In what was a tremendous Autumn afternoon for football (especially when compared to the week prior), it was impossible to hide the excitement of the playing and coaching group for our biggest challenge to date in Season 2023.
Many players donned a fresh haircut for the first televised game of the year, and the Club welcomed two additional debutants to the fold – Lachlan O’Hara and Harry Dent. For Lachie, he was given his first Blacks jumper by Club legend Charlie Richardson, who also spoke superbly to congratulate Joel Ernest on his 100th game for the Club. As for Harry, who was given his jumper by President and former Premiership Captain Patrick Barry, his opportunity represented a true show of hard work and determination for a young man who personifies what it means to be a Blacker, both on and off the field. Lachlan and Harry's opportunity came at the selection table due to, a raft of changes from the week prior which saw Hugh Curnow, Charlie Francis, Matthew Grocott and Harry Broderick make way, for a variety of reasons (injury, work travel etc). This gave young talent Sam Robertson and Tom St. Clair who both debuted last year an opportunity, they were both sure to make the most of.
With a slightly different pre-game routine to normal, both Seniors & Reserves changed into our ‘home’ jumpers for a special Anzac Day ceremony arranged by MUFC President Andrew Donald to remember those who sadly lost their lives in service for our great nation. Following The Last Post, National Anthem, and a final pre-game rev-up from the skipper Josh Steadman, we were ready to rumble in the first Uni Derby of 2023.
In the first quarter, the tenacity, tackling and pressure on display across all lines was incredible to witness. Every time a Uni Blues player gathered possession, they had a Blacker sweating on them to either force a mistake or neutralise a fifty-fifty ball. Clearly, the messaging from Coach Dale Bower to take it up to the Blues defensively had worked as Gus McKinna, Austin Steere and Max Dow worked tirelessly in the forward half to apply mountains of pressure on the opposition. Thanks to a fantastic check side from Sam Robertson, we were able to somewhat capitalise on our dominance, to only go into quarter time a point behind.
The second quarter kicked off in the same manner as the first, as the Blacks midfield lead by Lachlan Knight, Louis Vescio and Josh Steadman took it up to their more experienced counterparts around the ball, elevating the pressure once again. This pressure left Campbell Moorfield, Sam McKenzie, and the impenetrable backline with opportunities to intercept possession and surge the footy into our forward half. In what became a feature of the game, Ayui Makieng soared over his opponents and teammates alike to take some of the more spectacular marks ever seen on the University Oval. This sheer athleticism, which saw the crowd applaud, resulted in Ayui taking another strong mark and converting his set shot. As has become commonplace in Season 2023, Nick Hey also converted from a forward line stoppage to allow the Blacks to take a goal lead into half-time.
During half-time, the messaging from the coaching staff was simple and mirrored their theme from pre-game. If we were to keep the pressure up for the remaining sixty minutes, we would win the game of football. The players once again absorbed the words of wisdom from their Coach, as the inspired performance continued as the second half began. With the effort and intensity around the ball forcing Blues errors, a bone-crunching tackle from Louis Vescio epitomised the Blacks spirit on the day. After a few more marks that would see him win the Toyota Hilux at AFL level, Ayui Makieng was again able to hit the scoreboard again to allow the Blacks to retain their lead into the final change.
Unfortunately, despite 100-gamer Joel Ernest donning the long socks in the final term, the players were not able to sustain the tenacity across the ground during the last, as the Blues were able to kick crucial goals in crucial moments, to seal the victory by two goals. The midfield group battled until the final siren as Lachlan Knight was awarded best on ground for his efforts around the contest, vindicating his transition from outside mid to inside mid for season 2023. Playing as a high half forward, Austin Steere also featured in the best as he defended at an elite level and produced many a moment going forward of centre. Joel Ernest, Campbell Moorfield, Josh Steadman and Ayui Makieng rounded out the best players on the day. While we aren’t in the business of honourable losses, the efforts of the players were celebrated by coach Dale Bower in the rooms post-game as he noted that if we play with that effort every week, we will win more games than we lose.
Another big week on the training track for the Blacks this week as we gear up for a Grand Final rematch against Old Haileybury at the Uni Main in a weeks’ time.
The Uni Blacks Reserves suffered their second consecutive defeat to open the 2023 season, going down to the Uni Blues to the tune of 47 points.
Both sides were evenly matched for the first two quarters before the Blues came out firing in the second half, booting 7 unanswered goals on the Uni Main Oval.
There were promising signs from several young guns, notably Sam Fu, who impressed in his Reserves debut, having earned promotion from the Under 19s.
Fu showed off his natural ball winning ability and footy smarts as he fitted into the midfield seamlessly, with the step-up in physicality barely troubling him.
Will Peucker was a stand-out performer, presenting well as a key forward target and battling hard in the ruck when Vice-Captain John Perks went do with an elbow injury.
A long-bomb through the big sticks from skipper Lewis Steere and a spine-tingling tackle from Zach Harris were among the other highlights during the match.
The teams ball-movement improved significantly on the opening Round thumping by Brighton, with Henry Lamb, Jack Kennedy and Hugo King leading the way.
There were three Blackers on the field who played in the last Melbourne Uni Reserves Derby back in 2017 - Lewis Steere, Zach Harris and Jordan Tunbridge.
Next week, the 'Heart and Souls' host Old Haileybury, who are also yet to get a win this season so far.
- The Black Panther
After 10 weeks of pre-season training and a forfeited match from De La Salle, the Phoenix looked forward with great anticipation for their first official game of the season against Fitzroy at Ramsden St Oval in Clifton Hill.
With 9 first gamers for the Phoenix - Oscar Gale, Patrick Milnar, Finn Huzzey, Billy Gardner, Will Combridge, Scott Murphy, Ryan Durrell, Harry Postai and Hugh Higgins - and a team now playing in Division 1 previously Premier Thirds, everyone entered the game with a sense of excitement and belief that this year’s Phoenix outlook will see us be competitive and post wins on the board.
Whilst numbers at training have been great for preseason the Phoenix were surprisingly short on numbers for its first hit out; a number of key players missing the big game against Fitzroy.
The Phoenix started the game well and were competitive for the first half of the game, if not for some undisciplined and costly turnovers that resulted in easy goals to the opposition being down by just 21 points at the main break.
The third quarter saw Dolen Vogel (who was having a blinder of a game in defense) cop a knock to the head and corky – saving a goal backing back into a pack – but in the end forcing him off the field for the remainder of the game.
Down on talls in defense and up forward and now losing the experienced Voges, Fitzroy started to pull away.
With an undermanned team and some poor decision making the Phoenix were overrun by Fitzroy in the last quarter to go down by 66 points.
Nevertheless it was encouraging to see so many new faces pull on the Black and Blue jumper for the first time, and led by captain Josh Leviston (who played his best game for the Phoenix finishing with 4 goals and a best on field performance), the Phoenix still have plenty of reasons to remain optimistic for what is to come in their 16 round season.
The Friday night air was balmy as the Blacks 19s headed lakeside to take on Collegians. A slightly carnival atmosphere was the order of the night with a healthy crowd enjoying the occasion and generously offering full and frank advice over the fence to both teams.
Had the advice to the Blacks team been, for instance: “Attack the pill like there is no tomorrow; harass and chase all night; fight on in every contest; persist lads, persist, for nothing in the world can take the place of persistence” then one could posit that that advice was heeded.
The boys largely controlled the contest in the first half but goals were hard to come by. The defence again were miserly with Ev O’Donnell, Ben Little, Will Roberts and co keeping Collegians to a single goal at lemon time. Trouble was Blacks only had the one goal also with a few chances left out there.
Collegians challenged strongly in the third, hit the lead and things looked a little dire. Then, from nowhere, a scintillating burst of electric footy yielded four goals quick smart. Kyle Reynolds was busy all night and snapped one to get the ball rolling, Ed Philippson went forward and pulled down some telling big marks, Will Edney, ever dangerous around the sticks, snagged a couple and Olly Bouchez, (built like Tarzan, plays like Tarzan) imposed himself on the game with a huge pack mark then goal after the ¾ time siren. Boom went the Blacks.
In the last quarter the Blacks kept the pedal to the metals and stretched the lead to record a solid win. The midfielders were terrific again with Ben Mithen and Tom Harris having cracking games and Michael Daffey solid behind the ball.
Special mention to Rory O’Brien, our gaelic footy playing Irish recruit who played his first game of AFL: Played in the ruck. Never done it before. Done it real good. Plus a couple of critical soccer kicks to save the day. Lovely stuff and later when Rory and a few teammates adjourned to the Limerick Arms to toast the first win Irish and Australian eyes were smiling.