As the sun rose on Saturday morning with not a cloud in the sky to be seen, one could have been forgiven for thinking it was early Spring and finals football. The anticipation of footy being played was palpable as University Blacks players and coaches begun their morning routines. It wasn't mid-September - rather it was late July. Mid-winter games can often find some players wanting for motivation to play, as the season rolls on. Football was back though! Another unplanned four week break had hit community sport hard (thanks to an almost 'Murphy-Law-esque' foreshadowing of the double bye ending up backfiring) and everyone was ready for the game like it was Round 1.
Footy-cliche's aside, the Blacks were back in action on the University Main Oval, with three of the sides in action.
The Blacks' Senior Squad hosted Williamstown CYMS for the first time since the CYs earned promotion to Premier B after their highly impressive undefeated season in 2019. Lockdown 4.0 prevented the Round 9 clash at Fearon Reserve going ahead, so both sides entered the Round 14 game with a few question marks in their opposition analysis. Added to the obviously undesirable delay of Lockdown 5 and minimal full squad training, both sides wasted little time cracking into the contest.
Pre-game in the rooms, Coach Bower implored his charges to not accept 'near enough being good enough', and that plenty of excuses could be fielded for sloppy play, he demanded high effort and intensity from the first bounce. The lads were up to the challenge, taking a 3-goal lead into the quarter-time break, thanks to some excellent midfield work at the coalface. James Sansom and Lachie Knight were superb, launching many attacks forward from the centre.
Williamstown showed fight in the second stanza, producing some dazzling ball movement and purpose at the contest causing the home team to feel a slight sense of anxiousness at points. At times, the CYs looked like they hadn't had a week off at all, thanks to how good their ball movement was when things clicked for them. The key to winning the arm-wrestle in the second half for the Blacks was going to come down to again, how much intensity and pressure they could pile onto the contest and force Willy into skill-errors.
And that's just what happened, the midfield stepped up their game a gear, Jack Charleston had about 155 tackles, and the defence, led by Matt Dea and Henry Bennett, kept the visitors goalless to stretch the Blacks lead to 44 by the final break.
As bodies tired in the last, the game opened up allowing 7 goals to be scored in a more end-to-end affair. Eventually, the siren sounded and the scoreboard showed the Blacks to be 47 point winners. It was a pleasing result in the restart to our campaign heading into the pointy-end.
This Saturday, the Blacks will be looking to make up for their only loss of the season so far; the Round 6 loss to the impressive Old Haileyburians. OH are on a march of their own this season, and look to be serious contenders themselves in the hunt for Premiership and Promotion, Seniors and Reserves will kick-off at the usual times, at Princes Park Caulfield.
Starved of football for 5 weeks , the Blacks Heart and Souls were treated to sunny conditions at their spiritual home. Clearly hungry for a big win whilst enjoying the run around for the first time it what seemed an age, the Reserves dispatched Williamstown's 2s by over 100 points.
Despite inaccurate goalkicking and some rusty skill execution at times, the boys maintained their tackling pressure and structure around the ground, for the entire game. Coach Paterson was particularly pleased with these directions being followed, as the team looks to really polish off all facets of their game in anticipation for some more challenging games towards the end of the season and obviously, in finals.
Bede 'Weapon' Mahon made a rare appearance for the Magoo's, returning to the field for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Round 1. He got through unscathed (phew) in what was an unusual sight, seeing the 2014 A-Grade Premiership Captain and 2017 Woodrow Medalist in the Reserves.
Cam Luscombe and Max 'Savage' Gray played their best games of the season, both showing plenty of dash outside of the contest, providing drive and run that helped the team open up the game.
Alluding to their upcoming run being more challenging, the Reserves take on two of the top three sides in their final 4 games of the home-and-away season, which is almost a preffered lead into finals, as it will ensure one way or another that the team is ready to play their best football of the season in August and September, after a stop/start couple of months.
The Phoenix banded together for their season finale, producing a great win and match report to boot;
“Til things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black” - Johnny Cash
Gushing winds met the Phoni on what was assumed to be their final game for the turbulent season that was 2021. Wind however is never an unwelcome guest on the Crawford Oval, given its ability to quickly dry the surface of any overnight dew left over from the deep winter July nights in time for a 9:20 game.
Attitudes in the team were surprisingly upbeat, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and given to the fact we hadn’t played a game in 3 weeks everyone was obviously excited to run on the Crawf for one final time this season.
Redemption was on the menu for the Phoenix against St Bernards who had got the better of the boys on their home deck only 5 weeks ago. That was a frustrating game that the team felt they let slip, and therefore were resolved to do better in the rematch.
Pregame Coach Farrell emphasised his true feelings about the opposition which amazingly shocked no one by this point of the season, amping up the team one final time before heading onto the rejuvenated colosseum.
Captain Cleary spoke to how the relevance of the Phoenix finishing their season wearing all black was, noting that this game was a celebration of the season rather than something to mourn.
One or both of the speeches must have worked as the Phoenix dominated the first quarter. Max DePina got the first major score on the board with a clever mark 10 metres out. However, given the time the team kept the ball inside the forward half, it was disappointing they couldn’t impact the scoreboard more.
The most significant event for the quarter however wasn’t the goals kicked (or lack thereof). About 15min in, a high ball was skied into the forward 50 in the direction of Cal Farrell. Taking the opportunity to show his teammates and parents he is still a lively young player, he went for the most outrageous hanger seen on the Crawf for years. Barely touching his opponents back he flew higher than 50cm (a personal best) and had his fingertips only about 1.5m away from the footy, which then sailed straight over his head and out of bounds. What Cal hadn’t planned was the second half of the acrobatic manoeuvre which caused him to land directly on his elbow, popping out his shoulder as a result. Medico’s arrived on scene and he was sent straight off to emergency for assessment.
Up by 25 points at the break, the Phoenix were reminded that this was the last game of the season and to not regret a single moment out on the field in the last half. However regrets were plentiful through the third as the boys managed to kick 0.7 to 2.0, allowing St Bernard to claw their way back into the game. Still up by 20 going into the last, recently promoted Coach Cleary gave one final rev up and threatened no after game beers if the boys forfeited up their lead. Naturally, this did the trick.
The forward line finally worked out where the goal posts were located and goals started raining in the last quarter. Leon Van Vootthuizen who had only managed to play the first game of the season was a welcome addition to the forward six and came up big when needed most - along with Jake “Psycho” Langton and Paul Sanderson.
The Phoenix were able to run away with a comfortable 48 point win. A sensational way to end a tricky year; the Phoenix this season have made the best of their situation, playing some inspiring Blacks football that would make any Blacker beam.
Light refreshments after the game tasted much sweeter with the satisfying win (thanks to The Black Swan for the additional slab). Massive thanks to the helpers who came down for the morning to assist, especially to Rachelle our team manager, who without her assistance the team would have struggled to get on the park every week.
Also if you were wondering, Coach Farrell’s shoulder is completely fine. Was spotted at the Clyde Hotel a few hours later bragging how close he was to marking that footy.
Well done gents, a successful season that we dearly wish was an extra 4 rounds long. The Club is extremely thankful to the dedicated players and volunteers who made the Phoenix work this year, showing great character in the process. Finishing one game outside of finals, when the top 4 (St Kevin’s, OM’s, Old Scotch and Xavs) are all powerful A-Grade Clubs with an abundance of football resources, is nothing to turn your nose up at. Congrats lads!
Our enigmatic Under 19s had a cruel twist of fate unfold, with their Round 13 and 14 games cancelled due to lockdown, in addition to Round 15 being a scheduled bye in the league of 7 teams.
Whilst no doubt frustrating to be forced to wait another week to return to games, the boys ensured they still got a good hit out in, teeing up a scratch match with the Uni Blues Thirds on the Crawf following the Phoenix. Thanks to the Blues for organising that one, and good luck to our lads this week as they venture down the Nepean once more to replay St Bedes.