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Thursday, June 04 2020 @ 05:08 pm ACST

Where The Wind Blows

Australia

 

To kick off a series of articles from around the world that look at footy life in COVID-19 times, this story looks at some aspects of footy life in Far North Queensland. It is hoped this story may trigger more stories from people, clubs and leagues across the world as they negotiate events unthought-of at the end of their last seasons. 

On my way home from work last week I dropped by the home ground of my former club, Gordonvale's Power Park. It is the home of the Pyramid Power club, set in canefields and overlooked by the mighty Walsh’s Pyramid. It is, in a word, beautiful. 

It was around five o’clock – a time when junior footy training would be under way in the first week of April, preparing for the first matches for the new season.  

Today, however, the ground was devoid of kids. Only teams of plovers graced the playing surface. Seeming to enjoy themselves, it wasn’t clear who was winning. Perhaps, for them it wasn’t about that – it was about fun.

Summer had given way to autumn and the renowned breezes that blow from the south up the valley were in full swing. In other times, those breezes favour the team kicking with it. Today they just rustled the cane grass.   

This was the face of footy in COVID-19 times. 

I bumped into someone from the club and asked how the club will cope with the indefinite suspension of the season, and the prospect of possibly no junior footy until next year. He said, “Yeah, it’s hard. It’s bloody hard. But we’ll just have to see what happens.” 

This isn’t an indictment on the game, politics, community. It is a reality of a time, and it is being played out across all spheres of live across the world, including sport. Including footy. There is only one entity to be accountable for this – coronavirus. Maybe it should be held to account in a court of law. Good luck with that! 

I left and drove on home past another footy ground: Fretwell Park, home of the South Cairns Cutters. Normally a place of activity on a Thursday, both on field and within the glittering surrounds of its social club, today it was empty. Two cars in the car park, both belonging to tradies presumably repairing something. No people visible. 

At Cazalys Stadium, the centrepiece of Australian Football in Cairns, the wind still races in from the south as it does when it plays havoc for the team kicking into it on match days. But today all it does is disturb the flags atop the flag poles around the ground. Nobody else is there. This isn’t some post-apocalyptic vision, just a sign of the times. 

I didn’t drive there, but two other club grounds remain still. The homes of the Cairns City Lions and North Cairns Tigers are listless and forlorn. Both clubs undergoing rebuilds after almost disappearing from the footy world, they had both enjoyed super pre-seasons. Then, just before the curtain was to be raised on their exciting new seasons, along comes COVID. 

It is the stillness that sends the most profound message. Footy goes hand in hand with the sounds of boot on ball, giggling kids, shouting, screaming, cheering, laughing. Even the sounds of cars arriving and departing. But when all you have is the breeze, the rustling, the plovers (and their less verbose neighbours, the ibis), in April, you know something is up. 

It is a scene being played out across my world, the Cairns region, as well as across the state and nation. The world.  

However, for all that quiet, the game isn’t over. It has just moved indoors to the lounge rooms and mobile phones of the people at clubs. It is there that the battles are being assessed, planned, fought and won. Victory isn’t visible yet, but the day these kids (and adults) run back onto the fields it will be exciting, uplifting and even emotional for some. 

COVID-19 might think it has won, but it hasn’t. We will be back. The kids, following strict social isolation rules, still practice in the back yard. Like Bradman hitting a golf ball with a fence paling until be developed a near faultless technique, so are the kids. And they are the future. 

Yes, we miss our footy on TV. We miss our club matches where the fit, strong and talented local gladiators entertain their communities. However, it is the kids that miss footy the most, probably without realising it. Yes, they have gadgets to pass the time away. But, they need to run, shout, kick, laugh…and socialise. 

Power Park will soon have the kids back. So will Fretwell Park. Same with the other grounds around Cairns, Townsville, Queensland, Australia and the world. I can already hear the cheering when that first team runs onto the ground and when that first goal is scored after the lay-off. The smiles will return. 

The plovers will again be relegated to the areas away from the playing surface at training time. Footy order will be restored. It is just a question of patience. 

I’m not sure whether or not the plovers won, but they seem happy. That’s a good sign.

And the wind still blows up the valley.

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