The best moments in football sometimes occur when you least expect it. The scene was set for Saturday the 3rd of July 2021 to be a round just like any other, one that would be forgotten by seasons end, a consequential weekend mixed into a long and winding year.
Restrictions easing would allow spectators to congregate at the Main for the first time since the 15th of May(!), and yet the last-minute fixture changes on Friday afternoon meant that the schedule of games wasn’t cooperating nor conducive for a large crowd.
The Seniors were hosting the last placed Parkdale Vultures; the Reserves had been granted a win via forfeit; the Phoenix were in fact away (we know, what on earth is happening to the fixture this season?); and the Under 19s were up against the powerhouse Old Xaverians, recently promoted from Division 2 Under 19s for being too strong, nonetheless.
Some quick thinking among the Blacks brain’s trust ended up with the Under 19s sliding across to the Main for an 11:40am start – the traditional curtain raiser for the Seniors.
The scene was set: Perhaps the Phoenix would lose the un-losable, the Unders might get another harsh lesson in VAFA football, and the Seniors would run away with an easy win. Not a bit of it – someone clearly forgot to tell the Under 19s and Phoenix players what the script was, because all three teams came away with the four points, causing a trademark copyright infringement with the NZ Rugby Board, because it was ALL BLACKS for the entire day!
The most foregone result of the day ccommenced from 2pm for the Seniors, as they charged out against the Vultures. After two comprehensive victories (comprehensive in game-plan execution, rather than purely winning margins), the challenge was laid down clear as mud on Thursday night training by Coach Bower; bring the intensity for four quarters and not let up on Saturday.
We all know, this is easier said than done. The skill to execute a high intensity and effort based game-plan against whoever the opponent may be, is a skill that can be lightning in a bottle. The challenge was not to lose that electricity against the Vultures.
Out of the gate, it was clear that the Vultures weren’t going down without a fight. They pushed the Blacks to the edge in the first ten minutes, some finger pointing and timidness around the ball meant that it took some silk of another class to elevate the Blacks game, which was ably supplied by two-time Cordner medallist, Hugh Curnow.
In the space of 8 minutes, the Blacks kicked four goals to nothing, finishing the quarter by peppering the Parkdale defensive 50, the ball living in our forward half.
Stretching the lead to nearly 50 points halfway through the second quarter, the game bobbed along in a scrappy fashion; ten minutes would go by with some pretty ordinary footy being played, then out of nothing the Blacks would pile on a couple of goals. Curnow continued to do the bulk of heavy lifting, with James Sansom and Josh Steadman teaming up in the midfield, helping to lead the Blacks out of the middle on more occasions than not.
And so, the game continued on in a similar pattern, the final margin eventually ending over 100 points. As much as it is a cliche, Parkdale genuinely fought hard until the very last kick, making it hard to understand how the margin had ended up as large as it in fact did.
Post-game in the Pavilion, Parkdale’s President Neil Jenkins spoke briefly, apologising for the Reserves forfeit and wishing the Blacks well for the rest of 2021 – an admirable gesture that was appreciated by all.
For the Seniors, they remained on top of the Premier B Ladder, 11-1 after 12 Rounds of VAFA football. As expected, the League voted at their previous Board Meeting to not re-schedule Rounds 8 & 9, leaving the double bye in place for a couple of fair reasons. No doubt, the players will continue to hold themselves in good stead, with S&C Coaches Dylan and Jason already handing out self-driven fitness sessions for the group to complete whilst on break.
As highlighted earlier, the Reserves didn’t take the field on Saturday contesting premiership points. They did however carry out an ‘exercise in gut running and friendly competition’, navigating two thirds of the boggy Crawford terrain.
Harry King, Reserves veteran and barometer provided this insight;
“When the opposition forfeit, it can be tempting to kick the legs up and take it easy – this was not so for our ‘second-on-the-ladder’ reserves outfit. From the outset of the scratch match there was energy and enthusiasm across the board which manifested in a hard fought game between backs, forwards and mids. A three quarter game (3 x 20 minute quarters) was followed by a running set, burpees, pushups and shuttle runs, all undertaken in earnest to prepare the boys for an exciting run into finals. Well done to all players and the coaches for organising a positive hit out.”
Inspiring stuff gents, the appetite to do the work is impressive and no doubt a sign of a highly dedicated team, eager to taste finals success!
The Phoenix arrived at Rathmines Road Reserve for the first time in it’s 7 year history to face Hawthorn AFC, a debutant in the Premier Thirds league. Rolling into the make shift change rooms reminded a few of the more seasoned Phoeni of the offering the Uni Main had back when the modern ‘Pavvy’ was being built.
Shoulder to shoulder preparing for the game (COVID safe of course) it was noticed that the warm-up gear being worn had many more sleeves than usual. Hack had found a split heating/cooling system installed in the portable, and promptly turned the air conditioning on to trick everyone into feeling warmer outside than it was. The actual Saturday morning weather produced a tease of sunlight and promise of some warmth before the dark clouds and variable winds took over and settled in for the remainder of game.
Rain from the sky stayed away for the whole match, however the Phoenix managed to substitute it for a downpour of behinds early in the game. The drought of goals was finally broken by 98 game veteran Cam McNeil who managed to find some space 45m out and drilled a drop punt through the big sticks. 25 minutes into the game the Phoenix were up 3 goals 11 behinds to 0.
Captain Cleary at quarter time stressed to continue to play with confidence and if nothing more reminded the boys there was plenty more football to come. As expected Hawthorn came out with more pressure in the second quarter and tried to get themselves back in the game. The Phoenix adjusted accordingly and managed to win the quarter by one goal. Coach Farrell addressed the team at half time with an emphasis on staying calm, calculated and to avoid blazing away.
This was shown in the 3rd quarter where back flankers Heiner-Hennessy and Cleary took control of the game, with the sacrificial support of the remaining 4 defenders allowing them to play off their opponents. Up the other end of the ground more points were being produced than a David Restrepo owned loyalty card, however the team eventually figured out the law of averages would come to their aid, and banged on a couple of snags before the last.
The Phoenix continued to extend their lead in the fourth with Eli Holland-Dean having a break out game with 4 goals and some outstanding contested marking. Steven Mann & Hack dominated the midfield all day and produced countless opportunities for the forward line and fellow midfielders. Kicking further straightened up and the eventual margin was a clean 100 points. It was one of the largest wins for the boys for a few years (no thanks to Lachie Devlin and Tex Restrepo who collectively kicked 0.11).
After the fortnight break only 2 H&A games remain, both are on the hallowed turf of the Crawf. It would be great to get as many supporters down to cheer on the boys as they battle some of their fiercest rivals in the last weeks of the season.
Last but not least!! From the team themselves, this is what unfolded:
"Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this. So sang Van Morrison, and not sure if Van has ever made it to the Uni Main but it was one of those days for the U19s on Sat.
Mid uni holidays, plenty still out. Thumped the week before. Playing a side that beat the thumpers two weeks before. Tipsters selecting the Blacks rarer than the dodo.
Off to a flyer. Bodies flying into contests with no account for hair nor hide. Still up at the half but a withering Xavs comeback in the third sees us down at the final lemon break. A mighty final push reverses momentum – score the last three goals of the game to salute. Happy days.
Will Peucker won every ruck contest. Immense. More taps than in the back a of plumber’s truck and roved more than a few of his own. So many highlights. Jimmy Connelley indefatigable. Sam Ackland-Evans impassable. Marcus Schaper electric. Charlie Smith irrepressible. Angus Stewart dangerous, never less than that amazing banana sealer. Tom St Clair deadly round goals. Rory Freeman’s amazing snap. Sam Robertson’s hard running and hard ball winning work. Harry Attiwill’s ferocity at the footy. Jordan Pfeffer and Michael Liang’s vital contests at pivotal moments in the last. The whole backline, just sensational all day. We could go on and on but running out of ink.
And in the rooms after, Harry Attiwill ushered his Ressies mates just back from a scratch match into the circle to help the boys out with a 50 voice strong rendition of the song sung with a joyfulness and elan that will live long in the memory."
The amount of smiles on everyone’s faces brought a tear to your eye. They were those kind of smiles that a late teenage boy would be guilty of having; half trying to hide it for fear of wanting to be a “super-serious-footballer-with-an-immediate-focus-on-next-week” - but really not doing a very good job of hiding it because clearly they were just so bloody happy to get a win. And who could blame them!? It was a great moment in the season, one that we will surely be chatting about for some time to come. Congrats to the support staff and Coach Shane who have not once wavered in their support of the lads either this season.
That's about it, another fortnight off for our teams but that won't phase them - they are a special group this 2021 cohort. One that cannot wait for the run to September come Round 13.