The River Murray Football League (RMFL) junior and senior competitions will commence on Saturday with a new-look, six-team, 10-week minor round competition.
The season was postponed in March and in real danger of being completely abandoned before it began, a situation the league hadn't faced since 1943 when World War II saw the cancellation of football in the region.
The future of the 2020 season was in doubt when the league was forced to cancel the opening rounds amid global COVID-19 shutdowns.
The RMFL joined the SANFL and all other state and community leagues across Australia in closing until at least May 31.
That date came and went without restrictions easing to a point where play could resume as hoped.
The league was prepared for a worst case scenario of no competition in 2020 - a fate the River Murray Netball Association, which runs parallel to River Murray football - has had to endure.
However, the league remained committed to adhering to its mission statement:
- To provide all stakeholders with affordable, accessible, enjoyable and competitive games of Australian rules football in a safe environment, whilst making a meaningful contribution to the community and the sustainable development of the game.
The SANFL, working with the state government, announced training could resume with strict social distancing regulations from May 18 and some - but not all clubs - hit the track in groups of 10.
From June 1 groups of 20 were allowed to train together, with further distancing and hygiene regulations.
Full squad and contact training was allowed from June 26 and, finally, competition was allowed to return from July 3.
River Murray to return
On June 18, RMFL president Terry Connolly said he was excited to announce the return of footy when the league adopted its new program, which commences this week on July 4.
"Throughout the emergence of COVID-19 we have stated that we would be guided by the advice received from the SANFL, government and SA Health authorities," Connolly said.
"The RMFL's goal is and always has been, is to get everyone playing again as soon as it is safe to do so," he said.
"Our return to play strategy has been focused on ensuring we had the clear endorsement of the SANFL, State government and public health officials at every phase of return."
Connolly said the impacts of the virus had been felt across the entire RMFL community, with each club facing its own unique combination of challenges.
"Through this pandemic the RMFL has prioritised the importance of our relationships with clubs and has maintained a high degree of engagement," he said.
Why it's important to play
Connolly said the River Murray board met with club delegates on June 17 and resolved to play in 2020 as the league and its clubs "acknowledged how important it is for the youth of our community to get back to playing".
"There is certainly an expectation for us to lead the way," he said.
"In addition to providing a physical and mentally healthy outlet for all our participants, the competition also offers a great social connection for families and is part of the cultural fabric of country communities.
"(Football) has an ability like no other to connect, unite and bond communities."
League, reserves, under 17.5, under 15 and under 13 competitions will all go ahead.
Bears in hibernation
The Meningie Football Club, however, announced that it would not be participating in season 2020, due to the challenges faced as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of senior player numbers.
The Meningie Football Club committee held a special meeting and, after weeks of deliberation, voted unanimously to withdraw its senior and junior teams from season 2020.
In a statement released online, the Meningie Football Club said there were "many factors which contributed to the reluctant decision".
- "Please be assured the committee has done everything possible and explored all options to make a playing season viable, however in all instances, the outcomes were not positive for our club to move forward this season.
- We acknowledge the COVID-19 restrictions are easing, however to manage the return to play policy, coupled with the extra tasks of making our facility safe, puts extra pressure on our hard-working volunteers.
- Our members are our top priority and this decision was not made lightly. Rest assured, the committee is already working towards season 2021. We will be back better and stronger."
- Meningie Football Club
The 2020 competition will consist of 10 weeks of home and away football with a three-week finals series, commencing on July 4 and finishing with the grand final on September 26.
Connolly said clubs determined that playing each other twice was a fair and equitable season and was sufficient to determine a top four for the finals.
"This is a great outcome given that we were not even sure less than a month ago if we would have the opportunity to play football in 2020," Connolly said.
President pays tribute
"None of this would have been achievable without the continued support of our clubs and for that I thank all clubs for their support and understanding as they lead their football clubs and communities through this period," Connolly said.
"We know how much community football means to our supporters and we look forward to working together to ensure our clubs return to play in a safe and well managed environment.
"While we are delighted to see the manner in which our clubs have adjusted to the new realities of modified training and limited social contact, we remind our entire football community that any breaches of the existing social distancing rules may compromise our ability to resume football.
"We have demonstrated we can follow pretty strict protocols and I expect that we will continue to do that.
"I want to again acknowledge our supporters for their patience and understanding, and we look forward to seeing them at the football."