Two rounds to go and boy, hasn't the season flown by?! Another opportunity for the remaining three teams to show what they had left to give. The Seniors/Reserves were off to the (Brighton) Beach whilst our U/19s weren't far away against St Bedes.
Round 17 marked the 2023 season’s penultimate round, with the Blacks returning after a rather oddly placed mid-season (or late season) bye. Whilst good for those in finals contention, it felt a little jarring given only two rounds were left to play. All of that aside – there was a job to be done, and still plenty to play for. For the mathematicians out there, this week’s match up against Old Brighton at Brighton Beach Oval was crucial, as relegation was, albeit unlikely, still possible. Coach Bower had reminded the group of this in the lead up, underlining just how important it was to finish the season on the right note, and carry momentum into Season 2024. And with spiritual leader and club legend, Josh Steadman, announcing his retirement during the week, motivation was at an all-time high to send the great man off with a fitting farewell. This was aided by the return of Northern Bullants VFL player, Pat Fairlie, and surfing aficionado, Tom Larby.
It was 2pm, the siren had sounded, and it was game on. The first 15 minutes was a hot affair with the Blacks reminding Brighton as to why they were the #1 ranked pressure-based team in the competition. The usual suspects; Mahon, Knight, and Steadman, were giving the Blacks forward momentum out of stoppages, though finesse going forward was lacking. Despite the game being played in the Blacks forward half, scoreboard reward was hard to come by, with four points all the Blacks could garner. Brighton managed to get a couple against the run of play and led by 10 points at the first break.
The main message at the quarter time break from Coach Bower was to try and add a bit more polish. The pressure was excellent, but if we could just lower our eyes a touch more, we were well in it. Despite the proposed realignment, Brighton picked up where they left off, and in the blink of an eye, the Blacks were down by 5 goals. Though halfway through the second quarter, something changed. The Blacks pressure had lifted, Brighton was no longer able to move it with ease out of the contest, and the Blacks were able to find some much needed possession. A lucky goal from Hey from the boundary and classy finish from ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’, Jack Cassidy, saw the lead close to 16 points at the main break. The Blacks were in it up to their eyeballs, and the momentum pendulum had swung.
Tsunami, deluge, downpour, inundation. These are just some of the superlatives for what transpired during the third quarter of Saturday afternoon (if you don’t believe me – watch here). Right from the get-go, the game had completely changed, led by contested-bull, Louis ‘Bison’ Vescio. Without any regard for his own personal safety, the Bison willed himself to every contest, laying some of the hardest tackles this author has ever seen. And just like a Bison starting a stampede, the Black Tsunami had begun. Sam Conway kicked it off with a classy, contested mark and goal. Ben Stephenson was next to join the party with a long-range set shot bomb, before goal-kicking wizard, Matt Grocott kicked two on the trot, with a trademark ‘joe-the-goose’ out the back. And when Tom Larby kicked truly, the Blacks had kicked 6 unanswered goals. What had just happened?! We weren’t quite sure.
Heading into the last quarter, the Blacks had supreme confidence they could finish the job. They’d faced this situation a number of times this year and had developed a game style that wore opponent’s down via their attritional contest work. Cousins and Dow the battering rams that would lead the charge on this front. The first 10 minutes would be critical; could the Blacks hold off the Brighton surge? Well, the short answer was yes. Time ticked over, and there had been no score for half of the quarter. A long attempt from Hey off a Mahon handball saw another lucky goal trickle out the back and it looked like the Blacks were home. Vescio went to an inhumane level, taking multiple contested marks in a best-on-ground display. Despite a couple of late consolation goals, the Blacks lead was never seriously threatened. Another scalp in this awe-inspiring season. Supporting Vescio in the best were Mahon, Knight, Fairlie, Moorfield and Stephenson; a well-judged sextet who did the heavy lifting all day. Having now beaten both of last year’s grand finalists, the full attention was on finishing the season with something all Blacks players dream off – a win in the Uni Derby against the Uni Blues.
The reserves team trekked it out to the concrete turf of Brighton this week. Brighton, a top four side, had kept the reserves goalless in round one, so it was only up from there. The team welcomed back the exciting trio from the under 19s: Conheady, Henning and Little, who were all amongst the best from the previous round. The reserves also welcomed back the 2022 Semi-Final hero in Gus McKinna, who was revitalised from his time away. With a strong team and Lewis Steere at the helm, the Blacks were ready to take on Old Brighton.
The first quarter was a tale of two defences, with both teams keeping the score low. A 7-point margin at the break was anchored by the defensive efforts of the reliable Ackland-Evans and Henry “Lamborghini” Lamb. Spoils, tackles, and energy took allowed the team to head into the break with their heads held high. The message was clear at halftime, keep the pressure and energy high, and the game will be played on the Black’s terms.
Unfortunately, the second term did not go the way of the Blacks. The experience and top four talent that Brighton had shone through. Kicking three majors whilst keeping the reserves scoreless left the team without the energy that had been so high in the first. If it weren’t for the efforts of our talented ruckman Jordan “Tunners” Tunbridge and midfielders Miller and O''Hara, the damaged could have been greater, as they continued to beat their opponents at each stoppage. Despite our midfields best efforts, Brighton began to run away, leading by 28 at the break, keeping our Blacks scoreless.
Memories of the goalless round one defeat gave the blacks a nervous feeling at the break. The pregame jokes of “well we didn’t kick a goal in round one, we can only do better” started to weigh on the mind of the boys. Nevertheless, a rousing halftime boost from Pato saw the boys run out with our heads held high, as we were reminded of the club we play for, and that ‘never die’ Blacks spirit.
This was embodied completely by the passionate Zach “Hack” Harris, who physically and spiriting led the boys from the front. Backing up his teammates, barking orders and showing what it means to be a Blacker, Hack lifted the boys in the second half. Three majors in the second half to Bouchez, Robertson and Tunbridge gave the boys a reason to hold their heads high. The Blacks were able to breakeven with the top four Brighton team and show how far we have come this season. For majority of the game, the Blacks were able to fight against the opposition, and although they didn’t prevail, the reserves showed they are not that far off the mark.
Votes went to the brilliant S. Ackland-Evans, J. Tunbridge, L. O''Hara, A. Conheady, L. Miller, Z. Harris, who all gave their best efforts on Saturday. A tough day in bits for the Blacks unfortunately ended in defeat, but the season is not over. With an exciting group of unders players, players returning from injury, and the excitement next Saturday holds, the boys look the Blues for the last game of the season. The reserves will have no problem getting themselves up for this final hit-out and hold a confidence that should terrify our rivals.
Round 17 saw the Uni Blacks facing off against St Bedes in a rare 2pm game all the way out in Mentone, and on a ground that looked like the grass had never seen water before. Coming into the game at 6th place with St Bedes only 1 position higher than us, we had confidence that we could end their finals hopes right there, especially after our confident 60 point victory against them during round 7. With Muz and Chris unavailable, we saw Justin take over to provide some great wisdom before the game, specifically “not to fumble the ball”.
The first quarter began and with a few key players missing, Sam Shattock saw himself playing in the ruck, to which he quickly showed everybody that he could compete with anything mentone could throw at him, as he comfortably held his own and won a fair number of hitouts throughout the game, while also being able to follow up on his taps. The first quarter saw some early chances for the blacks, but unfortunately they went through for behinds and after the first 5 minutes, St Bedes took control of the quarter, putting us on the back foot, leading to the quarter ending with a score of 29-8 in St Bedes favour.
The second quarter was far more competitive, as we had far more possession over the ball as we warmed up into the game. Ben Donellan was especially noticeable around the stoppages as he won ground balls for the blacks and was instrumental in our ball movement throughout the ground. For the majority of this quarter scoring was equal across both teams until the last 5 - 10 minutes where St Bedes was able to score 2 quick goals to give them the lead for that quarter. At half time the scoreline read 54-20 with St Bedes leading by 34.
The third quarter was dominated by St Bedes, as their consistent inside 50s, meant it was only a matter of time until they would impact the scoreboard, despite this quarter being so one sided in terms of score, it gave Lachie Power a chance to show why they call him Power, as he laid some strong tackles, spoils and intercept marks, that helped stem the bleeding. Not much happened up the forward line, and we only came away with a single point for the quarter, with the score reading 100-21 at 3 quarter time.
The 4th quarter saw an improvement on the third with Everett being put forward for the first 10 minutes before switching with Rib in the hope he would be able to provide some much needed height in the forward 50 and that he would be able to score a goal in his last game for the under 19’s. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out and although an improvement by the team in the third quarter, it was still a one sided affair that ended 126-28.