The 2021 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season has dragged Casterton Sandford through hell and the recent Victorian lockdown measures only added to the pain.
The Cats have had little to celebrate since returning to the game this year and sadly rookie A Grade coach Kane Forbes is yet to feel the winning feeling.
Six of the seven defeats have been lost by at least 70 points, while the deficits in the last three fixtures all exceed 100 points.
With an entire starting 18 on the injury list, it is grim wherever you look at Island Park and the latest lockdown puts Casterton Sandford even further behind its rivals.
However, Forbes believes the lockdown measures and eventual post-ponement of the WBFL are positives for his team, allowing players the chance to step away from the game for a while.
“It is probably a little bit of a blessing in disguise because it’s no secret we have been battling a little bit on field,” he said.
“Having this little period gives the playing group time to reset mentally and hopefully come out the other side fresher and giving it a red-hot crack.” After even tighter border restrictions kept the Cats indoors last year, the club made the late, but well-supported decision to remain as the only Victorian club in the WBFL.
Almost every aspect of the club was overhauled with Forbes replacing Hamish Jarrad as the senior coach, Dylan Ayton coming back as a playing president, while many big names such as Will MacDonald, Trent Nesbitt, Daniel Richardson and Tom Sullivan departed from the team sheet with a locally focused approach to recruitment.
Unfortunately, it delayed the side’s preparations for its first on-field appearance in one and a half years and Forbes said the hampered pre-season has given teams the opportunity to runover his men.
“Obviously the results have ended really badly, but nine times of 10 it has been down to one or two bad quarters, which I purely believe is down to a few things,” he said.
“We’re not fit enough, which goes back to the delayed start we had with everything going on like the vote, the potential of moving leagues and not knowing who the president or coach will be.
“I also believe it is the mental side of things being a very young side – we have had around eight debutantes and 15 players with less than 20 games.
“So when things get a little bit tough, we do not have the on-field leaders to help pull us back to knowing and backing our system.
“Then mentally we just lose ourselves out of the game and the results follow.” To add to Casterton Sandford’s woes, the side has rotten luck with many promising players suffering heart-breaking injuries.
The most shattering stories were the cases of Charlie Jarrad and Tom Foster.
Jarrad did his knee in round 3 against East, while Foster broke his collarbone after just five quarters and is yet to go under the knife.
Forbes said he felt the most for those two youngsters, who had done a “power of work” to be ready for the top level, while another season-ending knee injury struck rising talent James Boulton.
Experienced head Kyle Carlin did not even get a chance to play after he also hurt his knee, while uncertainty surrounds the fate of veteran Matthew Killey.
The longtime Cat broke his back in three places and is still struggling to recover.
Dylan Ryan has also experienced back problems and Jock Cleary did his calf, but hope remains with Jarrad Smith looking to overcome his hamstring twang soon.
Despite the bleak short-term with the wooden spoon almost a certainty, Forbes believes there is plenty of optimism around Island Park for the future.
He said Ayton is fully committed to the president’s role and financially things are okay, while the town is throwing its support behind the team.
“I guess we’re pretty lucky that we are in a really good position financially,” Forbes said.
“We have great systems set up underneath the executive, cattle club and things like that.
“I know (WBFL president) Michael summers has been absolutely fantastic through the whole ordeal and is always talking to Dylan Ayton.
“Dylan is a very passionate man and his goal is to turn us into the best country football club in Victoria.
“We have a lot of ground to make, but we are taking small steps in the right direction.” Those steps have also been evident on the field with Casterton Sandford a consistent threat from the first bounce.
Despite losing every game heavily, the Cats have been challenged their opponents and made them earn every possession during the opening stages.
The early assaults have been led by “contested beast” Diarmid Cleary, while younger faces Dillan Carlin, Ricky Killey and Jackson Gibbs are also getting their hands on the ball.
Sadly, these players have been denied the chance to carry on their momentum with the recent COVID- 19 outbreak in Melbourne postponing the Western Border season.
But as non-Interleague players enjoy an extended four-week break between games, Forbes is hopeful his team can return as an improved outfit.
He said he will not apply too much pressure on players to train during the break, with a heavier focus on recharging the batteries from a bruising first half of the season.
“We could do some work with some fitness and to the boys’ credit, I have seen a lot of them doing their own work, but I really want to use this as a chance to mentally and physically refresh,” Forbes said.
“I want the boys to really enjoy their break and come back trying to get the monkey off the shoulder and get score the first win.” With many individuals pouring their heart and soul into the club, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Casterton Sandford, whenever it receives the chance to play again.