MANGOPLAH-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes coach Jeremy Rowe has described the decision not to allow community sport to resume after lockdown ends on Friday as "a kick in the guts".
Rowe also questioned why outdoor activities were now able to proceed with a crowd, but sport was not included.
NSW deputy premier John Barilaro confirmed on Thursday community sport will be unable to continue until a double vaccination rate of 80 per cent is reached, which isn't expected to be achieved until November.
AFL Riverina had hoped to start a two-week Riverina League finals series next weekend, but those hopes have now been dashed.
The Goannas finished second on the ladder with a 13-2 record as they aimed for a first premiership since 1993, and Rowe was shattered the hard work done by the club won't be rewarded with a conclusion.
"It's obviously great news for local businesses and the community (to come out of lockdown), and you have to be aware there's a bigger picture. But certainly from a footy perspective, it's devastating and a massive kick in the guts," he said.
"No doubt everyone was very much aware there was a high possibility of this happening, but when it does unfold it's really difficult to accept."
Rowe was puzzled by some of stipulations. Stadiums, racecourses, theme parks and zoos are free to reopen with one person per 4sqm, capped at 5000 people, while up to 500 people can attend ticketed and seated outdoor events.
"Certainly when you read the stadium, theatre and outdoor facility rules, you go wow why can't we play community sport," he said.
"You can fit 5000 people in a stadium or a racecourse and have 500 people attend an outdoor event, but you can't play community sport, which does seem quite ridiculous really.
"But the rules are what they are and we've been operating with a definite awareness this had a high potential to happen."
The Goannas had devoted plenty of time and resources in a bid to end the longest flag drought in the league, and Rowe said being robbed of a finish would take some time to digest.
The club's netball team was also looking to defend its first grade title after finishing top of the ladder.
"For those not quite as invested it's easy to have a 'play on' type attitude, and that's OK for those people," he said.
"But for those who have emotional or financial investment, it's a kick in the guts and there'll be people in our club who are hugely disappointed. I'm definitely one of them.
"I just know how much people in our club had riding on this season. Ever year you look forward to the season, but we put a lot into the year and it was being enjoyed across the football and netball programs who had lofty ambitions.
"We don't know if we'd achieve them or not, but we put ourselves in a good position.
"Definitely you do find it difficult to have it taken away from you, and it will take a while for that feeling to subside. At some point you have to dust yourself off and work out what the next challenge is, but right now it's far too early to do that because you're very much focused on what could have been."
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Wagga Tigers president Paul Lucas said the news was a bitter pill, but wasn't a huge shock.
"I was disappointed to hear it, but when they were talking about having five vaccinated people in an outdoor gathering for other parts of the country, I couldn't see us having 40-odd people playing a contact sport.
"I hope cricket can get their season in, and unless there's another strain we should be able to complete the (Riverina League) year next year.
"I've spoken to Murray (Stephenson, Tigers coach) today and he's very disappointed, but there's bigger things.
"I've just spoken to my brother in Coogee and they've got not much to look forward to over there.
"But we saw how important football was to society last year when people turned out in their droves to watch the Riverina Championship, we're social beings really."
Griffith president Jeff Harris could see the reasoning behind the decision, but said plenty of Swans players would be struggling with the news.
The Swans finished third on the reserve grade ladder and were unbeaten in the under 17.5s, while their first grade netballers enjoyed a top two finish.
"It was probably what we expected. It (Riverina) opened up a bit more than I though they might, which is good for other areas of the community," he said.
"There's certainly the bigger picture to look at. The chances of opening up community sport covering so many LGA's (local government areas) probably wasn't great. The towns in the competition cover about half a dozen, let alone any extension of that for travelling players.
It (easing of restrictions) allows them to do things like the Aggies races. When you think about footy it's a heavy contact sport like most other footy codes, it's a different beast to other sports.
"A lot of players would have been hanging onto it as something to look forward to, it would be a crushing blow for them I would have thought."
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