Round 15 once again saw the Blacks hit the road with games spread right across Melbourne. Both the Seniors / Reserves were off to Old Haileybury to resume a great modern VAFA rivalry, the Phoenix down to Harry Trott to do battle against Collegians and the Unders were off to Old Camberwell.
What was in store for the final month of football? Well, your guess as good as mine but one thing is certain - these Blackers are ageing like a fine wine...
In a pivotal clash, the Uni Blacks faced off against their formidable rivals in Haileybury, with the threat of a relegation battle looming over both teams. The stakes were high with the loser facing a ladder scrap with Old Melbournians to clinch the final spot of safety before seasons end. This week it was true we not only “owed these guys” but it was a must win. Thankfully, Tom “Nugget” Cousins was renamed who is undefeated for our Seniors.
The game began slowly, with the Uni Blacks showcasing strong open play but failing to convert opportunities into goals. Haileybury capitalised on this, scoring two goals early on. Knighta then shifted to mark Brede Seccull, reasserting our midfield dominance. Captain Steaders' impressive goal from the pocket ignited a spirited response from the team and we quickly piled on 7 goals including two from Nick Hey and Henry Robbo's long-range effort. We will certainly be scouring the game review to see how much this got Hugh Curnow up and about with some iconic celebrations. The Uni Blacks maintained control in the second quarter, holding Haileybury at bay. Austin Steere's aggressive play brought some open play, allowing the forwards to shine. As half-time neared Haileybury's frustrations bubbled over, with push and shove between the teams. The Blacks held their heads up and respectfully allowed their performance on the field to do the talking.
The Blacks asserted their dominance in the third quarter, thwarting Haileybury's fruitless attempts to penetrate our defence. Highlighted by Ayui's impressive aerial presence where he sent balls flying over the fence with his golden fist and had spectators ducking for cover (it is believed the ball has since been retired as the stitching has completely split). Stephenson's structured play on the wing bolstered the Blacks' efforts and really made it difficult for any of Haileybury’s senior midfielders to even enter his side of the ground without glancing over their shoulder. Vescio capitalised on the team's strong play, adding to our score late in the quarter.
The fourth quarter featured standout moments, including Nugget Cousins' memorable goal that seemed willed over the line by his sheer determination more than his foot. Grocott's long-range goal from beyond the 50-meter mark sealed Haileybury's fate as they watched the ball soar over and two streets back into someone’s backyard.
The Uni Blacks emerged triumphant, gathering all 8 points across the two games on this important day. The excitement was palpable as the Seniors and Reserves shared their victories with our supporters. Unfortunately Henry Bennett suffered an ankle injury late so we send our thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery before seasons end, as a key player on and off the field. Also Xavier Chalkley has his shoulder surgery this week so we want to wish him the best as another essential player at this great club. Congratulations to our BOG Hugh Curnow who nudged out all the regulars in Knight, Moorfield, Steadman and Stephenson.
The Uni Blacks came up against Old Haileybury, with the Blacks eager for redemption given the earlier meeting between the two sides that resulted in a draw. Despite the loss the previous week, the Blacks were keen to carry forward and build on the positives that they have shown over the past month, with the side bolstered by some big ins, including Jordan Tunbridge, Hugo King and John Perks all returning from injury.
The first quarter, however, showed that Haileybury were not to be taken lightly, with them winning contested balls with ease and moving the ball with speed from end to end. Blacks fought back into the game, with Joey Smith kicking the first goal of the game from beyond the arc. The quarter consisted of a mix of repeat stoppages followed by free flowing football. Haileybury kicked two goals in the last five minutes of the quarter to take the lead into the break.
The message at the first break was clear, it was necessary for the Blacks to be better at the stoppage and get the hands on the ball first. The second quarter started with heavily contested football, with stoppage after stoppage across the ground, with no team taking charge of the contest. Jack Kennedy capitalised from a forward 50 stoppage to kick the first of the quarter and put the Blacks in the lead. Xavier Robertson capitalised on a mistake by Haileybury to kick another in quick succession. The game became a stalemate for the second half of the quarter, with both teams missing opportunities to capitalise on their efforts. The Blacks took the lead into half time, leading by two goals.
After missing a couple of opportunities early in the quarter, the Blacks then conceded a coast to coast goal, against momentum in the early stages of the half. The Blacks were able to continue to rebound from the half back line, but to no avail, with the ball coming back to them just as quick as it went in. Kennedy kicked another during the quarter, fair reward for his efforts throughout the midfield. Followed quickly by a great goal by Sam Robertson from a forward 50 stoppage. Scott Glover added to the tally with his second and the Blacks ended the quarter up by 15.
The game was far from over heading into the last quarter, with Haileybury showing throughout the day ease to score goals on transition. Lachlan Pereira got the first of the quarter with a great crumbing goal. The Blacks followed with another similar quick goal in succession to bring the lead out to 26 points. The Blacks continued to apply pressure, and albeit a few missed scoring opportunities, finished the game strongly and won by 30 points.
Finn Raymond was atop the best players, with Lamb, Sleep, Tunbridge, Bouchez and Smith rounding out the list. The reserves now look to next week against a strong Old Scotch, hoping to continue to build and put on a strong display at the Uni Main.
The air was electric as the Phoenix rolled into Harry Trott oval on Friday night; their first night game of the season. Harsh winds earlier in the day had eased and mixed with an oval in much fairer condition than usual filled the Phoenix with optimism. Collegians had been a fair competition in earlier games in the season and tonight was no exception. The first quarter was hard-fought, and the teams were evenly matched. Brave efforts from the backline prevented collegians from taking a dominant lead (a feat the Phoenix know all too well) and held them to only three goals in the first term, one which occurred as Collegians exploited a premature goal celebration at the Phoenix end. The backline was solid all day, led by standout performances from Nick McCaffrey and Will Goyder, however, no effort was braver than that of Hamish ‘Hammer’ McManus, who was given the tough tagging role on a skilled Collegians midfielder and laid several bone-crushing tackles. The quarter resulted 3.4-22 Collegians to 1.3-9 Phoenix.
With two confidence shattering losses, the Phoenix group was up and about heading into the second quarter with only a 13-point deficit after the first. With a rare potential win in sight, the team was hungrier than ever. The quarter was filled with plenty of scoring opportunities, but we were only able to capitalise on two, the same as our opponent. Mid-season add to the team Darbi Moody was constantly leading and making a presence in the forward line and earned himself a shot on goal from just a few metres out but unfortunately missed the middle of the big sticks. Equal leading goal leader heading into the game for the Phoenix, Sam McDougall also looked unlike himself, missing one from close range too.
Luckily, with their great presence from the first siren to the last, the midfield was able to keep us in the game. McManus, playing one of his best games of the season, was able to put one through from long range, on the run, under pressure, in a stellar highlight which provided a much-needed energy lift for the boys. Captain Josh Levingston was also able to capitalise on one of three 50 metre penalties the team was awarded for the game and slotted one through. As for the backline, the effort and resilience couldn’t be criticised throughout the whole game, and the second quarter was no different. Another mid-season addition, Nick McCaffrey was the anchor down back, winning pretty much any 50/50 ball presented to him and Goyder always being a threat and accurate clearance kick coming out of the back 50. Fellow backmen, Paulic, Gardener, Brown and Eugenio’s effort and reliability could not be faulted either with a rare backline rotation from the bench, the group continued to fight even though they knew no rest was coming. After the second term, the Phoenix were down 5.5-35 to 3.5-23 in what the players and crowd knew would be a Friday night thriller.
Although the game was a bit of a blur for some, the half time goal was clear going into the premiership quarter, keep that mf-ing pressure up. This was whole embodied from the start by Pfieffer and Levo, a duo tandem only rivalled by Sunday mornings and Zinger boxes. Hard fought ground balls were done all over the field, including efforts by Moody, Paulic, Barclay, Brown and Caruso. The latter of which showing what raw talent he can bring to the phoenix when not impeded by injuries at the start of the season. Even when collegians went forward, the backline stood up like they were vying for an All-Australian spot, holding collegians to one goal four. McCaffrey and Eugenio were defending the goals like they were prime Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace. McDougal was acting like a more stylish and overall skilled OBJ the way the pill just stuck to his mitts. Gale was dominant throughout the whole quarter and the inspirational leader Levo kicked a goal so good that the goal umpire basked in it for what felt like five minutes before whipping out the two-gun salute. The quarter ending 6.9-45 to 4.7-31.
With the game in the balance, the final term was primed to be a Friday night showstopper. Despite a couple of cheap goals early in game, The Phoenix had managed to remain highly competitive all night. Lead by the continuing pressure of hard-nut Hammer (Hamish McManus) out of the guts, the blacks put up a fair old fight in the in the final. Though the Black’s backs were under siege as Collegians pumped the ball inside their forward 50, big plays by a cramping Ryan Brown and surprisingly fit and healthy Robert Caruso managed to stem the flow. Cramping seemed a common theme over the course of the night, which saw Josh Leviston sucking the salt from a handful of hot chips delivered to him on the field late in the piece – a true exhibition of thirds football. Despite a big late bump fired from Emilo Eugenio’s arsenal, the Phoenix conceded 1.2 in the last. Though a valiant effort of the gents, unfortunately the fatigue of a Friday night had set in, with no additions to the scoreboard. FINAL – Uni Blacks 4 . 7 – 31 Def by Collegians 7 . 11 - 53.
Round 14 once again would prove to be the biggest and most important match of the Unders’ season. In a highly contested 10-team division, the Blacks went into Saturday morning sitting in fifth spot, with places third to sixth on the ladder all separated by just four points. The Unders were now well accustomed to the notion that every match in the back end of the season bared the weight of a final. Old Camberwell Grammarians arrived at Crawford Oval an hour before the 9:20am kick off sitting on a cushion of a significant percentage advantage as a result of maintaining their Points For and Against after a Division 3 promotion following large wins in their opening four accounts in the respective division below. Ultimately though, the better team would stamp a fiery case for entrenching themselves in a position to play finals footy in September. Thus, the equation was once again abundantly clear, one which even an Arts student could find no trouble in solving; win, or season over.
An official VAFA article analysing the correlation between players used and performance in the Men’s Premier section held no gravity in this match, as remarkably, both sides entered the Saturday hostilities having used 47 players each throughout the duration of the season. With the Europe summer coming to an end, and finals footy only a month away, both sides were sure to field their strongest teams. Late withdrawals of Mason Blyth and Pat ‘The Tradesman’ Somerville compounded an injury cloud over Jack Floyd, with experts concerned over the depth of the Blacks’ firepower in the ruck, though 6’9” mid-season recruit Luca Crone was sure to give his best efforts in filling the void. On the other end of the spectrum, McMahon was a welcome return to the team, filling the small forward void left by leading goal-kicker Reynolds, unfortunately out for the season due to prior commitments involving visiting museums and drinking beer in Vienna.
Justin Gray honked his air horn, and the affair was underway. Harris immediately won a hard ball out of the centre and went forward, though a slick moving Camberwell defence immediately rebounded and managed to convert two early majors in what was a slow start to the home side. Luckily, Wentzel managed to quickly re-find his form by presenting strongly on the lead and converting his first major in 63 days, hushing the critics and capturing a small burst of momentum. Edwards started well in the guts, hoping to continue his luck with the Blacks undefeated when he plays. However, kicking down the hill and with the wind, Camberwell managed to galvanise serious overlap run. They also made the most of their set shots, drilling two more to go into quarter time up 4 goals to 1.
The second quarter was more evenly matched, the boys were firing. Felix Smith kicked his third ‘goal of the year’ contender for the season, gathering the footy at the point post and off a couple of steps kicking a check-side boo-naa-naa to set the tone early. Smith continues to average 1.0 goals a game (12 from 12, off a similar number of average disposals), ominously approaching the leading goal kicker Kyle’s assailable lead standing at 15. After wrestling the momentum, Camberwell eventually responded with a major, though as if to pay homage to his old man’s sailing career, McMahon steered the team towards goals, kicking a beautiful set-shot against the current. He’ll be glad to have gotten rid of the set-shot demons, which compounded pressure to his kick on top of the attendance of his girlfriend at the game. Henning provided the bulk of the grunt work in the guts, constantly adhering to the territory-style game plan with 10+ clearances throughout the day’s play. In the dying seconds of the quarter, Ben ‘Smallzy Surgery’ Little was awarded a 50-metre penalty which he converted, no doubt contributing to him being named in the Best, which will prove crucial come the awards night. Both teams headed into the half adding 3.3 in the second, the deficit remaining at 17 points.
An almighty half-time pump up had the boys on their toes to resume proceedings. Mithen found his feet back in the side, though was on the receiving end of two stiff 50-metre penalties-turned goals. The umpires were as red-hot on the whistle as the Matildas are this World Cup. Shattock dug into his role and Conheady starred across half back, as Roberts led from the Full Back line calling the shots. Missed opportunities marred the third term, with the boys kicking 0.4 in an ugly effort which threatened to derail the entire season. Camberwell managed to add three goals to their total, two of which came from a former Blacks player, rubbing salt on the already-exposed wounds of the team.
Down by 33 points, the final term was at its ‘do-or-die’ stage. Carmichael was instrumental in breaking the game open through the corridor, and Harris provided lethal pressure around the contests. Suddenly the Blacks were charging. 1… 2… 3… 4 forward-50 entries. Knights is suddenly awarded a 50-metre penalty, for which he just manages to kick over the opposition player’s head for a 6-pointer. The Blacks went back to the centre bounce with seriously pumped-up tyres. But Camberwell laid down tacks all over the Blacks’ path, and quickly deflated their spirit. The Camberwell Grammarians found the big sticks five times in the final 15 minutes and put any solid hopes of finals for the Blacks to bed. The air horn sounded, and the score line read 5.10-40 to 15.11-101. A valiant effort for the better part of three quarters wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard blowout, but the boys were relatively content with their efforts given the circumstances.
The Unders are now essentially three games (two games and significant percentage) outside the Top 4 with four rounds until the completion of the season. They have had a very competitive season up until this point (now 7 wins, 7 losses) with an average losing margin of 22.5 points (compared to a winning margin of 30.4 points), and will look to finish strongly in the final month of footy for 2023.