HAMPDEN Football Netball League's decision to cancel the final series due to COVID-19 restrictions in regional Victoria has been met with mixed responses from senior coaches.
South Warrnambool netball mentor Leesa Battistello was left "bitterly disappointed" with the decision, labelling it "short-sighted" given there was an option of extending the season into October.
Cobden counterpart Sophie Hinkley, whose side was undefeated in the home-and-away rounds, said while it was "shattering" for her team she "saw it coming".
Koroit senior football coach Chris McLaren likewise "saw the writing on the wall" while North Warrnambool Eagles' Adam Dowie said lockdowns had taken a toll.
Battistello, whose side finished second on the ladder, said a lack of communication from the league left her disheartened.
"I am so blown away, bitterly disappointed and just shocked," she told The Standard.
"When surrounding leagues have made a commitment to take it to October, it just blows my mind at the short-sightedness of the decision that was made."
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Battistello said extending the season into October would have "provided hope for the community when it needs it more than ever".
Training for community sport can resume in regional areas after state government restrictions eased on Friday but competition remains sidelined.
Those restrictions are likely to remain in place until the end of September.
"I feel like there should have been more consultation," Battistello said.
"It seems to me in a time when we could do with good news and something to talk about that a decision was made without, in my opinion, the correct consulatation. It was just absolutely appalling."
Battistello said she had a nervous morning on Friday awaiting news and found out the season was over via a press release.
"I know the Hampden league is a volunteer organisation but I think there needs to be an excessive review into process," she said.
Battistello feels netball was considered secondary.
"It's all been about whether footballers could be conditoned in time to play and I understand that having a husband (South Warrnambool's Mat Battistello) who is a football coach," she said.
"But I just wonder...could we not have explored waiting and having netball finals? We're going to have junior finals.
"If the shoe was on the other foot, I am sure football would be happy to proceed."
The non-playing coach said it was another hit for young people who have been denied rites of passage throughout the pandemic.
"All my team range between 17 and 20 and that is the age group that have missed graduations, have missed first years of uni," she said.
"My team has been building for two years towards the end of the season and to think we couldn't have some way of concluding it...
"Why would you give up hope when hope is still there?. I don't understand the rush."
Hinkley said Cobden was "disappointed" and its players "shattered".
But she said each passing day made it harder to return to play.
"Everyone is just as disappointed about circumstances which are beyond our control and I think everyone understands the league's decision," Hinkley said.
"I probably saw it coming as we all did after the league's roadmap decision a couple of weeks ago, just knowing we needed that confirmation (of a start date) by next week."
Hinkley said Cobden, which was searching for its first open-grade netball flag, would have been content waiting until October.
"But we understand we were in a different position and everybody's outlook on it would've been determined by their personal club circumstances," she said.
McLaren, whose side was striving for a seventh consecutive senior football flag, said he knew the "writing was on the wall".
"There's some disappointment and sadness in your feelings," he said.
"I know as coaches there is always a sense of relief when a season ends, whether it's successful or not successful, just because of the amount of work that goes in."
McLaren said it was "a disappointing outcome" for all clubs but not surprising.
"I had in the back of my mind as the year went on, 'right, we're starting to play games without crowds, gee we're going to need a lot of luck to get a final series'," he said.
"There was always an element of doubt but we stayed hopeful."
McLaren said it was pleasing to get 12 games in and have fun as a team.
North Warrnambool Eagles coach Adam Dowie said he wasn't surprised.
"Sport is just an extension of society and whether you're in hospitality or any other field it's just been one thing after another," he said.
"Probably deep down, it's frustrating and it has been living in south-west Victoria because we just haven't had any cases. If you overthink that too much and I'm sure lots of people are the same, you'd be really angry and frustrated with that."
Dowie said he felt the Hampden league executive had done all it could.
"I think we were one of the last leagues to pull the pin so they were obviously trying to find ways to make it happen. When you actually think about it a lot, it's really frustrating, even as a schoolteacher, there's been so much lockdown," he said.
The multiple Hampden league premiership coach, who has steered Terang Mortlake, Warrnambool and Koroit to grand final victories, was proud of his charges for a successful season against all odds.
The Bushfield-based club fell just three points short of Koroit in the 2019 decider and added to its list for the cancelled 2020 campaign.
The Eagles lost several players prior to the 2021 season, raising questions about their ability to again push for a premiership in Dowie's third year at the helm.
Despite the challenges and a lack of depth through the reserve grades, Dowie's men were the only side to beat both top-three rivals Koroit and South Warrnambool and were well-poised for a flag tilt.
"I was sort of thinking tongue in cheek, if they award a premier they might say 'well Koroit finished on top'," he mused.
"You know, we were able to beat Koroit and South. South weren't able to beat Koroit and Koroit weren't able to beat us so we were the only team to beat the other two in the top-two.
"That might be a bit of a long bow to draw but at the start of the year, I must admit I was just concerned numbers-wise and we've got to the end of the season and we've lost one game for the year. I'm still pinching myself."
The Warrnambool College teacher said North Warrnambool Eagles were to meet on Friday night - they originally were to train - and would speak about carrying momentum into 2022.
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