14 August 2020

Albury-Wodonga forced to withdraw from Capital League

| Henry Jacobs
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Albury-Wodonga Spitfires player in action.

The Albury-Wodonga Spitfires have had to withdraw from the 2020 Capital League hockey season. Photo: AverageJo Photography.

The Albury-Wodonga Spitfires have withdrawn from the 2020 Capital League season as a result of strict COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Hockey ACT.

The Spitfires previously agreed to sit out the first six weeks of the season, which began on 10 July, and return to play for double points in the final four rounds.

A ban on players who live in Victoria, or who enter the southern state for work, ultimately led to the decision after lengthy discussions between Hockey ACT, Hockey Albury-Wodonga and the ACT Government.

“Hockey ACT has been really keen to ensure the Spitfires had every chance to participate in 2020, however due to the ongoing health crisis and the difficulties surrounding those people living in border towns, the decision has been made that competing in 2020 would be logistically impossible for the players involved,” said Hockey ACT CEO Rob Sheekey.

“Life in most border towns sees people travelling interstate every day for life and work. Unfortunately with players needing to travel into Victoria for work on a daily basis, and the current travel restrictions, we were left with very few options.”

There have been no COVID-19 cases in the Albury local government area for more than a month, however Victorian authorities listed two active cases in Wodonga LGA as of 13 August.

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The ACT hasn’t reported a positive case since mid-July, but all parties agreed allowing the Spitfires to participate in the Capital League isn’t worth the risk.

“We have been caught in the border protocols which do not reflect favourably on our regional areas irrespective of their COVID-19 status,” said Hockey Albury-Wodonga president Bert Eastoe.

The Spitfires finished the 2019 season sixth out of eight teams in the Capital League, eight points away from the top-four finish required to play finals. In January, Hockey Albury-Wodonga opted not to form a women’s side due to a lack of players with state league experience.

Albury-Wodonga Spitfires player in action.

Hockey ACT has confirmed its future commitment to the Spitfires’ participation in the Capital League. Photo: AverageJo Photography.

Consistent setbacks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria hampered the men’s preparation for their scheduled return to competition in late August. Coach Tony Donnolley plans to use the disappointment as motivation in 2021.

“The uncertainty has made it difficult to prepare for a season which may not have been going to happen,” he said. “Their effort and attitude is a credit to them. Hopefully this makes them hungrier to perform next year.”

Hockey ACT reiterated its commitment to Albury-Wodonga’s future involvement in the Capital League and is confident the sport will bounce back in the region.

“Hockey ACT thanks all of the players, staff and administrators for their dedication and commitment to the competition this season under extremely difficult circumstances,” said Mr Sheekey.

Players on the NSW side of the border will still have an opportunity to take the field in 2020 with a local women’s and men’s premier grade and mixed social competitions recently formed in Albury. The season begins on Saturday, 15 August, with a meet-and-greet for new teams and practice matches before round one the following weekend.

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