Grafton hockey adjusts to life under COVID-19 restrictions
OPENING day of the Grafton Hockey Association season is usually buzzing with excitement as crowds cheer their friends and family on, but this year was different.
McAuley White and Barbs Helgas opened proceedings in the women's first grade competition on Brent Livermore Field with just a small handful of spectators at the ground.
Adding to the unusual atmosphere, sign-in stations and the use of a temporary benches on the western side of the field gave a clear indication this was no ordinary season ahead of us.
The COVID-19 pandemic had almost wiped all winter community sports in the Clarence Valley out for 2020, with senior rugby league a major casualty, but GHA has soldiered on.
There were fears over the association's ability to go ahead with a season, and despite a lack of senior men - competing with just a third grade competition this year - the women have held strong to hold onto first, second and third grades.
GHA publicity officer Mary Day said it had been tough for the association to comply with all the restrictions for a safe return, but was pleased to be able to go ahead.
"It's been really tough for Marg Francis, the manager at the GHA complex. She's been responsible for plans in place regarding the safety of players and staff," Day said.
"There was quite a bit of uncertainty regarding when it would start, and whether it would be worthwhile putting the season on but that cloud has now lifted."
Running for 10 weeks without finals, the senior competition will take more of a casual approach this year, but competitive spirit was still on show during the opening round on Saturday.
Newly appointed McAuley coach Rick Sampson has taken over the bright crop of talent from former manager Harrison Smith and will look to guide the group through another year of top quality hockey.
McAuley star Ellynie Cameron was at her goalscoring best, while some new faces joined the reigning premiers for their first hit out after some departures at the end of 2019.
Barbs' young core showed glimpses of their strength from last year and put on a strong defensive show to prevent a McAuley White wash, but they will be hoping to regather some form in the weeks to come.
For now, it's great to have hockey back in the Clarence Valley after a long and anxious wait on the sidelines.