Lavington president Mark Sanson has admitted COVID's impact was reflected in this year's poor performances.
The club confirmed on Thursday that 2019 premiership coach Simon Curtis had left the club.
Curtis had informed club officials in early August he would step down as coach at the end of the season, but the club had hoped he would stay as a player.
"Simon's a two-time best and fairest, he's a premiership coach and he will always be a valued contributor to our club," Sanson offered of the silky smooth Curtis.
He's a premiership coach and he will always be a valued contributor.Mark Sanson on Simon Curtis
Curtis has been linked to a handful of O and M clubs.
It's extremely rare in the league for a premiership mentor to play against his former side, but Sanson said the boom midfielder will always be welcome back.
"Absolutely, you're always a premiership coach," he added.
Curtis signed as Panthers coach in July, 2017, and claimed the successive best and fairests, resulting in the club's stunning upset over Wangaratta.
However, since that game the O and M has hosted just 13 rounds after 2020 was written off due to COVID and this year was forced to wipe five rounds and the finals.
The Panthers won just five games and became the first team in 35 years to miss out on the top five after snaring the flag the previous season.
"The last two years were tough, from a coaching and playing perspective," Sanson suggested.
"I know certainly in 2020, we had a great list, we did a great pre-season and we were ready to defend our 2019 premiership and we got to the start of the season and we've got nothing.
"I really think that hurt our group and you probably saw the result of that this year."
Sanson was quizzed if the club failed to cope with COVID.
"I wouldn't say we didn't handle it well, it's a very unusual situation and I hope we never find ourselves in it again," he replied.
"I think it was hard work and no reward.
"You do a full pre-season and you work your butt off and you put the sacrifices in and then don't play a game, that's tough.
"And then you have to do it again this year (when COVID stopped the competition a number of times)."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Sanson told The Border Mail late last month COVID was impacting on the club's ability to name a coach.
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