It was disappointing, of course, yet it was no surprise.

The email from AFL NSW declared, officially, what everyone had assumed: the outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant meant that all Australian rules football competition, senior and junior, men’s and women’s, on the northern beaches and across the Sydney basin, is done and done for ’21.

Or is it?

AFL NSW’s popular 9s competitions is still a show of starting in October or November if – when, people! When! – restrictions lift post-lockdown.

Each year at Narrabeen and Balgowlah there are four 9s competitions which run back-to-back in alignment with school terms. The fourth one of this year remains scheduled to begin October 11.

And while Sherrins may not bounce on that date, a shortened competition remains a fair possibility, according to coordinator of the Narrabeen 9s competition, Bec New.

“We’re obviously like everyone else, sitting back and waiting for instructions on when we’re able to go.

“Our third competition was cancelled but the fourth one is still a possibility – even in a shortened season,” New said.

AFL9s is mixed, touch, short form, small ground footy. And it could be up and going soon as we’re out limbo, says AFL 9s official, Bec New. Pic: AFL9s.com.

New and AFL9s officials have form here. After restrictions from the last lockdown were eased early in 2021, New said the competitions resumed largely seamlessly – with a few caveats.

“We did have to abide by various measures. Players couldn’t mingle after games. There were no spectators.

“But if there’s enough interest from people this time around – and we have about 200 people who play in the Narrabeen competition – we’ll be ready to go,” New said. 

They’re good to go at Manly Warringah Wolves, too, with the club talking about holding an intra-club 9s competition featuring men’s, women’s and mixed teams.

Yet any thoughts of a full-field, full teams competing in a gala day or “friendly” matches is a bridge too far for the senior club, according to Wolves Men’s Football Director, Louis Cannatelli

“Getting back to competitive football is not just a matter of turning up and playing, you need a number of weeks to prepare.

“I think, without any real reward for effort, I doubt there’s any point preparing for a gala day, a round robin day. These things take time and effort.

“And to train for … well, maybe not ‘nothing’ I suppose, perhaps at the end of the day there’d be a carnival ‘winner’.

“But I’d be very doubtful if we’d get it going,” Canatelli said.

Weldon Oval in Harbord is a cracking place to watch football on a sunny afternoon. But we won’t this year, reckons Wolves Head of Football Louis Cannatelli. Pic: Sydney AFL.

Pre-season training for the Wolves traditionally starts the end of November. There is also cricket knocking on the door.

Cannatelli is also concerned for the physical and mental welfare of players who’ve been training hard during lockdown.

“We’ve had a number of players who’ve been keeping up to the mark in preparation to come back and play. So my fear is if we jump into pre-season next month and then build up to games, we could be guys who’ve been training for eight months.

“I had a player ring me the other day concerned about. It was matter of a saying to him: don’t build up too quickly and have a break. And then reset for pre-season end of November.

“It’s all about planning for next year now,” Cannatelli said.

Reigning premiers from 2020 the Manly Warringah Wolves. Pic: @Carter_capture

Yet the Wolves committee is more bullish about a proposed 9s comp. Cannatelli said it could happen “sooner rather than later” once the nature of football post-lockdown is known.

“9s is a short game, small grounds, no contact. So that would be a fairly failsafe way to get something happening, even if it’s just for morale,” Cannatelli said.

Yet it could come down to facilities. Grounds such Frank Gray Oval and Mike Pawley Oval in Curl Curl are “not necessarily ours anymore,” according to Cannatelli said, referring to their use by summer sports.

Gala days could still be enjoyed by the northern beaches’ junior footy clubs Balgowlah Suns, Manly Bombers, Forest Lions and Pittwater Tigers. Even Willoughby Wildcats and Mosman Swans could be invited along if their LGA is given the all-clear.

“Junior footy though has the opportunity to do that. They could have gala days, with age groups, winner stays on.

“Been done in the past.

“There’s merit in that,” Cannatelli said.

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