Birds of a feather

The Gulls reunited during the week for the first time, face-to-face, in the Covid-19 era. 209064 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By sports editor Russell Bennett

The boys at the Seagulls’ nest at Tooradin know they may not even get the chance to run out just after 2pm on a Saturday this season.

They know that a call on whether or not there will even be a community footy season is out of their control.

But last week their return to training wasn’t so much about preparing for a possible 2020 campaign.
It was more about an incredibly tightknit group of mates banding together, once again, as a collective.

Even standing out on the same field once again – albeit while practicing physical distancing – meant the world to them.

“For us, we have no control over what happens – whether there’s a 2020 season or not,” Tooradin Dalmore senior football coach Lachie Gillespie told the Gazette.

“The only thing we’ve got control over is providing somewhere for our players and the rest of our club people to come to.
“As restrictions continue to gradually wind back, that’ll become easier.
“At the moment it’s pretty strict, but even having smaller groups and allowing our footballers and netballers to catch up face-to-face again – that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.

“It’s super important for our people and their mental health that they can reconnect, and obviously maintaining physical health through exercise is important regardless of if we can actually play footy and netball this year or not.”

Football and netball clubs mean so much more to their people, and their communities, than the few hours of play each Saturday.

“For your grandparents, your husbands or wives, and even your kids who aren’t even playing football or netball yet – the connection a club like ours provides means everything,” Gillespie said.

“It drives the community. We’ve always known that, but this situation we’ve all found ourselves in has delivered a real reminder of it.

“What’s really hurt us is that we haven’t been able to be together over this really challenging period.”

Tooradin-Dalmore is one of the tightest knit community sporting clubs anywhere in Gippsland, and its people just want to be able to wrap their arms around each other again – at least metaphorically, while physical distancing measures remain in place.

“We’re training so we’re ready to go in case the season does start up, but it’s more about us being such a close group of mates and we just want to maintain that connection with each other,” Gillespie explained.

“It’s good for our people, it’s good for our club, and it’s good for our community.”

Moving forward, as the restrictions change and more information continues to come to hand, the Gulls will continue to adapt and roll with the punches.

It’s all they can do.

“If West Gippy shuts down for the season we’ll readjust, but at the moment we’re training two nights per week and we’ve got the flexibility to really turn this situation into a positive for us,” Gillespie said.

“Personally, I’m looking for ways for us to continue to have that camaraderie and culture of togetherness whether we can return to the field and the court on the weekends or not.

“Something that’s really held us together in recent times has been our character and grit in the face of some really difficult periods.

“That’s toughened us up, and it’s almost helped form part of our DNA. People who come to our club really feel that connection to each other, and that buy-in that a lot of the really, really good clubs in our community have.

“Seeing people’s faces and having a laugh has been great.

“To be honest, we might just be one of the most ruthless clubs in West Gippy in terms of how we pay out on each other, but it’s great fun being back together again.”

During the week, the Gulls reformed at both ‘The Nest’ at the Tooradin Recreation Reserve, and also just down the highway at Rutter Park.

It was in smaller groups, but it was a start.

“You play sport for that connection, ultimately,” Gillespie said.

“It’s for connection, and for an outlet for those times each week that we’re together. It’s a release for all of us.

“It could be four degrees outside and hailing down, but when you’re together you can look back on those times as some of the best you’ve had.”