at least another week before making any concrete decisions. Bears Lagoon-Serpentine coach Greg Gadsden and newly-appointed Bridgewater mentor Jayden Donaldson said they welcomed the LVFL decision. “I was very surprised when the Heathcote league jumped the gun and went early,” said Gadsden. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen. But if the (State) government announces on June 22 that contact sport is allowed to go back and that gatherings of 100 people are allowed outside, then we’re not that far from getting back to gatherings of 500 people and crowds at the footy.”

Donaldson agreed the uncertainty of deciding whether the season would get underway was still causing some anxiety, but he backed the LVFL decision to wait for more government and medical advice. “Let’s not be too quick to put this season in the too-hard basket before giving the government a chance to provide a pathway back to footy,” Donaldson said. Both coaches said they understood footy and netball seasons without crowds were not viable, but they’d seen the government guidelines on crowd sizes “changing on a fortnightly basis.”

Meanwhile the North Central league remains in no rush to follow Heathcote and make a decision on its 2020 season. NCFL general manager Lance Standfield (a former VCFL councillor for the central Victorian region) said his eight clubs were awaiting further advice from the State government and AFL Victoria. “We’ve been in constant contact with our clubs and we’ve suggested July 18 as the latest date we can start our season,” he said. “We’ll take whatever action we need to after the next lot of government announcements.

“North Central is not in a rush to make a decision. We might wait a few more weeks,” Mr Standfieldsaid. “But of course the availability of crowds is high on our clubs’ agendas. They’ve all agreed if there’s no crowds there’d be no games.”

Unlike neighboring leagues North Central has one additional sport, contested each weekend. It’s hockey so the NCFL clubs supply footballers, netballers and hockey players in a number of grades each weekend.

So which other leagues, apart from Heathcote, have pulled the pin on 2020 so far? Well, the Sunraysia-based Millewa league and the South-West District FNL in the corner of the Victorian border area not far from SA had called it quits by the end of the week. And the Kyabram DFL, based in the Goulburn Valley region, closed down member clubs Stanhope’s and Girgarre’s centenary years’ celebrations when it cancelled its 2020 season late in the week. Kyabram league officials said footy and netball “must finish second on the ladder of importance right now with our whole focus turned to rebuilding and future planning”.

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