It was a season nearly 600 days in the making.
The COVID-19 forced hiatus, punctured with uncertainty and tension, was always going to add to the spectacle of the Ballarat Football Netball League's return.
Yet, few would have picked just how great the comeback would be.
IN OTHER NEWS
Clubs have savoured drought-breaking runs. New powers have emerged. But, perhaps best of all, we were back at the footy on a Saturday afternoon.
Victoria's latest COVID-19 outbreak was an untimely halt; the league staring down a three-week break.
It's tough, no doubt, but it offers a chance to digest the season to date.
The Courier has dissected the first six rounds, probing the season's emerging storylines and exploring what we have to look forward to when footy is back on the agenda.
Much of the pre-season conversation was centred around whether the traditional powers would only emerge stronger after a season off.
Back-to-back premiers East Point maintained much of its list and even welcomed serious stars.
Sebastopol looked threatening after its off-season recruitment, and the traditional forces down the highway made their intentions clear; Darley adding a former AFL key-forward to its arsenal.
However, things have panned out much different so far this season.
Melton and North Ballarat have quietly gone about things to boast 5-1 records and sit first and second on the ladder, respectively.
There were murmurs about their potential though few would have predicted such dominance.
Of course, the hallmark of a quality side is its consistency.
Can the early leaders keep going?
Their ability to rebound from the latest break may provide the answer but the early signs are there that this season might just deviate from expectations.
Heading into the season, coaches expressed their fears of a rise in soft-tissue injuries after more than a year away from the physical rigours of football.
While there has been a fair share of minor tweaks and strains, what we've instead witnessed is an unexpected mountain of serious, long-term injuries.
The hardest pill to swallow is that many are the results of sheer bad luck or accidents.
Melton forward Dyson Stevens has only just left hospital in the past couple of days after shattering his C4 vertebrae while laying a tackle in the Bloods' round four win.
Stevens has moved to a rehabilitation facility and in promising signs is getting stronger in his shoulders, elbows and wrist.
The Bloods have also lost onballer Matt Denham and ruck Ashden Crone to season-ending ACL injuries.
Melton is not alone in its injury woes.
Crosstown rivals Melton South lost two vice-captains, Daniel Leggett and Billy Sullivan, to ACL injuries in the space of three weeks.
Redan livewire Liam Hoy is sidelined for the rest of the year after tearing his Achille's.
East Point, North Ballarat and Sebastopol have all lost players for months at a time and no club is yet to have the luxury of a full-strength side.
HAWK'S WINGS CLIPPED
The signing of Josh Gibson was lauded as one of the best the league has seen.
Yet, nearly three months into the season we are yet to see the three-time AFL premiership player step out for Ballarat.
There were murmurs that the Hawthorn champion might debut in round three, but a last-minute witdrawal from the match-day squad put anticipation to rest.
The issue has been a nagging complaint that's plagued Gibson since a pre-season hitout.
News from the Swans camp was that their marquee recruit was nearing a return for round eight or round nine.
It's still to be seen what impact the three-week break will have, but it shouldn't be a surprise that Ballarat has taken a cautious approach.
"He wants to play every game," Swans coach Joe Carmody told The Courier on the eve of the season.
"We're aiming for that, but we're realistic in terms of our expectations. He hasn't played for a number of years, and we don't want to run him into the ground.
"We want him to feel good about his body and not play under duress.
"It may just be a horses for courses type thing, but at this stage, we'll aim to play him every game we can."
Melton South has shown glimpses of a club on the rise, although it may languish near the bottom of the ladder after a lockdown-forced points shuffle.
A 67-point loss last time out was a tough reality check, but the Panthers enjoyed the start to a season in nine years with two wins and two losses and a bye in the first five rounds.
The wins were no small feats either, besting Bacchus Marsh and Sunbury, while Heath Pritchard's men only lost by one point against Redan.
"We make no secret of the fact its been a pretty tough and lean decade for Melton South," Pritchard said after the Sunbury win.
"It hasn't been easy and a lot of these boys have lived through that.
"Hopefully we can keep putting our best foot forward and go out every week with a competitive mindset knowing that we're in games up to our eyeball and if we do the right things we're going to win more games than not."
The biggest influence on the season may be its most recent setback.
No one knows for sure what the future of the senior competition looks like coming out of the state's latest lockdown.
A three-week break is the only definite thing after administrators ruled out re-scheduling fixtures for the Queen's Birthday long weekend, should restrictions allow.
There is no guarantee the season re-starts after the long weekend, with the decision on the future of senior community sport ultimately resting with the state government.
Unfortunately, who knows what we will be unfolding in a month's time.
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