What's a Junior State Cup title worth, do you reckon?
Like, how much does it really mean?
Well, witness the joy on the faces of winners - from Wagga's outstanding Under 10 girls, to Hills Hornets Under 14 girls who defied the odds to defeat Balmain in a 16-15 thriller, or Parramatta's Under 18 boys, who looked like being denied in the final minute but snatched a Cup title at last, in the final seconds.
And then see the tears on the face of a coach - of Milad Almaou, whose Under 16 boys put pride back into Wests Touch association, and something else into the soul of their mentor, with a 7-2 grand final win against Cronulla.
"I was in the womens' arm of our juniors for a long time. But I retired from juniors last year because we lost Mum on the 30th November," Almaou told The Daily Advertiser.
"The club reached out because they needed my support in the men's. And I needed the distraction."
Almaou barely saw his mother in her final months, as COVID-19 struck his family, and hard. Many were seriously ill, including him. He lost 15kg, but was able to see his mother for one goodbye before she died.
A couple of months later, touch was a welcome calling, and Junior State Cup the campaign.
"I had five weeks with these boys and no-one gave us a hope. We lost about five or six superstars who are playing league. The hot-shots were Penrith and Orange. Credit to Cronulla. And Western Suburbs."
Cronulla beat Orange in the semi-finals. The Magpies downed Penrith, 9-8.
"They tried to intimidate our boys in the warm-up, but you're talking to an old dinosaur here. It's white noise to me," said Almaou, an ex-premier league captain.
"What we knew is that tournaments aren't just won on ability. They're won with courage, and big hearts.
"Every team has got pain and tiredness. So at the end of the day, it comes down to a big heart."
Almaoui thumped his chest for emphasis.
"We brought that culture back. Us coaches, from playing mens' opens 20 years, 30 years ago. We brought that back," he said.
"We've had them all together for the whole weekend. We've fed them, had pool recoveries. We've been hard on them. And this is the reason they've won... they've listened.
"I can't be more proud. Just making the semis I was proud so winning the grand final is unbelievable.
"There's some quality football there. Teams are getting coached correctly. I guess everyone's coaching the same way so at the end of the day it comes down to this [thumps chest again].
"And our boys had that ticker."
Parramatta's Under 18 boys coach, Josh Phillips, echoed the sentiments on standard, after his side took out the blue ribbon event at the carnival.
"We love coming down to Wagga, it's a dry track and good footy," Phillips said.
"The standard is getting better and better. We've got a lot of players especially in the 18s who play rep football - rugby league and rugby union - and I think the reason they're good at that is because of touch footy. The amount of skills they get from this sport is immense.
Parramatta knocked over Wagga's U18 boys, who were knocked around by losing players to rugby league and AFL representative commitments, but still made the semi-finals.
"Eight of our players could've played in the under 16s and they went really, really well .They've probably overachieved for their age," co-coach Alex McKenzie said after they went down to the Eels.
"Parramatta's probably the bench mark, they've got some boys that play a pretty high level in Sydney. They're the team to beat and they'll go on to win it, I imagine... To go toe-to-toe with them for a long time is a really good effort. The boys went really, really well."
Wagga had three teams make grand finals (only Penrith had more) including the U18s girls. When the dust settled on their disappointment of losing to Orange, they could reflect on a great carnival.
"The girls played some really tough touch footy and some really attractive touch footy. A couple of the games were the best I've seen them play in the four or five years they've been together. So it's fantastic," coach Evan Robertson said.
Andrew Baggio and wife Virginia coached Wagga's two champion teams, the U12 girls and U10 girls respectively. They praised the Vipers culture.
"The teams are all up there and the ones that have missed out, it's only just. So we're doing something right if we're getting teams making the finals and everyone's playing on Sundays at a high level," Andrew said.
Splitting the state in two, with Wagga hosting the Southern Conference for four years now, has helped.
"I think it's got us a hell of a lot more developed as a club. Some teams are training twice a week and it's building up the team morale around the club, it's really high," he said.
"The last week, leading up to it, there's such a buzz. The girls were so excited. We're lucky to have it here and hopefully that continues."
Wagga's Chris Dolahenty is a vice-president at NSW Touch. He was president of the Wagga association when the Southern Conference was initiated and was delighted to see the fourth edition unfold superbly.
"Absolutely, I'm proud," Dolahenty said.
"There's kids playing today in the 14s that I coached a few years ago. To see them still playing, still enjoying themselves and going on to other representative duties, it's really pleasing.
"I think it's been great not only for the development of players but of the coaches and administration as well. So the support structures are in place to help the kids perform at their highest level.... it's a holistic approach and it means we can compete on the same stage as these city players, which is really important."
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