Crowds flocked to grounds around Ballarat and the Central Highlands to support their clubs as community football and netball returned for the first time in 18 months.
There was a sense of relief across grounds as the community could once again return to their winter meeting place, enjoy a pie or a hot dog and watch their teams play.
Cars encircled the fence at Bungaree Recreation Reserve as the Demons hosted Buninyong to open the Central Highlands Football League season.
For some supporters, it was their first taste of live sport of any kind since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down just about everything in March last year.
Bungaree Football Netball Club president Andrew Maher said the return of community sport had been a long time coming.
"We're finally here, the weather [was] beautiful for us and we've got a massive crowd here... and people just keen to get out and play the sport again and it's great to be here," he said.
"The families are out, the kids are out and I've never seen so many people turn up on a first match, game one, and couldn't ask for better."
This particular matchday had an additional layer of significance for Bungaree as it was also the first time the club had played at home since the passing of club legend Danny Frawley in September 2019.
"This is a meeting place, a gathering place for the community," he said.
"This is their house, this is their place of meeting and to catch up with friends and family.
"Just to get back to communicating again, I think it's a great thing socially, it's good for the mental health of people and wellbeing of people as well, so it's really good for the club.
"It was a big hole in the whole community. You couldn't catch up, you couldn't meet, you couldn't even grieve on what happened in the past 18 months so it's been a big thing for us to get together again."
Supporters also returned to Alfredton Oval as Ballarat hosted Bacchus Marsh.
Ballarat president Karl Drever said it was a great feeling to be back and estimated more than 1000 people would have made their way to the ground over the course of the day.
"A lot of families and people in the community getting to put on their club colours was fantastic and seeing a lot of faces we haven't seen for a while," he said.
"I would've liked to think that throughout the day we would've had over 1000. There were a lot of people standing around the boundary socially distanced."
Mr Drever said the turnout would provide the club with a financial boost.
"It is good and obviously the more people you get, the bar's up and the canteen's up. There are still costs that go to the club and gate and the canteen is critical," he said.
"Clubs do still raise a lot of money through functions and we don't know what that could be like so people getting out and supporting the clubs is much appreciated."
Mr Drever said the supporters he spoke to were all excited to be back watching the Swans. "I spoke to a lot of people throughout the day and everyone said it was great to be back," he said.
"We always care about the result but it wasn't the most important thing yesterday, it was more about getting back to community sport."
Sebastopol president Darren Hammill said he expected a big crowd for the team's opener against East Point at Eastern Oval and was not disappointed.
"From where we left off from the grand final, it was good to see all the supporters return and catch up," he said.
"Because of the interruption to our change rooms getting renovated, it will be a few more weeks until we get there but when we do get there, it will be very enjoyable with the new facilities and the community coming back.
"It's just not footy, it's netball as well and the junior footy, it's all happening at the moment and the win was just a bonus."
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