The Seniors wasted no time getting back to their winning ways in their return from the last COVID disruption, thumping Fitzroy by 79 points before an empty pavilion.
The Seniors were dominant from the get-go, and their pressure forced many errors by the visiting Fitzroy outfit. Matt Goyder kicked the opener from a free as a result from one of these errors, and a solid forward 50 tackle by Sam McKenzie thwarted an attempted switch, which resulted in a Nick Hey major.
Joel "Jets" Ernest, in his return from an unfortunate hamstring niggle, kicked truly from a set shot and was duly mobbed by his teammates. Jets lighting up the Main is one of the best sights a Blacker can see on a Saturday! The Blacks class really began to shine through, weaving their way through midfield with a nice chain of handballs and short-45 kicks before Charleston drilled one into the breadbasket of Huntington, whose textbook drop punt gave the home side their fourth in a row.
24 minutes had elapsed in the match before Fitzroy were able to impact the scoreboard, and their first goal came as a result of a 50-metre penalty which took it right to the goal line. But the Blacks answered soon after, a beautiful pass by James Sansom finding Huntington inside 50, who kicked his second on the siren to give the Blacks a 27-point lead at the first change.
A big bomb from Hey on 50 sailed through to kick the second quarter off in much a similar manner to the first. But from there, Fitzroy began to lift their intensity. They had some dangerous looking attacks of their own, but the Blacks defence stood tall and weathered the storm without conceding.
After a couple of more goals to Sunny, Fitzroy finally got some reward for their pressure, forcing a turnover in their forward line before a clever soccer off the ground gave them their second of the match. However, Hey answered with his third goal shortly after, giving the hosts a 47-point buffer at the main break.
The Blacks had opportunities aplenty early on in the second half to put their foot down, but were plagued by wastefulness. Louis Vescio really started to take off and was providing silver service to the Blacks sharpshooters from the first half, but they both missed their early opportunities to add to their tallies. Vescio charged forward in the centre square with everyone apparently thinking he’d go for one of his trademark long bombs, but he kicked it cleverly across his body to find Huntington, whose set shot faded to the right. Moments later Vescio, while being tackled to the ground managed to drop the ball on his foot and pop it over to James Samson who found Hey in the pocket, but his shot suffered the same fate.
It was only when Henry Bennett took a strong mark at centre to thwart Fitzroy’s coast-to-coast attempt, and a 50-metre penalty was awarded that the Blacks finally broke their yips and kicked their first of the quarter at long last.
The game really opened up and was flowing freely, either side looking dangerous when they took it forward and rebounding strongly from defence. But it was the Blacks who blinked first, when Fitzroy kicked their second and third of the quarter by capitalising on Blacks turnovers.
Despite trailing by seven goals, Fitzroy was undoubtedly the dominant side late in the third, and the Blacks were well and truly on their heels. However, Cam Moorfield and Goyder stood up down back, each taking strong intercept marks which managed to stem the bleeding somewhat before the final change.
The Blacks came out with a purpose and really stamped their authority on the final quarter. Hey finally got his elusive fourth goal by means of a classy snap from the boundary, and had far less trouble adding a fifth a mere minute later.
From there, the dam wall broke. While Fitzroy managed to get a few consolation goals of their own, the Blacks really piled on the pain. Huntington, not to be outdone by Hey, added his fifth, while Xavier Chalkley, Lachlan Knight and Samson got in on the fun too.
Right on the siren, Hey launched a bomb from 55 to nail his sixth. With that, he just pipped Huntington as leading goalkicker, the two of them carrying the Blacks to a percentage-boosting victory.
The Ressies were comfortable winners in their return from Lockdown 4.0, running home by just shy of 10 goals in perfect conditions.
The first game back on the Main after the hiatus took no time getting started. Fitzroy surged forward from the opening bounce and were rewarded with a goal, and the Blacks would have had the perfect response from the centre but for the breeze pushing Matt Corney’s shot from 50 to the left. However, a turnover from the kick in gave Max Gray a window of opportunity, and he took it, snapping on his opposite foot from 45(!) to give the Blacks their first lead at the 2-minute mark.
From there, the game settled slightly. Both sides were clean in the perfect conditions and were putting together nice forays forward, but were just failing to connect with their last kicks inside 50. The visitors appeared to be the more dangerous of the two sides though, their surges going deeper and being more sustained. They eventually were rewarded for some repeat inside 50s with their second goal.
Fitzroy’s press was impressive, but remarkably it was the Blacks who made a move on the scoreboard late in the quarter. A big clearing kick from the Blacks back 50 got over the visitors’ wall and Gus McKinna was never going to be beaten in the ensuing foot race. He picked it up cleanly and dribbled it home from 45 to level the scores once more. Late in the term, a seemingly innocuous push forward by the Blacks into a forward 50 with no forwards and defenders aplenty should have been shut down by Fitzroy, but Lewis Steere managed to fight his way through and slam the ball on his boot, snapping spectacularly from the wrong pocket to give the Blacks a 6-point lead at the first change.
It was a completely rejuvenated Blacks outfit that took the field in the second quarter. Jordan Tunbridge, who is supposed to be a ruckman, sold some beautiful candy with impressive agility in the centre square to the delight of the bench before launching a wobbler inside 50. It was spilled from the contest, but Corney, taking inspiration from Euro 2021, volleyed it before it hit the deck to double the Blacks lead.
The Blacks’ performance was described by an onlooking Seniors player as ‘one of the most one-sided quarters I’ve ever seen’. However, for the opening 10 minutes of the quarter, they only had one goal to show for it. Then the floodgates burst open.
Corney booted his second for the term, and Andrew Yates charged out of the middle from the ensuing bounce to drill home another. The following bounce produced a Blacks clearance which was marked strongly by John Perks, who made no mistake from a tough angle to give the home side their third major in two minutes. Tunbridge again had a moment of brilliance where had picked the ball up cleanly below the knees and broke through a tackle, sending the onlooking Seniors into raptures, but his shot faded to the left, giving the Blacks a 32-point buffer at the main break.
The third quarter picked up where the second left off, as did Tunbridge. He opened the scoring after his fellow big man in Perks brought a contest to ground inside 50, with Tunbridge flying through to pick up the crumbs (ruckman?) and break through two defenders before drilling it home. The Blacks once again were dominant in possession and territory. Sam Robertson kicked truly from a set shot and the Blacks could have added a few more to their tally, but the visitors began to rally in defence and tilt the ground back their way.
The visitors were soon rewarded for their efforts, kicking their first goal in over 50 minutes of play, before a downfield free followed by a 50-metre penalty gifted them a set shot from 30 which was capitalised upon.
But two in a row was enough, according to Sam Robertson. A Blacks clearance got over the back and the youngster soccered it into the open goal to give the home side a 39-point lead at the final change.
Whatever resistance the visitors were putting appeared to vanish at the start of the fourth. McKinna and Xavier Vearing each kicked two goals and Yates added another, the lead really starting to blow out. However, to Fitzroy’s credit, they didn’t lay down and even managed to have a push forward and goal of their own. With the result no longer in doubt, the match played out without much incident, the Ressies home by 59 points.
Early Saturday morning was greeted by the Phoenicians with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Last time the Phoenix matched up against Old Xavs, it was fairly and squarely a day to forget. Keen to create new memories against the red and black powerhouse, and keen to make up for last time, the Blacks started the game on fire, owing much to their experience playing on the Crawford in mid winter.
The ball was essentially a cake of soap, with the centre square particularly muddy. Bombing the ball forward and putting away any handballs become the game plan. The Blacks struck first through Lachie Devlin, and although it took Old Xavs took some time to adjust to the conditions, they eventually scrounged some lucky late goals to take the lead into the first break.
From here, the rest of the game was an “almost” sort of game, as Braden Poole reflected walking off the ground. The Phoenix have an uncanny ability to challenge usually strong teams on the Crawford, thriving on the fact that most of the other sides in their league enjoy some much more extravagant facilities than Princes Park.
And so the rest of the game unfolded in the same mould of the first quarter; the Phoenix battles tooth and nail down to the last man, holding up quite well to the quality of the Xavs team riddled with talent and experience. A 40 odd point loss didn’t really do justice to the closeness of the content.
Captain Rohan ‘Tank’ Cleary had his best game of the year so far, bulldozing his way through every pack, coming out with the ball on a string. Quality defender Steve ‘the’ Mann made a great return from injury through the Phoenix, expect to see him in the Reserves in no time at all!
Next week the Phoenix make a unenviable trek to the ‘Snake Pit’ at St Bernards, with their finals fate essentially in their own hands. Win their remaining games for the year (all of which are realistically gettable) and the Phoenix will be in a position to claim 4th position and a finals berth.
Following the Phoenix at the Crawford at 11:40, our Under 19s faced up against the ladder-leading Nodders for the second time in two games - bizarre fixturing we know.
Nevertheless, our fine young crop of Under 19 men refuse to shirk any challenges, and fronted up with a strong determination to push the best team in their comp.
Coach Sexton implored his troops to stick to their game plan of having a high kick to handball ratio, and incessant tackling pressure. The lads seriously pressed their dogged pressure for half of the game, but as the minutes ticked on in the third, the exhausting nature of the game started to catch up with the team.
Similarly to the Phoenix before them on the day, the scoreboard wasn’t reflective of the match and how tightly and hotly it was contested early on. As much of a football cliché that may be, it was completely the case for our Unders on Saturday.
The team continues to look forward for the next stepping stone in their development as young Blackers, and invariably with the support of the Club fully behind them, will no doubt progress in leaps and bounds once the time is right. Keep it up lads!