The long wait for footy is almost over

Sawtell/Toormina and Coffs Breakers will meet in their traditional Anzac Round match to start the season. Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

THE opening matches of the AFL North Coast season on Saturday will mark the end of a 252-day wait since a COVID shutdown prematurely ended last year’s campaign.

The Anzac Round will see once again see Sawtell/Toormina clash with local rival the Coffs Breakers and a match between Northern Beaches and Grafton.

Port Macquarie’s mens and women’s teams will start the season with a bye but the Magpies reserve grade team will be at home against the Casino Lions.

The top two teams on the ladder in the men’s competition last year were the Coffs Breakers and Sawtell/Toormina, leaving both with the feeling all summer long that the chance to win a grand final slipped through their fingers.

Both of the men’s teams have new coaches this year with Ben Watson calling the shots at the Breakers and Nic Morgan at Sawtell/Toormina.

“2022 has been a challenging start for all of the teams with the weather we’ve had but we’re very fortunate to have a season and to be able to play,” Morgan said.

“We feel for the teams that aren’t able to play like the Lismore Swans. It’s quite devastating for them that they won’t be joining us.

“We’re looking forward to playing on Saturday. We’re going into the start of the season pretty open minded but we’ll attack the season with the goal of winning as many matches as possible and showing all of our supporters our brand of football and show that it can be successful both on and off the field.”

Watson said he can’t fault the attitude of the Breakers players over what’s been a difficult pre-season.

“We’ve had some really good turnouts when we could train. We’ve been impacted over the pre-season like everybody else has,” Watson said.

“The guys from last year have shown up with a strong attitude. I think they see last year like they’ve missed a bit of an opportunity.”

Playing in the local derby is a clash that can create a lot of hype, but Watson is trying to downplay the occasion at Fitzroy Oval.

“It’s good to have the local game straight up but I think it’s really important we just get off to a good start and try to play our brand of football,” he said.

“I think a lot of the old rivalry might’ve moved on with a lot of the older players no longer playing but I think it will be a good game.”

The winner of the 2021 AFL North Coast Women’s League Best and Fairest award was Northern Beaches midfielder Gina Cardillo. Her season starts again on Saturday with a home game for the Blues against Grafton. Photo: Green Shoots Marketing

The other match of the opening round will see Grafton travel to Woolgoolga to face Northern Beaches.

The women’s match which starts at 11.50am will see an ever-improving Grafton team test their credentials against the strong Blues.

The Blues have lost the majority of their strong midfield from last year’s squad but last year’s League Best & Fairest winner Gina Cardillo remains.

Northern Beaches playing coach Alana Hanson said of the 26 players the Blues had last year only nine remain.

“We’ve got a whole group of fresh new faces,” Hanson said.

“The girls are really excited about playing and getting some more experience. We were competitive against Sawtell in last week’s practice match, that was a positive.

“Grafton seems to be a bit of an unknown at this stage. We haven’t heard much about them so it will be interesting to see what they’re like.”

Tigers coach Warren Bagnall said his team isn’t overly concerned about the relative strength of the opposition during these early stages of the season.

“All I’m asking of the girls at this stage is that they have a red-hot crack trying to improve,” Bagnall said.

“Hopefully they can get a bit of confidence up at the start of the season, but I suppose in the first game we’ll find out a bit about where we’re at.”

ROUND 1 – Saturday, April 23

NORTHERN BEACHES vs GRAFTON at Centennial Oval, Woolgoolga
(11.50am – Women; 1.20pm – Reserves; 2.50pm – Seniors)
COFFS BREAKERS vs SAWTELL/TOORMINA at Fitzroy Oval, Coffs Harbour
(10.00am – Under-17s; 11.50am – Women; 1.20pm – Reserves; 1.45pm – Seniors)

PORT MACQUARIE vs CASINO LIONS at Wayne Richards Park, Port Macquarie
(2.30pm – Reserves)

Final scores from around the grounds will be posted on Twitter and Instagram soon after the siren sounds in the senior matches – Follow @AFLNorthCoast