Coach’s concerns: ‘They change their lives for us’
A MONTH ago, Wayne Barnett’s biggest concern was finding a way to get star signing Kevin Locke’s lucky undies on a plane from New Zealand in time for Round 1.
Now the Souths Sharks coach is out of a job, the undies are with Locke back across the Tasman, and the short-term future of the Rugby League Mackay & District competition is a mystery.
So sudden was the call to suspend all grassroots rugby league and the subsequent social distancing measures, that Barnett did not get the chance to even say goodbye to many of his players before they flew home to be with family.
“We still haven’t sat down as a group because we’re not allowed to,” he said.
“It’s like going to your workplace every day and suddenly you don’t see them again. There’s no closure.
“I think humans work on closure. We need it.”
Already worried about his own financial situation, Barnett has been unable to shake the feeling of being “partly responsible” for the harships some of his players have found themselves in.
“Obviously my first thought was for the people who have moved either from interstate or overseas and the sacrifices they’ve had to make,” he said.
“They change their lives for us. They’ve probably gone backwards with rent and bond ... that’s not what football is supposed to be about.
“Even though it’s not your fault, you do feel partly responsible.”
Barnett said “six or seven” players had left Mackay to be with friends and family since losing their day jobs as well as their supplemental footy income.
The best laid plans to plant roots in town and make Mackay home have gone out the window.
“There’s not too many people hiring at the moment and then couple that with some of them being Kiwis and they’re not entitled to benefits, it’s hard,” the coach said.
“There were a couple of guys here that had young families and were considering moving them over here once the football season started.
“It might sound like we’re crying poor about footballers, but I look at these guys not as footballers, but as humans.
“These guys move to play the game. Some take a lesser job than they had at home because maybe football supplements that income. They’ve moved away from home - that puts a lot of stress and strain on families.”
The enormity of the situation, Barnett said, was made harder by the lack of contact with the playing group.
After months of pre-season preparations and seeing each other up to five or six times a week, Barnett missed the routine of a footy club.
“I’ve been playing rugby league since I was four years old. Every year I’ve had that outlet and this year I don’t. What do I do?” he said.
“I think everyone is hurting from not being able to have that social interaction we’re accustomed to.”
Barnett also spared a thought for his fellow Souths Leagues Club employees who, like he, were forced out of a job when the closure came.
“There’s 107 people that have been told to go line up for benefits. I’m one of them,” he said.
“Then you think about all the people that are worse off than me ... it’s kind of a surreal thing. You feel like you’re in a video game.”