Well after a week off for the best of the VAFA to congregate for the Big V Rep Game (including our very own Josh Steadman and Campbell Moorfield), footy was back!
All teams were back on the sacred grass (not mud) of the Uni Main and The Crawford, with each respective team having their own unique challenges ahead of them with the end of season closing in. Could the Seniors solidify their A-Grade position and look toward the Top 4? Could Reserves continue their good form and take it up to a powerhouse of the competition? Could the Phoenix be the Kings' of the North and take down Fitzroy? And could Murray and the U/19s get their season back on track and set up for finals?
Many questions, and a need for answers. Well, lucky for you, we've got some of the finest writers' in the footballing world to help answer the above.
The scene was set for a blockbuster game with the 8th and 7th placed Blacks and OM’s to lock horns in what was a pivotal game in the relegation battle. The fortress of Uni Main was in sensational cone-dition; probably the best state the oval has been in all year and the Blacks boys were revved up after a massive win in the Twos. A memorable pre-game speech from Hugh 'Colonel' Curns reminded everyone why he is such a popular Blacker, and the boys were ready to go.
The inclusions of James ‘Sanga’ Sansom and Bede ‘Weapon’ Mahon meant some added experience and a touch of class to the Blacks 22 and it showed in the opening quarter. Sansom, with the new look helmet, was back to his old tricks setting up the first goal of the game with a quick kick inside fifty to Nick Hey who slotted the first of the game. Unfortunately, Nick forgot how to kick the ball straight after this and so did the rest of the Blacks boys, ending the quarter with 2 goals and 9 behinds. The lead of 15 points didn't do justice to the dominant first quarter. Plenty of opportunity came from the defensive half with the likes of Charlie ‘Chuck’ Francis and Sam ‘Commissioner’ McKenzie intercepting with Henry ‘Griddy’ Bennet as well as Henry ‘Hennessey’ Robertson using their flashy skills to feed the forwards. It was a mix of the old and the new with in-form winger Max ‘Damage’ Gray dominating his side of the ground and Bede Mahon, who had the ball on a string proving to everyone that his class is eternal .
The midfield dominance continued throughout the second quarter with the dynamic trio of Curnow, Vescio and Knight cracking in, making their opposition look silly with their tough inside work and poise on the outside. Matt Grocott once again found the answers for the Blacks, taking a ripping three-on-one mark, going back and slotting it to show the rest of the boys how to kick it through the big sticks. The pressure gauge from the Blacks boys was through the roof lead by pressure hound Max ‘Fang’ Dow, leaving many of the O.M. boys looking over their shoulders post game to see if he was still chasing after them. The contested work from Mahon did not stop with a classy handball out the back to the running Bennet who set up another beautiful, contested mark from…you guessed it…. Ayui Makieng who went back to kick the goal. However, the O.M. boys were not finished; managing to turn the momentum by kicking three straight goals to send a shiver down the spines of the Blacks faithful. Tom Larby answered back kicking the last goal of the quarter to settle the game and give us a thirty-six point lead going into the break.
Blacks set the tone in the third with some terrific pressure acts lead by Sansom running around like a headless chook putting pressure on about three different players before laying a massive smother, rewarded for his efforts with a tap on from Heysy and Max Dow which had many questioning whether we were playing volleyball or footy, leading to an easy return goal for Sansom. The Rolls Royce Henry Bennet had plenty of run off half back and was superb all day setting up countless opportunities for the Blacks forwards to convert. After failing to kick the ball with any sort of accuracy, Nick Hey managed to take an impressive contested grab and slot one from around fifty which had the Blacks boys pumped up with his trademark “C’mon!” Tom Larby kicked the goal of the season with a fend off that rivalled that of a prime Dustin Martin, before snapping a miracle banana which had the crowd out of their seats.
Blacks dominated the last quarter thanks to the ruckwork of Josh Steadman and forward fifty dominance from Grocott and Hey. However, once again, the boys lacked polish in front of goals. In the end kicking twenty one behinds with thirty four scoring shots to O.M.s nine being an indication of the impressive performance. Ayui Makieng took mark of the century sitting on an O.M.players’ head, (Q4, 11: 55 SEE HERE if you want to witness the greatest mark you’ll ever see) which had almost every player on the ground with their hands on their heads. Austin Steere, although not quite as high, took an equally impressive mark at full extension.
Overall the day turned out to be a rather one-sided game with Blacks in control from the first quarter to the last, rounding out a complete four-quarter performance which coach Bower had been looking for. Lachlan ‘The Vindicator’ Knight was voted best on ground, leaving pundits scratching their heads as to why he didn’t find himself in big V jersey the week prior. Chicken Bennet and Henry Robertson were standouts with their dash off half-back and impressive aerial skills. A massive win for the club which puts us in equal fifth with four wins in a row, showing how much the group has progressed from the first game of the season to the last. Next week we set out to face ladder leaders Collegians and with the Blacks boys current form, anything is possible!
It was always going to be a good day. The sun was streaming down, the main had a week off, the cricket pitch roller had come onto the deck and straightened it out nicely, and the coffee was being excellently prepared at the kiosk upstairs. Our opponents thought otherwise with regard to the ground however and an in principle compromise was struck to isolate the worst section of the ground with some cones in order for the two teams to play on the ground. An interesting watch for the observers watching the tense negotiations pre game.
Importantly, The game itself started strongly with a midfield that was both explosive and considered. Jack Kennedy was almighty clean all day, aided by the height and know how of Jordan "101" Tunbridge. Sackland Evans was also strong early as the visitors entertained some early inside 50's. The 1st quarter ended well for the lads and we were up by 2 goals.
The second half OM's began to assert their ascendancy. On what can only be an expectation for a top quality side, they piled on the pressure and the goals and managed to score 3 to our 1 in the 2nd. Harry Dent did his best to stop the onslaught and was solid in a really strong performance all day. Gaps were clearly developing but the boys stayed strong. We headed into the break with scores level.
Supercoach had an interesting message at half time. The emphasis was placed on selfless football and there were some key standouts that embodied the above notion. Notably Jojo, a recent entrant into the side who's explosivity paired with his selfless action inspired the team to a resurgent 3rd quarter. Oliver Bouchez was also excellent and had such a strong contested mark that even Charlie Curnow would be impressed. We approached the break 2 goals in front and the sun gleaming onto the main for a last quarter bonanza. Supercoach impressed upon us that should we win, it would be the first of our wins on the main for the year. If that was not enough to fire us up then nothing would, and indeed it did.
The last quarter was a mixture of perseverance and hard running that ultimately led us to a 3 goal success. A notable moment was about halfway through the last when OM's had an inside 50. I recall a stream of blacks players flying into our D-50 all with the one intention of stopping the fast break. Indeed we did and to be frank, this was symbolic of the day. Hard fought and with a deep desire to win, the lads came out on top and were justly rewarded for their fine efforts.
With a picture-perfect July day and The Crawf in the best condition* (by Crawf Standards) since the start of the season, the Phoenix pushed to make a quick start early on with Hugh 'Higgs' Higgins and Sam 'Dougs' McDougall looking to open the Blacks' account.
Joshua Leviston continued to spur the boys on with an inspiring "captain's" smother and continuous attack at the footy throughout the quarter. Jordan Pfeffer was also a standout with heavy involvement around the ground as well as "The Shadow" Oscar Gale, who neutralised his abnormally long opponent in the ruck. As the siren blared at the first break and despite the Phoenix not registering a score, they were still within striking distance of Fitzroy who had finished the quarter with a score of Phoenix 0.0. 00 to Fitzroy 5.2-32.
After a slow 1st quarter, the 2nd quarter began with a tough midfield battle and a mark 25m from goal, which saw Tom Hogan kick the first goal of the quarter and finally put a score on the board for the Black's. The defence had a tough time stopping the attacking pressure, though David Deez and Tom Dooley-Heath were experts at reading the play and putting in their best defensive efforts to stem Fitzroy's attacking pressure. The play of the quarter arose from Emilio Eugenio's second efforts with a goal-saving tackle leading which gave the Black's some much needed motivation.
The quarter closed with plenty of contested stoppages and the Blacks were able to force the ball forward for Joey Barclay to rove a contest inside the forward 50 and snap his first goal of the year. Unfortunately, Fitzroy's midfield set up was too strong and saw them dominate on the scoreboard kicking 5 goals to the blacks 2 goals, taking us into half-time at 2.2.14 Uni Blacks to 10.5.65 Fitzroy.
The team stepped back onto the turf from the halftime break with renewed energy, eager to make their mark on the game. The Blacks kicked two major scores in a row including a moment from the skipper himself Levinston, when he astounded everyone with a colossal torp from 45 out, a kick that looked like it could have covered 60 metres. The crowd watched on in awe as the ball sailed majestically through the air and through the big sticks. A feeling of a shift in the momentum of the game was brewing, this was only emphasised more when Will Goyder landed a huge chase down tackle on the wing sending the pill back into the forward 50. However, Fitzroy's relentless attack and efficient centre clearance kicks allowed them to hit the scoreboard hard during the latter part of the quarter. At 3 quarter time the scoreboard read Uni Blacks 4.3. 27 to Fitzroy 21.08. 134
Coming out of the 3/4 time break the boys had one goal in mind, to keep the loss under 100 points. The quarter started strong with Hogan’s presence in the backline bolstering our defence by taking intercepted marks and disrupting Fitzroy’s attack. Fitzroy’s attack did not go away, however, and the goals kept piling on. David Dee’s Drentin’s energy in the final term was electric and kept the phoenix spirit alive. His never-give-up attitude was rewarded when he found Levo on the edge of the 50, and with the captain's silky moves found Dools, who converted for his second of the day. These two have built such an incredible relationship throughout the season. More iconic duo than Voguel and brownies skateboard. Although it was a tough day at the office for the Phoenix boys, the quarter was worthwhile with Darbi snagging his second for the season in a hard-fought loss.
The final score reading Uni Blacks 7.3. 45 Def by Fitzroy 28.11. 179
Now running a week behind the Seniors, the Round 12 match up against Haileybury at Crawford Oval was building up throughout the week to be the most anticipated yet for the Under 19’s season. A two-week bye provided ample opportunity for reflection following the Round 11 loss to Mazenod with an under-manned though spirited loss over the semester break period. Murray Schneider’s intense and prolonged reflections manifested in a significant 13 changes which looked to add strength and depth into the starting line-up, aided by the return of many with Northern Hemisphere-induced sun tans and jetlag. Amongst the inclusions was Ben Donnellan, returning from his UK cricket circuit which was not limited to his fine performances on the ground including a Bazball-esque century, who did not look out of place in the midfield despite being caught shadow batting in the rooms before the bounce.
Haileybury’s stunted start to the season, after being relegated from Division 1 after four consecutive opening round losses, had fuelled an almighty 5-game win streak including knocking off the top team up until this point. Round 12 was now a match between them, 4th and the Blacks, 5th, with a chance for either side to consolidate a place in the top 4 well and truly on the line. This was as quintessential as the “8-point game” cliché could extend.
The clear skies were met with dewy surfaces as the Blacks, well-accustomed to their 9:20am time slot, opened their encounter in slippery conditions. “The Tradesman” Pat Sommerville was on site early and dug into every ruck contest in a highly contested opening quarter affair. The back line, who praise themselves on having conceded the fewest points in the competition and by consequence being the best in the league, were somewhat slow to pick up their man-to-man defensive style, conceding the opening two goals of the match in quick fashion. It took only five minutes to identify that Haileybury showed up with an aerial fleet which begun to clunk and capitalise on almost all forward-50 entries. Despite stoppage clearance brilliance from Knights, a solitary missed opportunity saw the Blacks struggling to keep their heads above water going into quarter time trailing by five goals to none.
As the dew cleared and the crowd built, so too did the Blacks on their momentum, taking the game on through the corridor in the hands of Mithen and Carmichael. The boys re-established their textbook lateral movement and the boot of Conheady acted as a rapid counterattacking tidal wave which swamped the otherwise in control opposition defence. From nowhere, Mithen took it upon himself to show the forwards how it’s done, found some uncontested space in front of the big sticks and kicked truly. The momentum didn’t stop there. Henning moved into the guts and begun to dish off balls to Harris slicker than Daffey’s lusciously flowing mane. Blyth would take Henning’s place up forward which immediately paid dividends, as he muscled a 3-on-1 highly contested mark to slot his second of the quarter. The boys went into the main break down by three goals.
The third quarter brought about some credible and much-needed one-on-one defensive efforts from Vaughan, Gillam, Shattock and Roberts and the Bloods were restricted to just one major. Conversely, the Blacks heaved the footy up the hill and welcomed another goal from Blyth as well as a scintillating burst from the pack by Baker who found a paddock of space at the arc and decided to take it upon himself to roost a punt which bounced favourably and set the boys alight. The quarter ended in blow-for-blow fashion, the Blacks more capable of capitalising, kicking 2.1 to 1.4, still trailing by twenty points entering into the final term.
As the final term begun, Haileybury, kicking towards the cemetery end, were looking to put the nail in the coffin. They kicked two majors in quick succession, dampening hopes, though it was ultimately themselves who the Blacks had to blame. Several missed set shots were only ameliorated by a sole major from Hynes in his first match in a month. Phillipson fought admirably at centre half-forward without reward, and the midfield group matched the opposition all the way until the final siren. A wasteful 1.6 quarter left the boys wondering what could’ve been, as they succumbed by twenty points, 6.9-45 to 9.11-65.
After garnering four consecutive wins at home early in the season, the boys have now relinquished three opportunities in a row, though are certainly not out of the finals race. The Blacks slip to sixth on the ladder [three percentage points off fifth]. The equation is now simpler than ever. With six matches to go, the boys must win at least five, including beating both the second and third placed teams, to make it to September. There is certainly a lot of belief amongst the playing and coaching group that it can be done. They are yet to line up against Camberwell [3rd] and will be hoping to repeat their triumphs over Glen Eira [2nd] in three weeks’ time, as well as making the most of the opportunity against wooden-spooners Monash this coming Saturday. The final month-and-a-half story of this truly capable U19’s side remains to be written, but it is absolutely there to be won.