NORTH Gambier will resume its Western Border football title-defence tonight when the players reconvene at Vansittart Park for the first time in over two months.
As the likes of Millicent, East Gambier and South Gambier hit the training track swiftly after restrictions eased, the Tigers assessed their options until Stage 3 of the SANFL’s return to play roadmap was implemented.
The new regulations unveiled this week allows teams to tackle one another again in groups of up to 20.
North coach Justin McConnell said the club put in a large amount of effort to make training possible again.
“There has been a mountain of work behind the scenes by various people, so the guys can get back to doing what they really enjoy,” he said.
“There is now a level of optimism and excitement to get back to a level of normality that we are really craving at the moment.”
In the last two weeks clubs were only allowed to complete simple, non-contact sessions in three groups of 10 and the reigning premiers did not feel they were the best circumstances to start in.
McConnell said the return of contact training was the logical time to bring the team back together again.
“Now we can have two groups of 20, it is a bit more inclusive for the whole group,” he said.
“Some of our guys have been training in small groups on weekends for a short period of time just to freshen up mentally and physically.
“We just wanted a little bit if a concrete roadmap back to train again.”
With football being absent from the winter months for the first time in recent memory, McConnell understands his men have mixed feelings about the game.
“They are a pretty professional, mature group of footballers, who understand what is required,” he said.
“But there is no doubt there would have been varying degrees of motivation over this period.
“Some guys can not wait to get back into it, while others were wondering what was going to happen.”
Despite the belief his players are in good shape, McConnell is aware of the potential challenges ahead for the coaching staff.
He said North will be watchful after a long period away from on-field activity.
“I suppose what we have got to do is ensure our bodies are conditioned,” McConnell said.
“Many guys have been doing a lot of running and work in the gyms, but it is the change in direction and kicking that puts stress on those soft tissues.
“There will be enthusiasm and excitement with boys wanting to go 100-miles-per-hour, so we have just got to plan the best we can and be really careful for the first couple of weeks back.”
Having been so long since the team reunited in an official capacity, McConnell is keen to kick with his mates again.
“In this tricky world we live in, we have to be agile in our approach and think laterally,” he said.
“The landscape changes quickly so we will just look forward to getting back together and having that connection and mateship again.
“We will harness the enthusiasm and anticipation that we have at the moment and enjoy being around each other.”