It's the haunting disappointment that just won't go away.
Two years after they went down to North Wagga in the Farrer League grand final, East Wagga-Kooringal still can't get their shot at redemption.
Hawks coach Matt Hard was shattered on that sunny September day in 2019 after they let the Saints slip away late in the second quarter. But never could he imagine that, two years on, they'd still be waiting for the next finals series.
"Yeah it does. Absolutely. Once you lose one, it's that bitter taste in your mouth. So you recruit, you train hard and you just can't wait to play footy. We built up for 2020... then in 2021, you're there," Hard said, referring to their second place on the ladder and in-form finish to the season.
"We know (minor premiers) Marrar had an outstanding season but we thought we were there to put up a really good challenge to them. And that's been taken away."
The Hawks coach was disappointed but not surprised by Thursday's declaration from deputy premier John Barilaro that community sport isn't permitted despite the lifting of the lockdown in the Riverina.
"You always have dreams and aspirations of playing finals football and being successful and we put a hell of a lot of work to make that sort of become reality. But looking through the crystal ball ... I don't think we were going to go from what it is back to what it was," he said.
"So I suppose deep down you knew but were still hoping otherwise."
It was the shock lockdown announcement with very little notice on a Saturday afternoon a month ago - with the Hawks in the middle of a very impressive final round win against Charles Sturt University - that hit Hard.
"It smacks you in the back of the head that day because, while we knew it was there (the possibility of a lockdown), you didn't see it coming," he said.
"It was just sort of hoping then, 'please, we've got this far, just give us three weeks'.
"Now we've been through what we've been through... all the players still want to play and that's fine, but it's four weeks since our last game, you're losing your match fitness each week and it just makes it hard. It's all hard to come back from."
AFL Riverina had already cut finals from four weeks to two, and shifted the potential finish date back to early October.
There remains a very slight glimmer of hope that senior league finals could be considered major ticketed events rather than classed as 'community sport' and officials are awaiting the detail in the public health order before taking a final position.
Hard hasn't been a fan of holding on too long in vain hope.
"I totally agree that there's got to be a time on it. I said that originally. You've to put a ceiling on it because you can't just dangle the carrot there and dangle the carrot there. Every day that it goes on, it gets harder. The biggest concern is the total disconnect from being together constantly, enjoying friendships and camaraderie, to life as it is today," he said.
There is also the concern of the standard of football in finals after a six-week spell, and in hotter weather.
Hard said it is frustrating, particularly as a strong believer in the importance of sport in keeping country communities together. But in 2021, anything was always possible.
"I'm as disappointed as the next person. It's a real anti-climax to what's been a very good season. But the blunt reality is we would've been naive to think it wasn't going to happen," he added.
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