FOOTBALL in the region is officially back, with the announcement this week the Limestone Coast Football League is finalised.
The league has been created from the remnants of the Western Border, Mid South Eastern and Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara leagues, after all three were cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The final six teams were locked in this week, with Mundulla, Kybybolite, Kalangadoo, East Gambier, North Gambier and South Gambier football clubs in a seniors and reserves competition.
The season includes eight minor rounds and a three-week finals series, which kicks off on July 18, with the grand final held on September 26.
Limestone Coast Football Council chairman Trevor Smart said it was pleasing to finally have all teams locked in and dates set.
“All six teams are confirmed, the programmed start and finish dates are locked in and the first two rounds have been released,” he said.
“We will continue to work on the final rounds.
“There were some discussions with other teams, but none of that came to fruition, so we will go with the six teams and the benefit is we will be represented by all three leagues.”
The reigning premiers from all three leagues – North Gambier, Kalangadoo and Mundulla – are all in the mix, which will add some intrigue to the competition.
“I thought that added to the level of interest,” Smart said.
“Many years ago various leagues had the premiers v premiers, but I have not seen one of them for a long time.
“This provides something similar where we get to see the leagues’ best go head-to-head.
“They may have different playing lists, but it definitely creates some interest.”
Many teams have decided not to be a part of the competition, which provides the chance for those players who still want a game to transfer to another club for this competition.
A COVID program has been created to accommodate those moves.
“The program allows players to temporarily go to other clubs, then they need to revert to their home clubs after finals,” Smart said.
“From our understanding there are players from clubs not participating who still want to have a kick.
“It does not have to be A Grade – it could be B Grade which may provide a better standard across the board.”
To ensure a real football experience, where possible the new league will integrate with junior competitions which have been set down for the three separate leagues, to create a big day of football at one venue.
“We are still working on that programming,” Smart said.
“Where we can we will try to integrate senior and junior matches, which may extend through to finals as well.
“As much as we can provide a normal footy day we will endeavour to do so.”
The continued relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions provides an opportunity for clubs to have some financial return for their efforts and some extra safety regarding the health and well-being of participants.
Showers will be open for players, while canteen and bar facilities will be able to function.
Crowd numbers will also be relaxed to allow spectators to enjoy a day of football again.
“Our understanding, which changes all the time, is it is pretty well open as per normal,” Smart said.
“With the crowd sizes we get and the space we have within every ground, we should be able to have unlimited attendance without any issues.
“The canteens, bars and gate fees provide revenue for the clubs, which all helps the clubs and the leagues.”
The final makeup of the league is a real feather in the cap of the Limestone Coast Football Council.
To be able to pull it all together in a limited time, while adhering to the changing restrictions has been a monumental task.
In the end Smart said it was all about providing some form of normality for the football fraternity.
“From a football council and SANFL perspective and the three leagues, I think it is just a real positive to pull it together,” he said.
“It shows some real leadership across the region.
“The bottom line is it provides an opportunity to get people out playing football, allows the volunteers to reactivate their involvement and allows social interaction from people across the zones.
“There are just no negatives to it.”
Smart said he simply hopes supporters in the region enjoy the new format.
“I think just seeing teams from the three different leagues compete against each other will be a big highlight,” he said.
“I think maybe people will view that in a different light.
“Whether it has any change on the football landscape going forward we do not know, but it definitely opens up opportunities.”