Sam Rolfe couldn't help but feel the stars were finally starting to align as the sun set on ANU North Oval one Saturday afternoon.
It was August 7. The Uni-Norths Owls had just thrashed the Gungahlin Eagles to put themselves within reach of the John I Dent Cup minor premiership heading into the final round.
"Our game plan was starting to come to what we'd been practicing all year, the cards were starting to align with injuries and people coming back. We thought we were in a really good spot heading into that last week," the Owls coach said.
Then Canberra's sporting landscape was turned upside down in the blink of an eye. The ACT went into lockdown, NSW followed and community sports came to a grinding halt. One by one, each winter code became a COVID-19 casualty. No finals, no premiership winners.
The Queanbeyan Whites never got the chance to orchestrate a miracle and force their way into the top four. Canberra Royals coach Wayne Southwell was denied the farewell he truly deserved as one of the competition's finest mentors.
And the Owls, made to wait another year before getting a chance to claim their first John I Dent Cup premiership as a joint venture. It marks the first time a men's first grade premiership winner has not been crowned since World War II in 1944.
Uni-Norths' women's side seemed destined for another grand final appearance. But now, the hours spent sweating in the summer sun, and the winter nights spent outside in the freezing cold and howling rain, all come to no avail.
To sum it up in one word: "Disappointment".
"When you look at it in hindsight, there's people in worse situations," Rolfe said. "We're still disappointed, we were in with a pretty good shot of winning it, but I guess things happen for a reason.
"We ended up getting Irae [Simone] back at an important time and due to other circumstances, like guys from Tuggeranong making the Wallabies squad, I believe we were probably one of the better teams given those factors.
"At the end of the day, we'll live to fight another day."
So too will the thousands of registered players across the region's rugby union, rugby league, Australian football and soccer competitions. But there will always be a gap in the history books, a premiership window shut with nobody getting through, a lingering thought of it could have been us.
But there will be no redemption tale for the Gungahlin Bulls in the Canberra Raiders Cup. Not yet.
Less than 12 months ago they were victims of a 13-try blitz and a 66-10 rout at the hands of the Canberra Raiders under 20s in the grand final of a makeshift four-team competition.
This year was supposed to mark a return to normality, a full cohort playing for the Canberra Raiders Cup, and the Bulls had lost one game all season. But when lockdown struck and was soon extended, it seemed inevitable normality wasn't here yet.
"And that's what it was," Bulls coach Neil Bijorac said.
"Once the second [lockdown decision] came, that was the end of it. You can't keep flogging a dead horse. [Players] were devastated. I was getting daily messages and calls asking if I'd heard anything about what was happening with the league. 'Has there been a decision?'"
A club championship speaks volumes about their progress, yet still serves as cold comfort, for the Bulls have not won a first grade title since 2001. This is the first time a team has not been crowned premiers since 1946.
For AFL Canberra, this marks the first time since the advent of the competition no team has claimed the first grade flag.
The Queanbeyan Tigers were surging towards back-to-back titles for the first time since the club capped off a three-peat 21 years ago.
"Everyone was up and about and then the whispers came out that someone had tested positive in Canberra. That Thursday there was just that real disbelief," Tigers coach Adrian Pavese said.
"The boys kept training, we kept in touch with them. We kept being positive about certain things, but every week that went, it became more realistic that it was probably going to get taken away from us.
"We liken it to when you've got a loved one or a close friend that you know is not doing really well and the writing is on the wall, you expect it to happen, but it still hurts when it happens."
Scores of weekend warriors who had planned to ride off into the sunset with a premiership win - whether it be first grade or fourth grade - are now sitting at home wondering if they will go around for one last dance.
"Toby Conroy is the obvious one, he'll be 40 next year," Pavese said.
"But he still averaged 26 touches a game. I've spoken to him obviously, but we can't really talk to the players too much because we want to let it settle a bit."
Now Pavese, who leads a double life as Tigers co-coach and club general manager, has to lock in sponsors for 2022 and beyond. But he is taking a slow approach, pondering "how do you do that without being callous?"
Capital Football opted to award premierships on a points per game basis. The Cooma Tigers won the men's premiership, winless Tuggeranong will be relegated, and O'Connor will be promoted to the top division.
Canberra Croatia claimed another NPLW premiership but even so, "it's been a couple of seasons now where it feels a little incomplete", says star Grace Gill.
"To finish up a little bit short is always going to feel like you just haven't quite got over the finish line," Gill said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: