PLAYERS and staff of the two NSW clubs reconnected with their families and partners on Thursday evening, and Greater Western Sydney veteran Callan Ward has given an insight into the boost the reunions will give to both teams.
Ward made the most of video calls “a few times every day” to keep in touch with his wife and 17-month-old son over the past six weeks, but he still wasn’t sure that would be enough for his young boy to remember him.
"I'm a bit worried, I hope he can run up to me and give me a big hug. I hope he doesn't go really shy and kind of forget who I am,” Ward said in the hours before being reunited with his family.
"I've been on FaceTime with him a few times every day, so I'm hoping he gets really excited.
"But I'm pumped to see both of them. I can't wait to give Ruby a big hug and give Romeo a big hug as well, and play some games with him which I've missed so much.”
The families and partners of GWS and Sydney’s players and staff were finally able to meet up with them again after completing a 14-day quarantine period in Brisbane then being flown to Melbourne late on Thursday.
The players, coaches and other staff were first forced to flee NSW with about four hours’ notice on June 22, and since then have been based in Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast before returning to Melbourne last Saturday.
But with COVID-19 cases rising in Sydney since they left and further outbreaks and lockdowns in other major cities, there were times when it looked like the family reunions wouldn’t be possible before the season ended.
“It’s always hard when you're away from your family, especially at the start when we didn't know how long we'd be away for,” Ward said.
“We thought it would only be a week or two at the start but then obviously the Sydney lockdown got really bad and it has extended out to the six weeks.
"It was a huge rollercoaster of the unknown, rolling with the punches and just hoping for the best news possible.
"My wife Ruby has been really good and really positive with it all. Obviously it would be hard in quarantine with a 17-month-old boy on your own the whole time, and things would get pretty hectic, but she's been really good. Ruby has been an absolute star.”
Shane Mumford, Daniel Lloyd and Sam Reid are some of the other Giants to now be back with their partners and children, while the Swans’ Lance Franklin, Josh Kennedy, Tom Hickey and George Hewett have been reunited with their loved ones.
The players and staff at both clubs have been boosted by the arrival of fresh faces and having their support networks away from football back with them, but Ward expects to also benefit from the regular reality checks that can only come from family.
That will start in earnest this weekend, when regardless of the result in the Giants’ crucial clash with Geelong on Friday night, Ward will have to back up the next day with as many playground and park dates as current restrictions allow.
"There is no doubt that ‘Mummy’, ‘Lloydy’, ‘Reidy’ – the dads – we've been in constant communication with each other about how we're going. I guess we all understand how we're all feeling and it has been good to lean on those guys,” Ward said.
“But Romeo has no idea when I've just won or lost a game of footy. You can go home and he's really happy to see you and you can take your mind off football. Ruby is the same, win, lose or draw.
"We're here to play football and win games of football, but in terms of the most important things in life I'd say that family is number one.”