All good things must come to an end, and on Saturday afternoon at the Uni Main, the University Blacks Senior squad lost their first game of the year, to the hands of an impressive Old Haileybury outfit that will most likely be up against come September.
The Seniors were unable to get a win for Harrie Lahy in his hundredth game. It was a cracker of a contest, with Haileybury leading the high-pressure affair by as much as 5 goals at stages and a brave fight-back by the Blacks falling just short.
The first quarter was an arm wrestle for its entirety. The Blacks were the first to press forward but were unable to capitalise, having only three behinds to show for their good work.
Haileybury pushed back soon after and had a few repeat entries of their own. Moorfield was able to repel them to begin with, marking and spoiling strongly, but the visitors eventually found a chink in the Blacks’ armour and kicked the first via a good hit up lead.
It would turn out to be the only major for the quarter, as the rest of the opening stanza was played out largely between the arcs. Repeat stoppages and marking contests abounded and both teams’ backlines were tenacious. Harrie Lahy made his presence known in game 100, a late spoiling attempt drawing the ire of a few nearby Haileyburians as well as a 50-metre penalty.
The Blacks pushed hard at the end of the quarter but were unable to kick that elusive goal, trailing by 4 behinds at the first break.
A costly advantage taken off a Blacks free on the forward flank early in the second resulted in a turnover and rebound by the visitors. The play found a inexplicably unmarked forward in the pocket, who kicked truly and gave the visitors a ten-point buffer.
From there, the Blacks worked their way on top in general play. They had repeat inside 50s but just struggled to connect with their final hit-up kick. It took a strong pack mark by Xavier Vearing to eventually break through and get the Black’s first major.
However, the momentum continued to swing and Haileybury soon had their time in the sun. In stark contrast to the Blacks, the visitors’ forays forward were characterised by run and carry and quick rebounds, and they looked far more dangerous. The scoreboard reflected it too, with a string of three unanswered goals to finish the quarter giving the visitors a four-goal lead at the main break.
The intensity did not let up after the break, but the game opened up significantly. Darren Mumford could have gotten the Blacks off to a flying start but his set shot faded late and clipped the post. Shortly after, Brendan Dess gave the Blacks some reward for their heavy pressure. A Haileybury defender who was all alone went for a double fist rather than a mark, which fell into Dess’ lap and he snapped truly from 45, but just thirty seconds later the visitors answered.
After some sustained pressure, Josh Steadman began to lift. He finished truly after Curnow threaded the needle to find him from an out-on-the-full kick in. After that goal was answered by the visitors, he refused to stand down, and snatched one directly out of the ruck in the forward pocket and slammed it on his boot to get his second. Moments later, Vescio launched a bomb from 60 to cut the margin to 12.
With over half an hour elapsed in the quarter, Haileybury got one goal back in what appeared to be the dying moments. But the marathon quarter would go on a little longer, long enough for the Blacks to soccer one through on the 36-minute mark only for it to be disallowed as it was adjudged to be kicking in danger. At the final break, 17 points separated the sides.
Alastair Robbins kicked the first of the last as McCullough found him alone in the goal square, but Haileybury answered right back.
McCullough kicked a goal of his own after a bit of good fortune. He fumbled a mark but the umpire judged that he’d held it long enough, and his set shot was never in doubt, cutting the margin back to 12.
The Blacks were desperate. Hare laid a great chase down smother in the middle which cut off a play which looked destined to result in a Haileybury over-the-back goal (they’d kicked a few of those). Jack Charleston had been great all day, but lifted to another gear in the last. He was everywhere, and appeared to get involved in every play to send the Blacks forward. However, he just couldn’t kick a major, with two admittedly difficult shots just sliding across the face.
But Haileybury, as they had all day, got yet another goal on the rebound as the Blacks threw everything they had at their forward push and overcommitted. As the quarter dragged on, Robbins kicked two in quick succession to get the Blacks back within 3 points, but Haileybury again had the answer, goaling from the centre clearance to hold the hosts at arm’s length.
The Centurion in Lahy kicked a beauty at the 37-minute mark of his hundredth final term, breaking a tackle and snapping truly to give the Blacks a glimmer of hope with mere seconds on the clock. But needing a perfect play from the centre bounce, the Blacks failed to get it and fell 5 points short.
The Ressies won comfortably on a chilly day at the Main, doing their best to make up for lost time after their unfortunate forfeit by Parkdale the weekend prior. They were never significantly challenged by Haileybury, who scored three goals for the game, and got home by almost a hundred points.
Some overnight thunderstorms made the deck a bit spongy underfoot, and it showed early, with the match starting out as a high-pressure affair. Luke Sevior was able to get the Blacks on the board early in his return game from a troublesome shoulder injury, navigating the greasy conditions and slotting a nice set shot from 30. However, an almost identical Haileybury goal at the other end after a bit of an arm wrestle negated it.
From there, the Blacks pressure began to wear down the visitors’ resistance, and the Ressies gained control of the latter half of the quarter. After their goal, the ball lived in Haileybury’s defensive half, and any defensive exits were quickly cut off, switched and slingshotted back inside 50.
Lewis Steere was the main beneficiary of the room service the mids were providing, snapping a greasy one, before Gus McKinna hit him up for a set shot to make it two in as many minutes. Hamish Rowlands had a purple patch in the centre, his Braveheart-esque locks flowing as he repeatedly charged through and launched clearances deep. Nick Hey and Andrew Yates both capitalised late in the quarter, and gave the Blacks a 27-point lead at the first change.
Haileybury kicked the first of the second at the 5-minute mark of the term off the back of a comedy of Blacks’ errors.
The quarter was much more even for the most part, but another late surge by the Blacks helped them build upon their quarter time lead. Yates, donning his now-trademarked chin strapping started a play at half back which resulted in an easy finish by Michael ‘Slick’ Kelly, and Jordan Tunbridge marked from the ensuing centre bounce and made no mistake from 40 out. In the final minute of the first half, Sevior chimed in with his second and the Blacks returned to the rooms 43 points the better.
The Blacks caught the visitors flat-footed after the break, with Hey and youngster Lachlan Devlin kicking goals from set shots in the opening minutes. Much like the first quarter, the ball lived forward of centre for the hosts.
Haileybury was under immense pressure and it showed – one play which characterised the start of the second half came when a rushed kick inside 50 for the Blacks was floating towards a Haileybury defender with 5 metres of space, but he elected to go for a double-handed slap rather than mark, and the resulting spillage led to a shot on goal.
Goals in the dying minutes were a feature in this game, and Hey snagged two of them in the third. With three goals in that term alone, he padded the Blacks lead to healthy 66 at the final change.
Sevior picked up where Hey left off in the final quarter and kicked his third to stretch the lead to 12 goals. Despite the game being all but over, Peyton played with the same intensity he had all game, showing his superior fitness and agility around the contest. Tunbridge followed suit and took a strong contested grab 35 metres out, before kicking his second to bring up triple digits for the Blacks.
The theme of late goals continued. Max Gray and Blake Cooke, not wanting to miss out on the fun, each chimed in with singles to help pad the percentage, stretching the final margin to 96 points.
Eager to make amends and quickly forget their tough day the weekend prior vs Old Xavs, the lads matched up early on the Crawford in a battle of birds, between the mighty Phoenix and the Hawthorn Hawks (AFC). The Crawford Oval had taken a beating with rain over the week and by the time the Phoenix showed up at 8:00am they knew it was going to be a heavy day against the Hawks.
The first 25 minutes had the boys adjusting to the wet pockets and heavy ball and managed a 7 point lead after the first quarter. However no one told Paul Sanderson about the wet conditions as he treated the ball like it was a dry Autumn day in the forward 50. The second quarter continued to see a shoot out between the Phoenix and Hawthorn with two goals coming from both sides. None more special than a classy soccer off the ground from beyond the goal square from Sanderson that landed straight into the arms of Max Depina right in front of goal. Shocking everyone including Depina, he turned around and slotted his second goal for the quarter.
From half time the two headed monster forward line of Depina & Luke Gore started receiving cleaner entries from the Mids and the Phoenix extended their lead to 25 points by three quarter time. The backline held strong all day with Will Hayward and Pat Devlin (with a new one long sleeve guernsey look) holding some strong forwards to just one goal each. Coach Farrell and Captain Cleary said a few final inspiring words at the last change which inspired the Phoenix to extend their lead to 46 points by the final siren. Goals came from multiple players in the last quarter, however most notable was a rare sighting of Braden Poole in the forward line which resulted in him slotting a game sealing goal in the final minutes. Thanks to all the helpers and supporters who came down.
Additionally, owing to a surplus of players in the Senior playing group early on in the season, the Phoenix have been able to offer players not selected in their side, a game with the Yarra Old Grammarians Reserves team in Division 2. Over the past two weeks, 9 players have pulled on the Yarra jumper, helping them avoid forfeiting and giving our guys a run when they otherwise wouldn't be able to crack the team. A win-win for all considered, a big congrats and thank you to these young men who have shown great spirit and selflessness in playing for Yarra. They surely do appreciate it.
Meanwhile, as the Reserves were taking on Old Haileybury, our Under 19s were squaring up against the University Blues, in what will be their last match-up for the season (thanks to an awkward VAFA fixture in the Under 19s Division 1 League).
As is now customary, the Unders have recounted their game in a typical jovial fashion:
“Cry “Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war. So wrote the bard and coach Sexton may well have been channelling Marc Antony with a stirring pre-match address that left the hairs on the back of the neck on end and the whiteboard up ended. It was plain today was not the day for taking prisoners. Least of all whiteboards.
Sure enough the boys hit the contest with a maniacal fervour. It was a day the three D’s were writ large: Desperation, Determination and Guts.
He’s a genius that Sexton. Thursday night the boys were wondering a touch about the quick kick drill but come Satdy, those quick kicks in the wet upset more than one apple cart. They don’t hand out them #1 draft picks on the back of a Weet Bix packet.
Quarter time about level. Half time in front. Three quarter time two goals down. Fight back to the lead with 10 minutes to go. Forgotten about the rest. Fair play to the Blues: a strong finish under sustained pressure for a three goal win.
Xander Robertson went bang. Couldn’t drop a mark, monstered each pack, super snap for a clutch goal to hit the lead in the last, what a game. We can tell you this for free – Jack Cassidy and Harry Hogan are weapons of the highest order. Ferocity, determination, skill galore on display.
Darcy “sweep the sheds” Harmer was as clean as a mud proof whistle whilst it was a dangerous place to be a Sherrin at the bottom of a pack if Hugo King was in the vicinity – an all-out onslaught was imminent. The defence was again miserly keeping a quality opposition in check for most of the day.
All in all a super turnaround from all the boys after a touch up in the previous Blues game and to quote coach Sexton from his media conference: “We have now well and truly shown that we are up to this high standard of football which is a credit to every player. Well done.”
On a day when the heart was royally warmed by ex-19s legend Harry Lahy playing his 100th, not long after said heart was similarly warmed by ex-19s legend Jordy Quaile doing the same, the mind couldn’t help but wander a touch to the future and the part this current crop may play. And to book a heart check-up.
Magnificent work by our Crawford brothers the mighty Phoenix. That song sounded sweet. Also a shout out to our mighty Team Manager Schenell D’Costa who somehow combines ruthless efficiency with amazingly colour enhanced Facebook scoreboard posts.
Meanwhile at AG Gillon the Blacks boys helped Brunswick get the job done again. Fun fact, the many boots that have laid the layers over the Gillon include those of our WW2 PM John Curtin and Mark “Jacko” Jackson. Both have left an indelible legacy on the Australian cultural milieu, be it Curtin’s nation defining “free of any pangs” speech or Jackson’s “Me Brain Hurts”. What a tune.”
Inspiring stuff, lads.
Winning 2 out of 4 on the day, and in all contests until the end, the season has started well for the Blacks. Now that winter is upon us, and the Main is beginning to look how most of us would recall it mid-year, the challenge is there for all sides to remain consistent on game days and rise to the top. Next week, away games at Albert Park vs AJAX beckon for the Seniors and Reserves; the Phoenix do battle again vs Caulfield at Glenhuntly Oval, and our enigmatic Unders travel to Springvale Rd to be hosted by Mazenod.