While Nirranda coach Brayden Harkness describes the cancellation of the 2021 Warrnambool and District league season as a bit of a "kick in the guts" for his side, confidence is high that his group can only get better.
It's a warning shot for opposition clubs, with the Blues - who were undefeated from the 13 rounds completed last season - adamant that another pre-season of hard work will enable them to find yet another extra gear to their footy.
Harkness told The Standard there wasn't going to be much external movement within his playing ranks, instead pouring his focus on internal improvement.
"Momentum's been halted considering what's occurred, and while we have confidence in the game plan we've instilled, for the season to have been cancelled was disappointing," he said.
"But we take confidence in knowing that the same core group of players will be there again to really perfect that game plan, and try and build on further what we put in place.
"The other clubs have recruited further, so that momentum's been halted somewhat but we're positive that we can improve even more.
"We're steady at this point, there's a few irons in the fire, but not much to announce at this point."
Harkness said that like all other clubs, the balancing act between preparing for the season and navigating the pandemic was tricky.
"As I'm sure a lot of other clubs are finding it, the COVID stuff has interrupted it slightly, everyone's taking it somewhat cautiously, but the guys who've been there are putting in the miles for hopefully what is going to be an uninterrupted season," he said.
"It's hard to plan for sessions when we don't know who'll be there, and at all different levels - workplaces, friendship groups - there's a lot of people who've contracted the virus themselves, have been close contacts or simply don't want to put themselves in that situation.
"We've got to be fairly understanding - there's bigger things at play than running around a footy oval in January."
Despite averaging a whopping 130 points per game last season, Harkness is focusing heavily on further improvements from their new-look, dynamic forward line which took the competition by storm in 2021.
"Last year, we had a major change to our forward structure and that was well documented when we lost a few key cogs of our forward line, so we had to change the way we went about it," he said.
"We were just starting to get that going in those 13 games, and it was becoming second-nature. We felt it was clicking in how we wanted to deliver the ball.
"We want to embed that even further. We've done some work on ball movement, but for us, we're working on our forward structure not having a big key target.
"That's caused us to be more dynamic, and have a few smalls, and we were able to win against some quality sides with that in place."
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Cautiously optimistic that local football and netball can bounce back strongly after two full seasons dictated by COVID-19, Harkness said returning to the game they loved was not only vital for the people within the club, but the community who relied on the game as an "outlet".
"It's exacerbated even more at Nirranda being a small farming community - for the locals it's the social outlet," he said.
"Sometimes footy is a nice release for them, getting to come out and have a beer and talk with their neighbours.
"We've got great community spirit, so we're keen to get back, but it remains to be seen - even the games without a crowd, the players all said that it didn't have that same feel, which is the community aspect that we all love."
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