WITH football grounds around Australia empty due to COVID-19, life has been tough for new Tantanoola playing-coach Jak Ryan.
Ryan hoped to bring new life into the Tigers outfit after it experienced a difficult campaign in 2019.
But after a summer of hard work, the side’s progress grounded to a halt with round one of the 2020 Mid South East football season still up in the air.
Ryan said the club had fought hard to cover the absence of football.
“We are just dealing with it the best way you can because at the end of the day it is a new kind of obstacle and experience for any club around,” he said.
“So we are just following all the protocols and that is all we can do at the minute.”
To keep his men in shape, Ryan has introduced some incentives during the quiet period of isolation.
He said putting the “old boys v the young fellas” has rejuvenated the competitiveness and determination amongst the group.
“I have not implemented programs, so I just set a couple of distance goals we had to reach as a team and in the first week we just reached it,” Ryan said.
“Then we had a young (under 29) v old players (over 30) battle and the old boys put it to us pretty well.
“I think they were up by about 26km with two days to go before the young fellas ended up coming home with it.
“A couple of the older players were doing over 10km a day, so they were tough to compete with.
“I was pretty surprised when the boys clocked up a bit over 700km in six days.”
Originally hailing from Edenhope, Ryan is not the only new face at the club.
Mike Reilly and Chris Oliver will act as assistant coaches, while Adam Hunter was picked up from Mount Compass.
Damian Wombwell jumps across the border from Casterton and Jack Radley returns after a stint away from the club.
The recruits list is completed by Jordan and Troy Hatt.
After a couple of small sessions before Christmas, Tantanoola built up its pre-season in the new year.
With a positive trial match against West Gambier ticked off the checklist, Ryan said he was impressed with the work completed throughout the summer.
“We were tracking pretty well,” he said.
“There were a lot of blokes saying they are the fittest they have ever been for a while.
“I was pretty happy with the boys (in the trial match).
“A lot of blokes went for spoils and chased down tackles, which you do not see too much in the pre-season, so when you have boys running that hard at this time of year it is pretty exciting.”
The positive signs have also been displayed off the field, as Ryan has been welcomed by everyone with open arms at “Tigerland”.
“Everyone from the day I signed up have been really supportive,” he said.
“All the players have taken me on board and whenever I have something to say they are eyes-up and ready to listen.”
Ryan is no stranger to the Limestone Coast having been a premiership player for South Gambier.
With an understanding of various styles of football, he hopes to introduce a new and successful method to Tantanoola.
“With a whole new coaching plan, it has brought a new outlook towards the side which started to become stagnant with some of the same faces for a few years,” Ryan said.
“I have played in Western Border which is structured and fast paced and then I went to Edenhope where it is a bit more of a body on body, slower kind of play.
“I heard Mid South East is close to that, so I am trying to make it a bit more skilful, look for more targets and rely on your team mates to work for each other.
“I am looking forward to seeing what we can produce and I am pretty keen to get the boots on.”
Despite the optimism, Ryan is aware the 2020 season shapes up to be the most challenging in living memory.
“It is pretty tricky because we do not know if we will get to play or not,” he said.
“Football is a game of momentum and teams cannot afford to have a one or two game lapse, so it is definitely going to be an exciting year.
“But at the end of the day, we have to make sure the health of everyone comes first before we go out there and play sport.”