The Uni Blacks were back at home in Round 5 and it was our Seniors breaking through for their first W of the season that was the highlight of the day. Our Reserves came up just short of their first W, whilst the Phoenix and Unders both gave good accounts of themselves. Read on for our match reports, once again compiled by our multi-talented players!
Preparations returned to normalcy following a series of four consecutive weeks filled with milestones and debuts. The team's impressive performance against the reigning champions in challenging conditions the previous week had created a palpable sense of excitement. With two productive nights of training and the inclusion of key players Steadman, Grocott, Larby, McKenzie, and Dow, I was weak at the knees even before Saturday morning arrived. And when it did, weren’t we spoiled! "Days like this almost make you consider coming out of retirement," Shane Joyce was caught saying pre-game. Amen Joycy.
The pre-match excitement reached its climax as, for the first time during my tenure at the Blacks, I witnessed all 22 players warming up during the three-quarter time break of the Reserves game. Now, let's shift our focus to the game itself.
The opening play of the match set the tone for much of the afternoon. A hard-fought centre clearance and a sequence of slick handballs involving Vescio, Ernest, and the lightning-quick Steadman culminated in a perfectly executed dribble goal from Hey, all within the first 30 seconds of the match. If the VAFA had a pressure gauge, we would have been off it. Tackles (led by Cassidy), smothers (led by Dow and Knight), and an overall hunger to be first to the football (demonstrated by the entire team) were the highlights of the first quarter. It was pleasure to watch, resulting in a commanding 27-point lead at quarter time. Speaking of a pleasure to watch, Lachlan Knight has been precisely that in every match of 2023. Just watch the play at the 28-minute mark of the first quarter, and you'll understand what I mean: a tackle, a holding-the-ball decision, playing on, and a goal from 45 meters out. As Bruce would say, “delicious”.
Bowser must not have been pleased with the 30 seconds it took to kick the first goal of the match and the midfield took it personally. Hit-out Steadman, handball Knight, kick Stephenson, mark, and goal Hey, all within the first 25 seconds of the quarter. Checkmate, Dale. Joel Ernest's multiple contested aerial marks and Oliver's courageous spoil while running back with the flight continued the impressive defensive display for which the Blacks are renowned. We entered the halftime break with a 39-point lead. However, the message in the changing rooms was clear: the scoreboard resets, and we start afresh.
Unfortunately, the pattern of the Blacks scoring a goal within the first 30 seconds of the quarter was broken when Caulfield kicked a goal of their own within 30 seconds. This was only one of two goals scored by the visitors in the third term, as our forward line, consisting of McKinna, Makieing, Steere, Larby, and Grocott, went to work. Chicken Bennett added one of his own after benefiting from a generous 50-meter penalty, taking him to 45 meters out, and he confidently converted to the delight of the crowd. He showcased his prowess at both ends of the field when, later in the quarter, a tremendous chase-down and pressure effort made a fool of his Caulfield opponent, who had only daylight between himself and the big sticks. Following another impressive performance, we entered the final break with a 53-point lead.
The final quarter showcased a somewhat fatigued effort from the Blacks. After 90 minutes of relentless pressure and intensity, our performance slightly waned, allowing Caulfield to score 6 goals to our 4. Caulfield started regaining momentum in the final quarter, but in a crucial moment, Nick Hey emerged as the hero. Taking a mark from 35 meters out on a slight angle, he calmly went back and sealed the game with his fifth goal of the match (finally a display of accurate kicking from the power forward). Another goal, courtesy of Chicken Bennett and a 50-meter penalty late in the fourth quarter, had the crowd so excited, the lid would have come off Marvel. The siren went and the Blacks secured their first four points of the season with a commanding 37-point victory. This win will undoubtedly boost the confidence of our young group as we move on to face Old Melburnians this weekend.
Back in the locker room, it was a remarkable sight. Seven Blacks players stood in the centre of the circle, celebrating their first of many victories at this great club. The team sang our victory song with great enthusiasm, despite some general unfamiliarity with the lyrics.
Louis Vescio deservedly earned the Best on Ground title after a phenomenal display of contested football. When Louis Vescio sets his mind on winning the ball, only chaos is left in his wake—truly, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and the destruction caused by Vescio's determination. Finn Raymond demonstrated not only his elite running ability and silky left-footed kicks but also his incredible finesse at ground level. Ernest was outstanding in defense throughout the day, showcasing remarkable contested marking skills and precise ball use. Hey's impressive five-goal haul positions him just outside the league goal kicking leaderboard. Bennett and Steere were fantastic all day, while Knight continued his exceptional start to the season.
Let's aim for a consecutive victory this weekend against Old Melburnians.
The Reserves came into this game with a real sense of hope and motivation that this could be the week they secure their first win of the 2023 season. Both the Caulfield Grammarians and the Blacks were ready for battle, as they both occupied the bottom two positions on the ladder.
The first quarter saw the Blacks get off to a great start, kicking the first three goals of the match. The Blacks were running hot with midfielders Jack Kennedy, Ross Porter, Tom St. Clair and Lachlan O’Hara taking control of the game. The energy was high and the belief was growing for this young Uni Blacks team.
The second quarter was unfortunately a different story. The backline was under pressure but nevertheless gave a huge effort, which was led by the return of Henry Robertson. Although this was not enough to stop the influx of goals from Caulfield. The Caulfield Grammarians redeemed themselves by kicking three goals and two behinds to the Blacks three behinds. This meant that scores were level going into the main break.
In the third quarter, the game was on a knife edge, with neither team giving an inch. Majority of the quarter the game was played between the arcs, seeing wingman Max Gray and Hugo King have a big influence. As both teams were ready for battle and had their eyes set on the four points, the contest was tense. Only three goals were kicked for the quarter, two for the Blacks and one for Caulfield.
The fourth and final quarter was an arm wrestle; the Blacks had majority of the play but could not capitalise. The Blacks inaccuracy kept Caulfield in the hunt kicking one goal and five behinds. On the other hand, Caulfield were able to make the most of their opportunities kicking three and two behinds for the quarter.
The final score being University Blacks defeated by Caulfield Grammarians by just three points. The best players included Ross Porter, Max Gray, Jack Kennedy, Hugo King, Jordan Tunbridge, and Henry Robertson.
The Reserves take on Old Melburnians at Elsternwick Oval next week and will be hoping to claim their first win for the season.
Crisp Autumn weather with the sun shining painted the perfect backdrop for a Phoenix home game at the Crawf, marred by what only could be described as No-Man's Land-esc deck down the Royal Parade end. Trench warfare would prove it to be an accurate description of what was to follow, as the Phoenix aimed to bounce back after a tough loss to Williamstown. After a year’s hiatus in lower divisions, long-time rivals St Bernards were back on the opponents list. Blacks and Snow Dogs have been on a level pegging in years gone by and shaped as a good barometer for how this year’s Blacks are tracking.
With the Blacks kicking towards the favoured cemetery end to start the game, the Snow Dogs knew they needed to capitalise early to take advantage, which they did kicking the first goal of the game. Waking up from their slumber the Phoenix responded quickly; Sam McDougall crashed through three defenders to take a great pack mark and kick truly to get the Blacks account started for the day. After a fast start from both teams, the pace slowed down as the ball became heavier, and the unstable deck below nullified any chance to try and move the ball quickly. Repeated inside 50’s from Bernards were continually repelled by Liam Jelly, putting on a display of intercept marking that hasn’t been witnessed since Phoenix Alumni Josh Bowden graced the field. Jordan Pferrer also provided plenty of assistance on the ground, with hard ball gets and defensive 50 clearances a staple in a strong showing for the up and coming Blacker. Unfortunately, an equally strong showing from the Bernard’s defence meant that scores going into quarter time were competitively matched, with Blacks 1.1 – 7 trailing Bernards 2.1 – 13.
The second quarter started more favourably for the Blacks with Bernards ill-discipline costing them a 50m penalty that almost resulted in a goal for Josh Leviston but drifted wide late. Chris Canny picked up where Liam Jelly left off, commanding plenty of authority down back, whilst up forward strong pressure was displayed across the board by Matt Keogh, Finn Huzzey and James Maiden. Maiden earned himself a shot at the sticks, as did Nick Powell but both only managed to add on minor scores. Missed opportunities that the Blacks would come to rue as down the other end, Bernards piled on 5 scoring shots to take a strong 25 point lead into the main break. It could have been more, however, with a strong grab from Billy Gardner deep inside the defensive 50 with 5 seconds to go stopping an almost certain goal.
Backing up a strong showing in his debut game, Lach Pereira’s follow up efforts were a theme of the day, and his rundown tackle on the far wing at the start of the third was a highlight, a real David vs Goliath moment that inspired the Blacks to kick it into another gear. The pressure continued, led by stalwart Blacker Emilio Eugenio, who after doing his best Cal Farrell impression in previous weeks helping with the umpiring, traded the green hi-vis for the more iconic blue V on black. Pat Milnar was also fantastic in the middle, finding plenty of the ball and providing good use that stood out during a predominately scrappy, waterlogged affair. You can’t have Bonnie without (the) Clyde though, and much of Milnar’s display was assisted by Oscar Gale's dominant showing in the ruck and around the ground. Embracing the freedom of having Gale in the team to share the ruck load, Powell enjoyed his new role as part time forward, kicking truly this time to get on the board. Not to be outdone, Dolen Vogel decided to put on a show, with an intercept mark from a Bernards kick out, followed by a wheel and go snap, surely to be up there as a goal of the year contender. Despite the strong showing across the board however, difficulty stopping the volume of inside 50 entries that Bernards generated meant they ran out the quarter to lead 9.6 – 60 to Blacks 3.8 – 26 at the final change.
Unfortunately, the last quarter continued in a similar fashion to the third, with Bernards continuing to score despite a solid performance from Hugh Higgins down back. Scott Murphy and Marko Paulic provided plenty of contest and attack out on the flanks at both ends of the ground, while Josh Leviston, as dependable as always continued to push and rally the troops, a great mark over three opposition a highlight of his day. While the score set by Bernards would ultimately prove to be too much to overcome, one could not fault the intent displayed by every Blacker on the field. Pressure, second efforts and attack on the ball were consistent throughout the game, with turnovers down the line and overuse of the footy at times costing the Phoenix. It was not all dire in the last quarter however, a coast-to-coast goal kicked started by Chris Canny down back, to Finn Huzzey on the wing, James Maiden at the forward flank and hitting up Lach Pereira inside 50 to bring it home, a goal which exemplified the kind of ball movement the Phoenix will aim to replicate more of as the season progresses.
Round 5 and a later week fixture change robbed us of a home game and sent the unders away to Caulfield to save Old Haileybury. Having just been brought down a division the ability of the Bloods was not to be taken lightly as we knew they were going to be keen to get a win on the board and show everyone that they went some pushover. Numbers were low for the Blacks with some late outs but with a first game of footy and a birthday boys amongst us we were eating to go.
As quarter one began it was like the football good had spoken, the heavy fog that had covered the ground for the entirety of the morning cleared and now that the ground was visible the blacks were ready to go. With a dewy surface and a centre square so muddy the umpires moved ball ups to the far wing it was set to be a hot ball. It was the birthday boy himself who got things started with a sensational dribble kick from the boundary after some crafty ground work putting the lack’s up and feeling pretty confident that even with only two on the bench we could compete. The rest of the quarter saw Haileybury fight back and take control, their strong overhead marking proving difficult to stop as they went into the break up by a few goals.
The second quarter saw the Bloods continue their strong performance as they began to kick away. Ben Little down back was instrumental in the defensive structure of the Blacks, seemingly everywhere at once if the ball was in the air, Ben was there. Not much to speak of on the offensive side of the ball with an injury through the midfield the already depleted Unders were facing a second half with a bench totalling one. Similar to weeks gone by the effort and intent could not be questioned it was just a matter of control that prohibited the under from truly capitalising on their chances.
Coming of the half down by 30 and only having kick one goal to this point the Unders knew something special was needed to come away with a win. The third quarter is where Gus Conheady came into his own; his constant attack and pressure on the ball was something to behold and his heavy hits were something to fear flattening a Blood on more than one occasion. Lachie Power, playing his first game in a few weeks was inspirational in his pursuit of victory. Being outsized by a substantial amount, he stuck to his opponent like glue and used his body extremely well to manipulate his way into the perfect position to defend. Accomplishing this without giving away a free kick was probably the most impressive feat of this effort as he really took the spirit of Unders football to heart. It was thanks to efforts like these that allowed the Blacks to drag their way back into the game through running goals to Sam Shattock and Carmichael to go into the last down by 4 goals.
The final stanza couldn’t have started any better, Ed Phillipson kicking a running goal from beyond the arc to give the Unders a lift on their hunt for victory. In a similar story to quarters gone past it was Haileybury’s strong marks that really kept the Unders out of it for the majority. Playing a smaller forward line was always going to make it interesting but anything the Bloods could get a fingertip on they plucked out of the air. It was by now that the Blacks had gained control of the ball through the middle and seemed to have more forward entries that you could shake a stick at yet bar one fabulous running goal from Cezary Carmichael it was a dry spell to end the game with Haileybury kicking two of their own to finish victors by 27.
In similar circumstances to weeks gone by the Blacks could not get effective attacking 50 entries resulting in a very back and forth game in which ball control will always win. A special mention must be made to TuanAnh Nguyen; Davis playing his first game of football for the Blacks played for the cycle as Justin said, first touch, handball, kick and 50m penalty. Back at home for the next three weeks the Unders are looking to make amends for the past few performances, with simple mistakes really costing us the chance to be there at the end.