IT has been a difficult 24 months of football for talented youngster Gage Wright.
The Horsham Saint made the Greater Western Victoria Rebels under-18 squad as a bottom-age player in 2019, but only registered two games due to injury.
Then in 2020, after getting his body right for his top-age year at the elite junior level, COVID-19 struck.
And after months of deliberation, the NAB League has now officially cancelled its 2020 season - leaving the likes of Wright devastated.
"After getting injured last year I just wanted to get stuck into it, because I didn't really have a chance last year," Wright said.
"It's pretty ordinary, but there's not much you can do.
"Even if I was just playing local footy or school footy I'd be happy. We were all sort of looking forward to school footy, just playing against each other, but that's been cancelled now as well. It's not ideal."
It is a blow for Wright, 18, who has worked tirelessly to chase his football dream. He was even guilty of over-training in 2019, contributing to his injury-riddled season.
"We were doing a testing day with the Rebels, I went to pull up on a 20 metre sprint and somehow I broke my hip," Wright said.
"I had a lot of work with the fitness staff at the Rebels and they said (the injury) could have been from overuse and over-training.
"I was getting injured all the time - so I toned it down a bit just so I could get through and manage myself a bit better."
Wright felt fit for a big season in 2020 alongside his fellow Wimmera Rebels: Sam Breuer, Ben Hobbs, Cody Bryan, Dane Stewart, Drew Schnieder and Jeziah Woods.
While five of the players have another year in the Rebels system, 2020 was Wright and Stewart's top-age year.
Junior development coach Shayne Breuer said youngsters missing their final year in the under-18s was a "punch in the guts".
"For the top age kids, it was really their year to have a real crack and put their names up in lights for clubs to look at, whether that is AFL, VFL or SANFL clubs," he said. "Now they've lost that opportunity.
"It's pretty detrimental for the development of a lot of kids in that age group.
"Having a year out of footy is definitely going to have an effect."
While nothing has been confirmed for next season, Wright said he was hopeful there would be an alternate under-19 program next year.
It could allow players in his age group to play the season they spent their whole junior careers looking forward to.
"There's a few rumours floating around, so hopefully something like that happens," he said.
"Otherwise I'll just see what I can do next year and what's available. Maybe try to play good footy back here (with the Horsham Saints) and hopefully get a chance down in the VFL or something like that."
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox twice weekly from the Wimmera Mail-Times. To make sure you're up-to-date with all the news from across the Wimmera, sign up below.