The 2021 Horsham District Football Netball League season was no doubt one of the toughest yet for everyone involved.
HDFNL chairman Fred Mellington put it simply when he said "It's just been an incredibly, bloody, difficult season".
After 18-months between drinks, both the netball and football competitions kicked off on April ten, with the hope that spectators could see a full season of uninterrupted action.
The HDFNL board alongside clubs scrambled to make plans and on June 19 the league was able to return.
The season got going again and just as teams started to find their groove after another four rounds of community sport, lockdown struck again on July 15.
During the break, teams were forced to come up with new and innovative ways to stay fit. The Laharum netballers for example turned to training via Zoom.
After more meetings, headaches, and rejigging of the fixture the league was able to get up-and-going again on July 31 with no crowds.
Lockdown struck once more meaning the following week was lost, before the HDFNL was again able to return on August 14 in front of no spectators. This round (12) was especially important as it was the last round needed to ensure every team got to play each other once.
Unfortunately, any sense that the season was back-on-track was short-lasting, as regional Victoria plunged back into lockdown on August 21, just before the HDFNL was set to begin its finals series.
As uncertainty surrounding the length of the lockdown encroached, the League announced on August 30 that its conclusion date had been set for Sunday, October 3 and that if regional Victoria was still in lockdown on September 21 with no end date announced, the HDFNL senior season would be cancelled.
As we await further direction as to whether we will see our HDFNL players return in 2021, we mustn't see 2021 as a waste if the finals can't take place.
2021 saw some amazing storylines across the HDFNL senior football and A Grade netball.
In the A Grade netball, it's hard to go past the dominant Laharum side, who as the reigning premiers went undefeated all year. The closest anyone came to defeating the Demons was in their round two 11-point win over Noradjuha-Quantong.
Let's also not forget the brilliant Kaniva-Leeor A Grade netballers, who in their first season in the league finished an incredible fourth, just three wins behind first place.
In the senior football, Noradjuha-Quantong looked well on track to win their first senior HDFNL premiership. Gareth Hose's high-flying Bombers won all 12 of their games and were in ominous form ahead of the finals.
Reigning premiers Harrow-Balmoral also finished the year strong (third) and looked like they had rediscovered the form that saw them take home the 2019 flag.
Looking back at the regular season Mellington was appreciative of the cooperation between clubs when it came to fixturing and said the league would learn from 2021.
"We're grateful with the assistance of our clubs, we were able to alter our draw to play each other once," he said.
"That'll be something we learn going forward, is that you need to really look at the draw to be a lot more even than that. Kalkee only got three home games in and plenty of clubs had one or two home games with no crowd."
While the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 season no doubt made it a hard year for the players, we must acknowledge the tireless, hardworking volunteers who faced unimaginable challenges in getting the season going.
Mellington reiterated the importance of promoting the league's volunteers and giving them "a pat on the back for the extraordinary job they've done under exceptional and difficult circumstances".
From the HDFNL's board members to each club's gatekeepers, hour-upon-hour went into organising matches and events that didn't always go ahead.
Countless home games and club functions had to be cancelled on short notice, causing a great deal of time and money to go to waste.
Still, club volunteers kept turning up, on the off-chance that community sport could return.
"The volunteers came back after not having sport last year and they've come back again. They do it for five weeks, get locked down, smarten everything up and then get another kick in the guts," Mellington said.
The financial impact of matches without spectators and cancelling matches and club functions, will no doubt be felt by the HDFNL's clubs for many years to come.
Despite the sacrifices, 2021 was a success for the mere fact we got to witness some HDFNL action. While the wait is on, at the eve of what should have been the league grand final, it is unknown if the 2021 season will be completed. If play does go ahead, in what capacity will remain a mystery as the country rides out the pandemic and regions are unlocked from restrictions which force the cancellation of community sport.
Hopefully, we will see somewhat of a return to normality in 2022, where supporters can return in full force for a complete, uninterrupted season.
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