Following a series of early starts both players and parents were relieved with the more traditional afternoon timeslot, however we did find ourselves twiddling our thumbs waiting all day for kickoff. We did get the better part of the day with the overnight gale force wind abating and the morning downpours had passed. The centre square area was showing signs of a long winter and the boys weren’t too familiar with the glue pot. The pre-game message to the boys was an expectation that if things aren’t going our way we demonstrate resilience, character and leadership to not allow the opposition get on top. Captain for day Luke Ryan led the boys on the field with pride.
Kicking against a light breeze the opposition gained the early ascendancy at the contested footy and were working better in numbers around the ball. We were riding our luck early as Ajax missed some easy opportunities, but when they posted their first major we were looking for an early response from the lads. Oli H was continuing his rebound role at HB and importantly was hitting his targets by foot. Some great link handball lead to our first real entry into the forward line was via a long kick into the forward line from Kyle directed to the hot spot as per the early directive, where the marking contest led the ball being fed out to the front and square position where a composed Ben S put in on the boot to post our first goal. A minute later when Arch was reward with a holding the ball and slotted a goal from 30m the Rovers had gained the ascendancy.
The Rovers had most of the play early in the 2nd quarter without really converting a scoreboard advantage. We had some solid defensive efforts with Will S executing the perfect smother soon followed by a defensive punch to boundary, and Josh B going toe to toe with his opponent giving them no space or time. Through the defensive forward pressure efforts of Jake T we locked it into our forward line where Kai positioned himself perfectly across the arc to intercept and had the goals in his sites with a long driving kick to the goal square where Ted took a juggling mark and in the same motion placed it onto his boot to score a goal. Following some great tackling efforts at HF near the boundary from Jack C, and the desperate efforts of Nicho to keep the ball alive, the footy remained secured in our forward half. There was a boundary through in near the pocket and Maso gathered the hot footy and found a way to get ball on boot to slam through another major. When Ajax posted a goal against the run of play once again we allowed the scoreboard advantage to be eroded.
Ajax began the 3rd quarter similar to how the finished the 2nd, and posted not one but two early goals in the quarter. Once again we were intrigued as to how the boys would respond, and through the tenacious Josh N having a run on the ball and through the desperation of Elliot to put himself in the line of fire with a number of contests we regained our midfield assertiveness. Josh D was becoming lively on the wing and the ball was delivered inside the arc where Lucas marked strongly and without hesitation showed Levi Casboult how to slot the footy through the big sticks not once but twice in 2 minutes. Play of the day then came when Louie ran hard from 20m away to launch his fist into the ball in the marking contest gaining 30m for his team in what aroused the most memorable crowd response for the year. The third quarter finished on a high with fantastic link play and as Jacky G found the ball in his hands and was about to provide some magic unfortunately the siren sounded.
The intensity further lifted from both sides into the last quarter, as both side were trying to control the footy. After a missed Rovers opportunity unfortunately it was Ajax who posted the first goal of the quarter giving the opposition a real sniff. With Maxie C winning the ruck taps the rovers continued to press forward several times and Luke R took nice mark and drove the ball long where the ball spilled from the goal square for a behind. Another long kick into the forward line led to another behind when we were chasing that elusive goal to a give us more than a 2 goal buffer on the scoreboard. With a 7 point lead and less than 2 minutes on the clock like many AFL coaches this year I’ve tried to recollect just how we managed to allow the game to slip from our grasp. With the ball locked in their forward half some innocuous play led to some rushed behinds, reducing the margin to 5 points. We were unable to effectively clear from the defensive half, and when the ball spilt from a stoppage near the boundary and bobbled around in the dangerous corridor space, Ajax gathered possession and kicked the ball through the goals albeit under pressure and we found ourselves behind for the first time since early in the first quarter with 20 sec remaining on the clock. From a centre square holding the ball decision paid our way it appeared we had one final hope of a forward entry, only for play on to be called and the ball became locked down as the siren sounded, and the pain and deflated feeling of defeat was evident by the reaction of all players and parents. Towards the end we needed more numbers in and around the stoppages and contested footy, and to the Ajax’s credit they had regained the ascendancy in this department, and took away the mathematical possibility of a final berth that we were clinging to.
Ash & Sean