What a day – full of ups and downs! Where to start? Beginning or the end? Starting at the beginning is probably always the best place. I will say straight up, however, just how proud I am of our boys, their development this year and their performance today – their effort cannot be questioned.
Grand Final Vs East Malvern, a side we had defeated by 7 points in the home and away, but in reality there is not much separating the two sides. So, we would need to be at our best.
Giddy and Harry B have been on-field leaders all year, not necessarily the loudest of boys but they both speak volumes by their actions. Congratulations boys on being given the honour of leading the boys out.
The first quarter was an arm wrestle, East Malvern came at us early, however, our boys stuck at the task and took the momentum, spending a lot of the back half of the quarter attacking. We were able to outscore East Malvern, but not really punish them on the scoreboard. About five minutes into the quarter Jake Seddon burst out of a pack at centre half forward and found Wes on the scoreboard flank who marked, went back took his kick and bang we had the first goal of the match. The first quarter was played hard by both teams – it was a grand final after all! The tackling was fierce. Harry B came off the ground very early in the game with a split lip courtesy of a head collision – after being put back together, he showed enormous grit to get back out on the field and carried on like he had not missed a beat. Leadership straight up!
Not long after Giddy put on a crunching bump to one of the East Malvern boys as they both attacked the ball – it was a fair bump and they both had eyes for the ball – both boys showing just what they were prepared to put on the line to try and grab the advantage in just a big game. Harry W had been battling a bug during the week but there was no way he was going to miss this game and he got off to a flyer in the first quarter, attacking the ball with gusto and taking some great marks. Charlton was off to a great start, continuing his form from last week. Giddy was simply amazing in the middle, willing himself to every contest, pushing his team forward.
Thomas and Oscar were also doing the hard yards on the wing but getting plenty of the ball. Off half back Zac was showing he was in for a big day, reading the play and rebounding repeatedly as East Malvern attempted to move forward. His partner in crime at half back – Ollie was pumped up and ready to go before the game and he was everywhere in the first quarter, working hard for his team mates.
Credit to the backline, as they held it together in the first quarter – Matty C, Jake F and Max were terrific. Matty G, Robbie and Tobey were tight and accountable. Up forward, Wes was playing well and was getting plenty of support from Jake S.
At quarter time, Rovers held the advantage by seven points and we probably were a goal short on being rewarded for our efforts.
At the break we asked the boys to keep pushing and to be ready because it’s a game of momentum swings and East Malvern were going to come hard at us. Our boys were terrific again in the second and we were slowly grabbing control of the game. Charlton marked near the goal square and found the big sticks to extend our lead, but it was a tough tight game. Ollie took a hanger on the wing in front of the coach’s box, Matty G relieved Charlton in the ruck and won nearly every hit out to the advantage of our midfield who were working overtime. Giddy continued an outstanding game, Harry W and Harry B kept pushing hard. Oscar moved into he guts and was hard at it Ollie and Zac controlled the wings.
Niko and Bailey M played deep up forward and looked dangerous, Charlton went to centre half forward and continued to bullock the packs and take some very good marks. Bailey S was starting to get the ball and Hugo was having a terrific game – the quiet achiever just goes about getting the job done. I thought Stefan was going to take a big pack mark as he led straight at the ball and hit the pack hard, unfortunately the all was knocked out of his hands – so close! So, going into half time we held a 14-point lead, the boys had executed their roles really well and were giving it their all.
As I said, footy is a game of momentum swings – you’ve got to expect to lose the momentum at some point. For us it was the third quarter. East Malvern pushed one of their on ballers, who is a super player, to centre half forward, and he straightened them up and gave them the target they had been missing. Our boys battled on bravely through the quarter, but a couple of goals against us saw us lose the lead. We continued to push forward, and we very nearly took a couple of opportunities, one goal kicked by James being called back due to a free kick being paid. James was looking dangerous up forward, Will M was coming into the game and looking like he might just crack it open for us if he could find some space.
Stefan went into the ruck and continued the good work his team mates has produced in the first half. Harry B, Giddy and Zac worked their behinds off, although we were doing more chasing than we would like. Thomas, Jake S and Wes put their best foot forward in an attempt to drive us forward and create some scoring options, but we just couldn’t quite get deep enough. Harry W came on and took some terrific marks, continuing his great game. The backline were under siege. We struggled a little to find the right match up against East Malvern’s number 12, however, I’m really proud of just how hard the boys fought the quarter out. Our opponents are well drilled at moving forward in numbers and creating space in their forward line. They managed to do this very well in the third quarter and opened us up a couple of times. If not for the enormous pressure applied by the back 6 – Jake F, Robbie, Tobey, Max, Matty C, Will S, and then Hugo and Oscar when they went back we would have been further behind than the 3 points we trailed by at the final break.
So, it came down to the last quarter, we had weathered the storm, a little beaten but right in this game. We needed to steal the momentum back. East Malvern continued to push early in the last, they had their tails up and could sense the opportunity. They played a deep defensive last quarter, essentially flooding our forward line, this resulted in their half forwards and full forward line playing right up the ground – their forward 40 often being empty. With no deep forwards, they got us early on a break and popped a ball over the top to a runner who kicked from 30 metres out and bounced through the first goal of the quarter. Although you could sense a deflating sigh in the crowd, our boys stuck at it. They have been brilliant in the final quarter all year and have run many sides down. We were right in this still. Will S took on the East Malvern’s main route to goal, giving it all he had in just his 6th game of football. Whilst Zac and Ollie ensured this would be the last scoring opportunity East Malvern would get. Jake F was holding things together on the full back line and found some run as we tried to mount a late attack.
The flooding of our forward line made things very difficult as we tried our best to find a way to goal. The ball was pinging between our half forward and the wing. Will M, Wes and Hugo were working overtime for us to try and find an avenue to goal. I thought Bailey S looked dangerous deep but probably just didn’t get enough opportunity amongst the sea of blue and white jumpers. The midfield was desperate, Giddy kept willing himself to round out an outstanding four quarter effort. The two Harry’s were right there with him. We could feel the stress and anxiety levels rising as the quarter wore on, we just couldn’t hit the scoreboard. Then with 4 minutes left on the clock Oscar was on the run, bombed it deep into the square. There was a sea of bodies and as he often does, Wes worked some magic shrugging a tackle to get a goal back. We were back to only three points down and this goal fuelled belief we could do this. Keep pressing boys! There wasn’t long to go and we kept pumping the ball long but we weren’t able to find a target with the East Malvern boys desperately doing all they could to keep us out.
Unfortunately, time got us. A very tight last quarter but we just couldn’t get that final goal.
The reaction of the boys after the game was heart breaking, this meant so much to them, they had put so much into this game. Football can be cruel. Congratulations to our opponents, East Malvern. They were too good on the day. Also, congratulations to Giddy who was named best on ground. This is an incredible achievement on the big stage, but particularly in a losing side. He is a special talent and this is a great recognition.
I cannot put into words though how proud I am of our boys. They fought their hearts out today, they left nothing in the tank. It is probably going to hurt for a while, but I hope they can reflect at some point and realise just how far they have come this year. A premiership would have been the icing on the cake. The reality is that these boys have learned to play team football this year, every boy has improved. They have a long way to go, but if the progression they have showed this year maintains then they are going to go a long way in their football lives. They are going to have some great memories. I am sure they will have some great memories of this year. Playing with their mates, side by side – the Rovers way. At the end of the day this is what it is all about.
So now it’s time to take a break – thanks for sticking with Rod, Chris and I through the year, and for all the support you have given us. Thank you all so much for the boys you are nurturing and developing, I can see 24 fine young men and it has been a pleasure coaching them over the past six months.
Enjoy your summer, I look forward to seeing you all again in the pre-season, where we do it all again!
Hampton Rovers – Best Mates!
Damo, Chris and Rod