Round 11 ushered in another early Saturday morning trip down the Nepean for the University Blacks. The Seniors, Reserves and Under 19s teams fronted up to tackle the St. Bedes/Mentone Tigers, with the 1s and 2s performing strongly at Brindisi Street, whilst the Under 19s experienced a challenging game a few blocks away at Southern Road Reserve.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix could not have been playing further away from Mentone if they had tried; traveling to the intimidating 'Snake Pit' to play the evenly matched St. Bernards.
The Seniors took to the field against the Tigers looking to remain on top of the Premier B Ladder, with second placed Old Haileybury taking on Fitzroy - a game that OH would be favourites to win. Losing multiple Cordner medalist Hugh Curnow pre-game to a precautionary fitness test meant some changes in the line-up were needed, and it was the Tigers who came out of the blocks quickest. The Round 11 match was one of special significance the home team, as they were honouring the life of Club-legend Jane Barnes, in their now annual 'Jane's Match'. You could tell the St. Bedes players were up for the fight, but the Blacks showed good composure to wrestle back the momentum mid-way through the quarter.
If not for some late quarter misses, the Blacks could have easily hit the front, and by the 9 minute mark of the second quarter, took the lead courtesy of some manic pressure inside 50, which lead to a Darren Mumford goal. The Tigers weren't keen on forfeiting the game early though, and after a genuine ten minute slog of high-intensity and high-effort football, the game looked to be heading down the inevitable path of a grind to a win.
Yet, in the final minutes of the first half, Chopper McCullough, Nick Hey, Louis Vescio and Jordan Quaile broke the game open with 5 goals between them. By half-time the Blacks had almost managed to double the Tigers score, which was hard to believe considering how tight the game was being played in the first 45 minutes.
Nick Hey continued to impress with his strong form lately, his sticky mitts proving a feature of his game that always makes an impression. The sound of a Sherrin smacking into his dukes at speed is a very satisfying sound indeed.
As the game wore on, the Blacks showed no signs of taking their foot off the peddle, the immense pressure evident from the forward 50 to the backline; each player was putting in two or three efforts as a minimum, delighting the Coaching staff who have been pushing hard at training to instill a genuine hunting mentality to win the ball back if it is in dispute.
Henry Bennett played his best game of the year by far, providing some inspiration to his teammates as he continues to get back into the swing of things following a couple weeks off due to injury. Chopper and Heysie ended up with a few goals, as did Vescio and Quaile. The final margin of 56 points was well deserved, and the boys no doubt would have had smiles on their dials the whole ride home to Carlton.
'The best four quarter effort of the season'. This was the feeling post-match from Reserves Co-Captain Lewis Steere, and when comparing it other games for the Heart and Souls, it certainly did ring true.
Despite the winning margin not being as large as other victories this season, the Blacks Reserves took their mix of talent and effort to another level against the Tigers, executing a 110 minute game plan and managing to fend off a desperately hungry opposition; matching their intensity from first to last.
The match was super-contested on the small ground, the 2s having to earn every possession they got on the day due to to the suffocating ferocity of the St. Bedes players. Sticking fat to their game-plan and taking confidence from the absolute blinder of a game that was being played by Andrew Yates, the Blacks kicked away in the last quarter, earning themselves a 43 point win. Yates was doing it all for the team, laying a couple of huge bone crunching tackles, whilst also slotting three goals from the midfield to claim BOG honours.
Returning from a nasty ankle injury, Harry King did his best to be a presence up forward, grabbing two goals in a nifty comeback game away from his usual stomping ground (midfield). Rocky O'Halloran was in the right place at the right time in more ways than one on Saturday, getting the call up due to Curnow's late withdrawal from the Seniors. He bobbed up for two goals, and held his own well in his first Reserves game for the year.
Next week, the Reserves are scheduled to play Parkdale at home, aware that they may not in fact be playing due to the Vultures current struggles. Nevertheless, the 2s made sure that they put in an effort to be proud of before the upcoming bye, chopping at De La Salle's heels in second place on the Premier B Reserves Ladder.
If you conducted a survey among past-Blackers as to which away ground they most dreaded playing at, we would expect names like Toorak Park, and TH King to feature. Perhaps though the ground most frequently dreaded would be the Snake Pit: the intimidating fortress of the St. Bernards Snow Dog's awaited the Blacks Phoenicians, in a clash that was putting 5th and 6th against each other.
The Men's Premier Thirds season is only scheduled to be 14 games long, meaning that the frantic race for finals is well underway. The Blacks needed a win to keep their fate in their own hands, as did St. Bernards.
Club legend Scott Myers was making his comeback from injury through the Phoenix, which provided some valuable experience and leadership to the at times unconfident team.
The 11:40am start time afforded the opportunity to sleep-in to some players used to the 9:20am start, and it showed in the first quarter. St. Bernards battled hard to win momentum for the game, and in the space of 15 minutes, kicked 5 goals and took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Blacks were a bit shell-shocked, and could have been expected to completely roll over due to the one-sided home crowd and rampaging opposition.
After catching their breath and Coach Farrell throwing some magnets around, the Phoenix settled with a couple of goals in the second quarter, trying to settle the game down from simple chaos ball, to a more controlled-possession style affair. The Phoenix knew that they simply had to trust and execute their skills by hitting up short kicks and not playing into the Snow Dogs hands, yet this couldn't last in the face of the impressive pressure St. Bernards were throwing at them.
Each time the Blacks inched closer with a goal, St. Bernards had an answer, and eventually claimed a 5 goal win much to the delight of the home crowd.
Post-game, the team reflected on their inability to execute their game-plan, but frustrations aside, couldn't fault their efforts to fight the game to the end. Liam Jelley, Chris Canny and Will Hayward were all super in defence, holding their direct opponents to slim pickings in their side's victory. Jake Langton also made a terrific impression in his first game for the year, whilst Braden 'Graham' Poole finally managed to crack a gig in the midfield, after playing the first 112 games of his Blacks career in the backline.
Next week, the Phoenix are away (again) vs Hawthorn AFC at Rathmines Reserve.
As the University Blacks Seniors were running away with a win at Brindisi Street, the opposite was happening a few blocks away for the Under 19s teams. Uni holidays and a few late-season debuts hit our Unders hard; the team was met by a determined and well-prepared St. Bedes side that made the most of their opportunity.
Most players were called upon to play close to a full hundred minutes which was a credit to everyone who made the effort to front up. Again, the focus on development and connecting with the Club is the real prize of an Under 19s year, and the upcoming bye after Round 12 will come in handy for the team looking to refresh before a final surge for wins in the back third of the year. Stick fat lads!
Next weekend, the Unders are at home vs Old Xaverians, 11:40am on the Crawford (hopefully, it had to have a week off due to being too muddy!) We will let you know if these game details change.