The much-anticipated top of the table clash finally came around today with 1st (East Malvern) and 2nd (Rovers) slugging it out for top spot. Our preparation was tested with a couple of our players pulling out late due to illness – Will M and Zac, hope you are on the road to recovery – we certainly missed you today.
We were pleased to welcome back a number or boys from school holidays, and in particular Harry W, who has been on an extended holiday. We also welcomed with open arms Will Smith who has been training with us over the past couple of months, and today made his Rovers debut. Congratulations Will.
Harry B and Matty G were our captains today and we were off to a great start with the boys winning the toss and deciding to kick to the Hampton Street end (too confusing to refer to the changeroom end!). Our focus before the game today was to try and create some structure and space in the forward line (we practiced this on Thursday), avoid attacking into the pocket (i.e. bring the ball back into the middle), to run hard and in numbers, and finally to remember to man up when we didn’t have the ball (accountability).
We could see from early in the first quarter this was going to be a cracking match. The ball ping ponged between the two half-forward lines with both sides backlines defending with utmost determination.
Harry W was straight into it early in the quarter as if he had not missed a game, winning the ball and pumping it long towards our forwards. Gideon was also winning a lot of his own ball and providing enormous drive as we strived to hit the scoreboard. Harry B was tackling hard and sharing the ball with this team mates, always looking for someone in a better position. Ollie and Oscar were also running very hard through the midfield, whilst Charlton was winning plenty of hit-outs and playing deep in defence, giving his mates a chop out.
The backline stood tall all quarter and gave East Malvern nothing. Jake S was rebounding brilliantly, Matty C and Max were making their presence felt using their strength to bullock through packs. Will S in his first game looks like a natural, Matty G was dogged, and Jake F was the general from full back, playing very deep and cutting off anything that got close to the goal.
Overall, Rovers had more of the ball, but we didn’t hurt East Malvern on the score board. No goals were scored in the first quarter; however, we held a slender lead of two points.
The danger of not hitting the scoreboard when you have momentum is that a quick swing in the game can cost you. Well we experienced this with East Malvern kicking a goal early in the second. A little like the first term this was another high-pressure quarter and scoring was really difficult. East Malvern won back some ascendancy, however, our boys stuck to the task at hand. Niko missed last week but was good in the second term on his return, in the middle of packs and using his strength to create a pathway for his team mates. Similarly, Stefan was having a really good start to the quarter – we got to see some of his ariel strength and terrific skill as he continued to present and be an option up forward.
Following on from last week, James was also providing plenty of headaches for East Malvern. Bailey S was working his way into the game, he keeps amazing me with his ability to pick up the ball in a pack, brush off opponents, stay composed and shoot out a big handpass to advantage.
Wes was everywhere early, I had to throw him around the ground today to fill some holes, but he was doing a good job and he set up our first goal when he kicked the ball over the top and out the back of a big pack of players – he hit the hot spot and found Bailey Mitchell. Bailey had stayed deep, held the structure we had discussed before the game and he was able to turn, run into an open goal and put us back in front.
The midfield continued to work hard in a fantastic battle against a very talented opposition midfield, Matty G moved into the ruck and picked up where Charlton had left off. Jake S moved onto the wing and continued to provide plenty of run and attack. Thomas was working really hard off the back flank, running hard and picking up lose opposition players.
We went into half time with our nose in front by one solitary point. At the break we re-enforced all the fantastic work the boys had done. We just needed to be careful about all being sucked to the contest, this was the only thing creating opportunities for East Malvern as they had players sneaking out the back. East Malvern came out after the break fired up – as you would expect from an undefeated team trying to protect their top spot on the ladder. They opened us up early in the quarter and dominated possession, creating a number of opportunities and before we knew it they had kicked two goals and had a number of other shots at goal.
Our boys were still fighting hard though. Giddy refused to concede, as did Harry W and Oscar. Stefan was working hard in the ruck and with our rotations we closed down their space and wrestled control of the ball back. James was having a great game and continued to work really hard to provide a pathway to goal for our midfielders.
Harry B’s re-introduction from the bench was important and, in a play, similar to our first goal, Harry W kicked the ball over the top of a big pack of players, hitting the hot spot. Once again, Bailey M was there and took a great chest mark. Bailey went back and with his best effort just beat the outstretched fingers of our opposition to bring us back into the game. The boys sensed the moment and we could see some real fire in their bellies.
Matty C was like a wall down back and put on a huge defensive punch, sending he ball back our way 20 metres. Tobey was also doing a cracking job down back, Max was just too strong, and Jake F continued to defend the goal line and marshal the troops.
Very late in the quarter we had one final very good attempt on goal, with Giddy’s long range effort having us all riding it home, only for it to hit the post! So close! So, after having all the momentum in the first half of the quarter, East Malvern outscored us kicking 2.5 to our 1.1 and were 9 points up going into the last.
We didn’t need to change much, and we know the boys are capable of big last quarters, but East Malvern are a quality side, so this was to be our big test. To show just how far the boys have come this year, I asked them what they thought it would take to win the game. The responses we got were fantastic – share the ball, link up with each other, run and support, be accountable. Great team focused responses and absolutely the key to a big last quarter.
Our boys were ready to go, they had seized the momentum late and started with it, attacking in waves. The backline was the tightest they had been all day, giving East Malvern no space. Jake F, Max, Tobey, Wes and Will in his first game, combined with Hugo who moved back on rotation and were outstanding in the last. Matty C was just as good, he managed to almost contort himself on a couple of occasions in a desperate attempt to spoil, reaching in and around his opponent to ensure the ball was brought to ground.
Showing great initiative, putting the team before himself and seeking responsibility, Ollie approached me at three quarter time and asked to go to the back flank – request granted (don’t tell him I had already put him there!). Ollie is an outstanding reader of the play off half back and he turned it on during the last quarter, repelling anything that came near him and turning defence into attack.
James continued a terrific game, collecting the ball at centre half forward, rolling onto his right foot and pumping the ball long to Matty G and Bailey M in the goal square. Unfortunately, on this occasion we were out marked but there were some very good signs developing.
Jake S also continued his good game and was everywhere across half forward in the last. It was Harry W though who opened our scoring, kicking a great goal from around 30 metres out on the far side boundary. The boys were pumped, and this goal seemed to really get their adrenalin going.
The midfield was outstanding in the last quarter. Giddy, Harry B, Harry W, Oscar, Thomas and Charlton ran themselves silly. They pushed themselves to contest after contest, refusing to give up. Thomas had a very good game, ran hard and got lots of the ball, but what most won’t realise is I had asked him to sacrifice part of his game and play a defensive role during the second half. He did this without complaint, fulfilled the task beautifully to the benefit of the rest of the team – congratulations Thomas.
With only a couple of minutes to go, trailing by 5 points, Harry B got on the end of a chain of possessions that had come through Bailey S and Harry W to kick a goal from a similar spot as Harry W. We had hit the front, the celebrations were fantastic, and momentum was all ours.
We won the ball back out of the centre and pushed forward one more time. With seconds remaining Giddy snapped over his left shoulder from around 30m out and put it through for our third straight goal and the sealer. This capped off another first-class game from Giddy who shows real leadership in the way he plays. He is never down, but he always finds an extra gear in tight situations.
Congratulations also to our opposition – East Malvern, they showed why they had not lost a game to date and provided a very competitive, high class game played with first class sportsmanship (from both sides).
Today is a day to be very proud of the boys. Your football journey continues, and your development is there for all to see. So many of the boys have gained confidence as the season has gone on and are starting to shine.
What I am most proud of is the team first mentality the boys have developed and consistently displayed. Today was not a highlights reel of individual performances, today was a very, very good team performance. This team ethos and comradery is perhaps the most important skill and value we could hope to teach and develop in the boys. It is the one thing that will make them winners regardless of where this season leads.
Savour the moment, enjoy it boys, but back to reality and training to continue to work on our game. Next week’s opposition (Waverley Park Hawks) unexpectedly knocked off the Vampires today and will provide a tough contest. We will need to be at our best again.
See you at training on Thursday. Don’t forget to touch your football 100 times each day!
Damo, Chris and Rod
Hampton Rovers – Best Mates