Weathered footballs and cries of encouragement fly across Gibson Oval on a brisk Thursday evening as the Tigers are put through their paces.
But while dozens of players train, the real hard work is happening inside the clubhouse where a Mexican feast is being prepared.
Loaded bowls of corn chips, salsa, and seasoned chicken line the country kitchen, a 20-minute drive north of Esperance on the WA south coast.
“I generally try and get organised a week ahead of time,” says the club’s cook, Bron Rollond, while cutting open a pile of avocados.
“Because otherwise it’s just too much to deal with on one day.”
Gibson Football Club largely comprises farmers and people from the agriculture sector, with training night regularly drawing a crowd.
It means a mountain of food prep for Ms Rollond and her fellow volunteers in the kitchen, but they are more than up to the task.
“At the moment we’re cooking for between 80 and 88 people, with the girls and the two boys’ teams, and then they’ve been getting quite a few spectators out to training,” she says.
Ms Rollond, a mother of two, has lived on a local farm with her husband since 2005.
She says, during autumn and winter, the Gibson Football Club becomes the social epicentre of the rural community.
“At seeding and harvest … things don’t always go well,” she says.
“This year it’s dry, and people want to talk about how tough things are.
“It’s nice to have that connection here with people who genuinely care.”
Volunteers underpin success
It is shaping up as a banner year for the Tigers, who sit on top of the ladder in the local league, reserves, and women’s competitions.
Gibson president Russell Creedon says volunteers are crucial to the club’s longevity, regardless of how many flags are won or lost.
“Without them, it makes it very hard to run a club,” he says.
He echoes Ms Rollond’s sentiment about the role of football and sport as a social outlet for rural communities.
“We have been a very heavily farming-based club for many years, and with seeding finishing up, we’re getting a few guys back to training,” Mr Creedon says.
“But with the mental health discussion now, we’re an outlet for them during the week.”
Whatever the players are eating after training is clearly working wonders.
So far in 2023, the Tigers have only lost one game across all three senior divisions.
Mr Creedon is quietly confident about their prospects for the rest of the season.
“Touchwood, we’re doing very well,” he says.
“A long way to go yet, but the three senior teams are looking pretty good at the moment.”
Source: AFL NEWS ABC