Sport’s ongoing challenge

Essendon Royals star Archie Thompson didn't have it all his own way against the Bunyip Strikers.

Reflections on its 10th year will be bittersweet for the Bunyip Strikers Soccer Club.

A dark cloud has hovered in the form of Covid-19, but there are enough positives to warm the hearts of the fans.

Strikers president Adrian Gatti is optimistic his club can get through to the other side of the pandemic.

“I think we’ll be able to climb out of it,” he said.

“We’ve got big plans, so we’re hoping we can make it all happen.”

The frustrating part for the Strikers is that the year started off with such promise, but wound up being a road to nowhere.

The Strikers arrived for preseason training in January ready to put in the work and had a focus on ruffling some feathers as relative minnows in the FFA Cup.

They qualified for the first round proper with back-to-back one-goal wins in the qualifying rounds, edging ETA Buffalo 1-0 on home soil at the Bunyip Recreation Reserve and going to extra time to beat Spring Gully United 2-1 on the road.

Bunyip did not have to lift a finger to advance out of the first round after Spring Hills forfeited.

The Strikers’ cup run continued with a stirring second round victory, a come-from-behind 2-1 upset win over Old Camberwell Grammarians – a team a level above them in the Football Victoria leagues.

Then came one of the most unforgettable days in Bunyip’s short history – a third round tie with the star-studded Essendon Royals.

The Royals were led by Victorian soccer royalty, Archie Thompson.

The Strikers went down 3-0, but walked away with the respect of their opposition.

Taking the fight up to the Royals showed how far the Strikers have come, but unfortunately that would be the last time they would take to the field in 2020 before the pandemic shut down society.

“We were raring to go for the season,” Gatti said.

“We signed up some really good players and everyone was itching to go, so we had something pretty good going down there.

“The boys were pretty excited about their FFA Cup run.

“It’s just disheartening with Covid – not only for the senior players, but the junior kids as well, mums and dads.”

The worst part about the pandemic was also the sweetest for the Strikers.

They moved into their brand new pavilion only days before Covid-19 forced them out.

It is an asset the Strikers can be proud of, and will stand the club in good stead for years to come. But not being able to use it for an indefinite period is almost cruel.

“We got access to it a week before Covid hit and ‘bang’, everything was shut down,” Gatti lamented.

“We then got back in there for a little bit with the social distancing of 10 people, but that didn’t last long and we were shut again.

“We really don’t even know what it’s like.

“We haven’t even had a hot shower in the joint yet!”

At least the Bunyip players and supporters have something to look forward to.

It could also help propel the Strikers forward after a period of financial instability brought about by the pandemic.

“We’ll be able to recoup some of it when we’re in the rooms and can create some social nights,” Gatti said.

“We’ll generate a lot more money than we ever did in the past because we’ve never had that sort of facility before.”

The return of the Bunyip Strikers will hinge on Covid case numbers continuing to fall.

The Strikers are hopeful of being in their new pavilion full-time for the start of pre-season training in January, but that is still to be determined by the State Government and Football Victoria.

If all systems are go, Gatti wants to see a return of the OBrien Real Estate Cup – a pre-season competition between local clubs.

“That’s been pretty successful in the past three or four years, so we might do that again,” Gatti said.

“It all depends if we can train, play and get out of this situation we’re in.”