St Kilda’s Next Generation Academy is back up and running three months after COVID-19 flipped the AFL industry on its head.
The NGA recommenced its on-field programs last Thursday at Trevor Barker Beach Oval with the support of Dairy Famers, with today marking the second session following the program’s postponement in March.
Academy leader and triple All-Australian Nick Dal Santo was rapt to return after the necessary lay-off, and said the players were “jumping out of their skins” to get underway.
“It’s really exciting to be back. Going back to last Thursday, their skill level and their enthusiasm to get back involved was really enjoyable,” Dal Santo told saints.com.au.
“They’d obviously done some work and there were a couple of boys who really stood out from where they were three or four months ago before COVID started, so we were really pleased.”
Players had to complete set fitness, skills and weights programs in isolation during the lockdown, with many having to improvise or overcome various hurdles to do so.
But while the academy talents were deprived of their usual facilities and on-field training sessions, the off-field learnings continued through regular Zoom meetings.
“Once COVID sort of hit and we realised the world was shutting down, we spoke about the mental side of things and the need to show resilience and make the best out of a really difficult situation like everyone else is,” Dal Santo said.
“What you could see on Thursday was that they were craving to do a proper drill and have a kick of the footy with more than one other person, rather than against a brick wall.
“When I was a young kid in that situation, my favourite thing was having a kick of the footy with my mates, and they were able to do it on Thursday for the first time with us in what was about three or four months.
Current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria allow no more than 20 people per group to train outdoors, with the NGA ensuring it has gone “above and beyond” to adhere to the State Government’s regulations and protect the health and well-being of all involved.
While Victoria’s rapid increase in reported COVID-19 cases threaten to suspend sporting groups for a second time, the gradual re-emergence of junior sports programs in the south-east gives a glimmer of optimism.
Whether they be junior footballers, elite academy members, or aspiring AusKickers, Dal Santo says their resurfacing is great to see.
"I was driving through Brighton and Elwood and there were some kids all wearing all the same coloured jumpers, so I was assume it was a game or a training session," Dal Santo said.
“We always speak about the AFL players and how it impacts them because clearly they’re the ones that we see on TV and that we follow, but this has filtered through to kids.
“It's great to see sporting teams back and we’re thrilled to be able to help these young boys get back out.”
St Kilda's Youth Academies (U13-15 boys and girls) are also looking to return in August throughout the second half of the year in the club's southern bayside hub (FDJFL & Dandenong Stingrays) and northern bayside hub (SMJFL & Sandringham Dragons).
Dairy Farmers started its partnership with St Kilda Football Club in 2020 and is committed to growing the future of football from a grassroots level.