Round 14 Players' Wrap

Thursday 03 August 2023

Round 14 saw all teams hit the road again as we entered the final climb for Season 23. With just over a month left for both the Seniors/Reserves, one of the toughest assignments in football was ahead - the trip to Harry Trott to battle Collegians. Across both grades, this was a formidable opposition and an exciting test after a huge double win the weekend before. The Phoenix were up against another strong challenger in Old Xaverians, whilst Murray and the 19s were looking to get the season on the board with a bigger contingent of players' back after the Uni break. 

Seniors - Tom Larby

The biggest challenge in the VAFA faced the Blacks seniors in Round 14 travelling to face the top of the table Collegians at their home fortress of Harry Trott oval. The Collegians have been the dominant force in the VAFA this season dispensing all comers including the Uni Blues by 100 points just a few weeks earlier in Round 11. The Blackers coming off 4 straight hard fought wins were battle weary but not going to shy away from the challenge and opportunity this presented. The team selected included the return of young gun Finn Raymond and the debut of Werribee big man Sam Conway (returning from a long term injury).

Co-captain Campbell Moorfield won the toss and the Blacks started strongly with the wind, big Sam 'Sticks' Conway slotted his first goal for the club and Max Gray was dominant on the Harry Trott wings. Although some missed opportunities meant the Blackers weren’t able to fully capitalise on the forward 50 entries, while the efficient Collegians took their chances and went into the first break 5 points up.

Kicking with the wind in the second quarter the Collegians gained the upper hand, the Blacks defence were courageous as ever under a constant barrage through the likes of Sam Mckenzie and recent addition to the backline Ayui Makieng who was quick to make an impact through his intercept marking and highflying golden-fist-worthy spoils.

Coming off some physical victories in the past few rounds the third quarter saw the fatigue set in for the Blacks and despite dominant rucking from Jerry Steadman and clearance work from Hugh 'Colonel' Curnow the Collegians entered the final break 45 points up.

The Blacks continued to weather the storm in the final quarter, with the Collegians showing why they're top of the VAFA with some slick end to end ball movement. Dogged determination from Max Dow and Aussie Steere along the half forward line resulted in forward entries for the Blacks and the team scrapped it out until the last with Louis Vescios trademark ferocity ensuring the Collegians had plenty to think about until the final siren. Collegians ended up running away victors 17.11-113 to the Blacks 6.6-42.

Round 14 was always going to be a challenge against the form side of the VAFA, but there was a lot to be learned from the loss and the Blackers now move to Round 15 with an eye on freshening up and putting themselves in the best possible position to beat arch rival Old Haileybury (who are still very much owed for last years Grand Final). Get to Princes Park, Caulfield 2pm for what's shaping up as another cracking match!

Reserves - Henry Lamb

After living off the euphoria of the brilliant round 13 double win the previous week, the lads rocked up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, keen as ever to get out on the track to chase that winning feeling again. The weather gods blessed the skies of Melbourne; the sun gleaming down without a cloud in sight. There was a great buzz in the change-rooms; Xavier Robertson was back in the side returning from his little European expedition and James Connelly in for his first game. The revelation of a fresh tub of grippo and Baxter Aurisch’s brand new helmet also adding to the boys’ eagerness.

Despite all this excitement, the Blackers unfortunately didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, with the Collegians kicking the first couple goals of the match, coming off the back of some quick transition ball from turnovers. Determined to not let this phase them, the Blacks’ boys fought hard to get the ball spending some time in their forward half, exemplified by Lewis Steere of laying a very “well-timed bump” to set the tone. Despite managing to jag one back before the quarter’s end, the Blacks ended up 9 points behind, with the collegians kicking a snag after the quarter time siren off the back of a stiff umpiring call against Sam Ackland-Evans, in spite of some great defensive work.

The 2nd quarter seemed to be a case of things having to get worse before they could get better. The wind had picked up a few clicks and Collegians were keen to make the most of it. The efforts of the consistent as ever Jack Kennedy and silky smooth Sam Robertson were not enough to halt the onslaught of goals kicked by Collegians, with balls sailing through the big sticks from outside the arc, turning the Blacks’ backline into mere spectators a times. Blacks were unable to convert from their handful of inside 50’s, despite the valiant endeavours of Oliver Bouchez down deep.

Desperate to show some heart, the Blacks boys came out firing in the second half, with the likes of Jackson Sleep, Lachie O’Hara and Tom Cousins cracking in as always. Flashes of brilliance from the speedsters Lachie Miller and Lachlan Pereira were seen, leading to some quality link up ball movement through the wings which resulted in the Blackers winning the premiership quarter.

Nonetheless the Blacks went into the last quarter more than 5 goals down, perhaps leaving too much to do kicking into the wind. Some highlights included some good-old fashioned physicality from Tommy St Clair, some great repeated efforts from Scotty Glover and Lewis Steere almost snapping goal of the year from the boundary. The Blackers fought stout-heartedly until the end, but it was unfortunately a similar tale of not being able to put it together for the full 4 quarters, with some concentration lapses allowing Collegians to kick away in the first half of the match. The boys will have a good week on the track and go again against Old Haileybury on Saturday.

Phoenix - Hugh Higgins, Tom Dooley-Heath, Jordan Pfeiffer, Cam McNeill

With the end of season not too far away, the Phoenix were ready to test themselves against top of the table Old Xavier for the second time. Aware of the calibre of team they were playing, and with the majority of the backline in Europe, the boys knew the challenge that presented them. With the focus being on fundamentals throughout the week, the Phoenix were clear on what they wanted to implement, keeping structure, playing smart, and kicking it long with the wind. All core ideas which have been spoken about throughout the season.

With the ground mirroring that of the Crawf in scale, the first quarter was a tight contest with clear space a luxury early on. The strong cross winds played a factor early, with Xavs Backman unable to get a clear read on the ball flight, Efforts from new bloods Pillbrow and Hewitt along with strong touches from Moody along the wing lead to chances in the forward half that unfortunately went begging. With Xavs’ skills a level above, the Backman were put under pressure constantly. After asking to be put in the backline, Nic McCaffery showed strong intercepting prowess, that of which the backline has been needing all season. Helped by the likes of Dooley-Heath, McSteel and Phibbs, the back 6 fought hard but struggled against physically taller and stronger forwards. Although the boys were hard at the footy, Xavs seemed to run circles around them, and converted on the scoreboard to go into the break 4.3:27 to Uni blacks 0.0:0

 It was an incredibly tough second quarter following a competitive opening term from the Blacks. The wind, it was suggested, was worth 10 goals a quarter, and the Old Xavs unfortunately capitalised on every bit of it, scoring 11 unanswered in the second. Joel Phibbs did his best to steady the ship with some sage wisdom as the backline was put through its paces. Aided by solid work from Nick McCaffrey, who took intercept mark after intercept mark down back, we remained competitive despite the deteriorating scoreline. Patrick Milner and Josh Levingston continued to present as good options to move the ball forward, the skipper 'levo-tating' to take some excellent contested grabs in the middle of the ground. Unfortunately, we struggled to find targets in the forward line, the notorious Sam McDougall was heavily tagged and key forward Hugh Higgins was unfortunately out with a (very) soft tissue injury. 

The Phoenix were delighted on inspection of the deck at Greythorn Park to discover the hallowed ground of the Crawf' isn't in fact the worst ground in the VAFA. The oval featured a runway like syntho running the length of the square, and small wetland areas on each the wing, both undoubtedly contributing significantly to the Blacks downfall. Fortunately for the Xavs, us Phoenix have a bit more resilience than the Old Melburnians bumblebees displayed last week, and made no complaint on the atrocity they call Greythorn Park. 

The scoreboard going into the main break read Old Xavierians 15.8:98 to Uni blacks 0.1:1

 After an invigorating half-time speech, feeling inspired to hit our tackle quotas and ready to kick our effort into another gear, we charged full steam ahead into the 3rd quarter. Whatever was in those half-time jelly snakes must’ve been electric as we came out with a bang, winning what felt like our first centre clearance. Patrick Milner on fire to start the quarter as he ran circles around the opposition with several clearances taking full advantage of the wind behind our backs. 

 An inspiring moment from Hamish McManus on the wing running back with the flight of the ball yelling out “Hammer’s Ball! Hammer’s Ball!” as everyone cleared the area for an absolute bull to charge past only for it to fall straight through his arms and bouncing off his knee nearly 30metres up the line. It was clear McManus was severely lacking his glasses as he completely misjudged the ball. A famous quote from Joshua Leviston still echos around the Phoenix; “Imagine how dangerous Hammer would be if he could actually see the ball.” His vision like iron shackles restraining this contested beast back. Real food for thought amongst the Third’s competition. 

However, possibly the greatest moment for the quarter was our only goal during the match. It began with a pinpoint precision kick inside 50 to Lachlan Hewitt who proved an excellent lead to shrug the defence off. As he marked the ball, Hewitt was needlessly shoved to the ground which prompted a 50metre penalty directly to the line. Standing right in front of goals, Hewitt was not going to miss this ripe opportunity for the Phoenix to finally hit the scoreboard to top off arguably one of our better quarters for the game.

 The scoreboard going into the 3 quarter break read Old Xavierians 19.15:129 to Uni blacks 1.1:7

 With the game poised to be the comeback of the century if the Blacks could get over the line and kicking into a stiff breeze, the goal of the last quarter was clear. Focus on the run, carry, short 45s, and each achieve at least 2 ‘black acts’. Oscar ‘Gaz’ Gale continued his hard gig as the sole ruckman providing service where he could to his loyal followers in the midfield. When things didn’t go the Blacks way, the backline had one of the toughest games of the year with the continual barrage of entries from Xavs but McCaffrey stood tall all day providing many intercept marks and big spoils and Joel Phibbs showed that age is just a number winning some huge 1-1 against an opposition that would have been half his age.  

While a tough game, Levo could be heard heading off the ground commending the effort that everyone showed for the entire game and there were plenty of positives to take out of the match. With two games to go, the Pheonix will rise again to finish off the season strong.

The final score read 28.22.190 to Uni Blacks 1.1.7

U/19s - Aidan Vaughan

The Blacks Boys made the long trek out to Clayton to take on the wary Monash Blues on their home territory.  After a disappointing run of missed opportunities, the Blacks were faced with a must-win to keep our finals hopes alive. The Monash team may have been bottom of the fixture but, they were not to be underestimated. The boys were bringing the energy early, some big returns each brought a new angle to the team. Tall timber Jonah Wentzel and Luca Crone did not shy away in their return, they were an imposing presence over the Monash talls, barely losing a contest all day. Livewire Rory Edwards returned after missing 3 months of footy, he fitted seamlessly into the midfield group as he showcased his toughness in and under, winning the contested the ball and gaining valuable territory. An inspiring pregame speech from stand in captain Ed Phillipson pushed the boys into a fast start despite continuing the Blacks unbelievable coin toss losing streak.

 The work was done early with the midfield group getting on top. Inside bull Mason Blythe was continuing his strong form, winning clearances and driving the ball deep inside forward 50.  The tall forwards worked hard all day bringing the ball to ground so the smalls could bring the swarming pressure. The captain set the tone, taking some big, contested grabs, highlighting his class over his direct opponent. The midfield dominance led to plenty of opportunities, but we were unable to capitalize on the scoreboard, with the ball spending most of its time in the Blacks forward 50. Despite dominating most of the contests in the first quarter, the boys went into quarter time down four due to Monash’s ability to rebound quickly through the corridor, they’d managed to make the most of their opportunities.

 After some adjustments, the boys rallied. The backline brought the energy early with the run and carry of Ben Little proving to be a focal point of the Blacks ball movement. The Blacks proved that they were too fast for the Monash boys as Michael Daffey and John Hynes used their leg speed to rip holes in the opposition defence. The two boys combined at key moments in the match to ignite scoring opportunities, including ‘Daff’ driving the ball 50 metres and ‘Hynesy’ absolutely burning his opponent and running into an open goal. The key to the Blacks run goes to the defence. They pushed themselves hard, after a tough few weeks they worked their communication as the team defence formed a wall that the Monash Blues couldn’t overcome. The boys went into the halftime huddle with their heads up, ready to build on from a successful quarter.

 The opening of the second half saw the Blacks have to slow a flurry of goals as the Monash boys found some burst out of the middle. This saw Monash take the lead about half-way into the third. An injury to key player Everett O’Donnell saw Gus Conheady return to his rightful place at half-back. The boys were able to swing the momentum of the game thanks to some great forward work from inside mid Ben Donnellan, who had pushed himself forward to hit the scoreboard in a timely fashion. Felix Smith benefitted of the ball use of our midfield “Rolls Royces” (not my words, thanks Coach Murray for the quote) as he managed to take a lead up mark thirty metres out from goal. Despite leading, the team knew they would have to buckle down and bring some fire to make the most of their opportunity.

 The fourth quarter got blown open and again it was the team defence that stood up and propelled many repeat opportunities. The commanding voices of mainstays of the Blacks, Roberts and Gillam set the tone early, that we would refuse to be beaten. Cezary ‘Cez’ Charmichael flourished in a new role down back as his high energy persona flowed onto the field as his body work and attack brought multiple chances for the forwards. Forward Gus Conheady rolled around onto his right foot and launched the pill from 60 metres to the open goal square, there may have been four forwards leading at him, but you can’t question the result of an all-time goal. Muz is going to have a hard time getting him back into the backline after that one. The Blacks boys showcased their ability to finish games as they out-ran Monash to the finish line.

 As the boys sang the song, there was fewer people needing the lyrics on hand, which is a beautiful sight and as the boys build, a sign of things to come. After some missed opportunities and some high-profile games, it’s phenomenal to be back on the winners list. With many players returning from their mid-year break, the team is looking dangerous for the rest of the season but, they set their sights on Old Camberwell next week. A win against the 3rd sitting team would be a big statement in the league, that no team wants to see us come finals time.



Round 14 Players' Wrap

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