Well finals arrived today – I would love to say the spring air had also arrived, but instead we were greeted with artic conditions. With hail coming through at 8.30 this morning and potential for thunder and lightning in the forecast we knew we were in for a cold day. So, we packed up some blankets, thermoses, hot water bottles and headed to the game. Thankfully we got a pretty good run with the rain missing us, but it was damn cold all the same!
In a quirk of the league’s selection of finals grounds we found ourselves the home team (finished 1st) at our oppositions home ground (finished 4th)! We were never going to let this unsettle us and we prepared the boys during the week to take the attitude that we were ready to play anyone, anywhere, anytime! This is finals after all!
Harry W and Max were the captains for the day and both were outstanding in their on-field leadership. I think we lost the toss because we kicked against a wind that was blowing more to the pocket/flank than the goal square, but none the less we were definitely defending the scoring end.
Before the game we spoke to the boys about what would be required today – actually nothing different to what they’ve been doing all season. What is really pleasing is that I now barely need to tell them what to do. Instead I find myself asking them questions about what is important. The responses have moved from the puzzled or silly answers we were getting back early in the season to firm and frank responses I can see the boys have really bought into.
If nothing else, they all now understand what accountability on the football field means. Knowing where your opponent is and standing him, and I mean playing him tight has become a hallmark of our side – particularly our defensive unit. This stood us in good stead today.
We’ve been a little slow to get going in recent weeks, and today we faced a fired-up St Peters who came out early and gave us everything they had. In the first 10 minutes they pumped the ball relentlessly into their forward line, however, they could not find an avenue to goal. The boys down back were fantastic. Matty C was leading from the front down there getting a fist on everything and locking the ball up when it hit the ground.
Jake F was disciplined on the full back line, while Max used his strength all day to out body opponents and move the ball through traffic. Zac and Ollie dominated the half back line, both putting in one of their best performances for the year. Matty G, Tobey, Robbie and Will S supported these boys playing their opponents tightly and eliminating options to goal.
The midfield had their work cut out but were up to the challenge. Charlton was off to a great start which he continued all day between ruck and centre half forward, also putting in one of his best performances for the year. He was getting the ball to Giddy, Harry W and Harry B. These three have been our engine room all year and today they showed us just how much grunt they have. Giddy kept popping up everywhere – we suspect he may have had a tag but to be honest I don’t think anyone is capable of keeping up with him as he moves around the ground hunting the ball, contest after contest.
On the bench, the coaches have affectionately nicknamed Harry W as “the bull” this year. He is incredible with his attack on the ball and his ability to bust through packs and run the lines. Harry was outstanding in the first quarter (all game actually) and when the heat was on early he was a big part of keeping us in the game.
Harry B is one of the smallest boys in the side but plays like his is 6 feet tall. He is fearless in winning the ball and has one of the best tackling techniques in the competition, bringing kids to ground every week who are twice his size. Harry had another outstanding game today and helped keep us in it early.
Oscar returned from injury today and he and Thomas provided plenty of run on the wings for us in the first quarter. They were part of the reason we started to get the ball forward, but our main driver was Wes playing a high half forward – he was off to a terrific start in the first quarter. He had his hands on the ball regularly and was a real handful for the St Peters defenders. Wes was fearless in his attack on the ball and this approach caused us some concern when he met a bigger opponent head on in a desperate attempt be first to the ball. The result was Wes being carried off by the first aiders. A corky in the thigh – they hurt!
Unfortunately, early, the forward line didn’t have a lot to do but when the ball got down there late Will M looked dangerous, as did Bailey S, James, Bailey M and Niko. Hugo came on and continued his great form of late. Hugo is a quiet achiever and goes about his business often unnoticed but if you watch him he is doing a lot of work in the packs, applying tackles and getting the ball out to his team mates. Jake S played across half forward in the first quarter and provided us with enormous run, meeting the ball in front of this opponent and sending the ball deep into out forward line.
So, at quarter time we had held back tsunami and wrestled back the momentum. Neither side had scored a goal, and we had a job in front of us. The vibe amongst the boys was positive at the break, although there were a few boys shivering in the cold conditions (no complaints though!).
We maintained the pressure and held the momentum through the second quarter, the midfield working overtime to deny St Peters any attacking opportunities. Ollie, Zac and Oscar positioned themselves beautifully across our half forward line, setting a wall that St Peters could not crack as they tried to repel our attacking moves. I can’t underline how important this set up is. It is something we have been honing with he boys through the season and is really starting to work well.
Wes seemed to recover from his corky and after an impromptu boundary line fitness test, he re-joined the action through our mid-quarter rotations and picked up where he left off. I walked back to the car with Wes after the game and he was limping, but he showed no sign of this for the duration of the game. Well done Wes, great example to all your team mates!
Matty G was winning the ruck contests and Giddy, Harry W and Harry B were dominating at ground level. Eventually our attacking pressure was rewarded. Harry W marked out on our wall and bombed the ball back towards Charlton who was 20 metres out. He had a fight on his hands to gain possession but was successful, snapped under pressure and Bang!, we were away.
We brought the ball pretty much straight back in and not long after Giddy roved the ball in a pack, snapped and posted our second consecutive goal. Bailey S had a great second term in a congested forward line, once again treating us to an example of his enormous strength as he stood up in a tackle, freed his arms and pumped a handball to our advantage with about three opponents hanging off him. Big strong bodies are incredibly important in finals – particularly on days like today. Looking forward to seeing Bailey in action again next week.
Hugo was also having a big quarter, working hard in the packs, but also getting some outside ball and pumping the ball deep into dangerous areas. Bailey Mitchell has been great playing deep forward of late, and he was very close to getting on the end of a couple today that were sure to end up on goals. Niko was playing his position perfectly, holding structure up the middle of the ground, just as his coaches had asked – again Niko was very close on a couple of occasions. It’s a game of inches!
We ended up kicking two goals three for the quarter without allowing St Peters to hit the score board at all to take a nice 15-point lead into the half time break. We implored the boys to keep working hard in the third term, we knew St Peters would have the scoring end, so our defensive unit was going to need to step up even more and play even tighter. We just wanted to hold St Peters out and find a way to win the quarter.
Once again, the defence was brilliant. St Peters were desperate as expected but simply could not pierce our defence when they went forward. We restricted them to one solitary behind for the quarter. Tobey, Robbie and Will S were on their game, carrying out our instruction to play tight, while Matty C owned centre half back and Max found some opportunity to sweep and do some rebound attacking. Jake set up the boys from full back, while Oscar and Hugo showed their versatility swinging back as part of our rotations.
Charlton rucked for the first half of the quarter before we employed a tactic of four running players without a ruckman for the last half of the quarter. Harry W loved the idea of being the ruckman and I don’t think he was beaten when he went up! There was some confusion on our positioning with Zac playing an extra man back (to great effect it must be said) rather than in the guts, allowing Thomas to join Giddy and Harry B in the middle. Along with Jake S, these boys continued their hard-running game and really set us up for an outstanding quarter.
Although we were kicking against the breeze, the boys were inspired and constantly pressing forward. We kicked our first goal courtesy of Will M who cannot be kept down or out of the play. The wet, cold conditions probably didn’t suit Will today, but he stuck at it and continually attacked the ball, they weren’t always sticking but if you keep presenting yourself, eventually the tide will turn.
A little later in the quarter Harry B caught the opposition off guard when he found the ball in his hands after a free kick had been paid to one of his team mates. Harry is a quick thinker and he took off before anyone had realised, the umpire accommodated him by paying the advantage rule and I think Harry had kicked the ball before any of the opposition had realised what was going on! Goal! C’mon Rovers!
I mentioned earlier Oscar returned from injury today – he had sustained a cracked collarbone against the Waverley Hawks. He assured me has was set to go, I joked I wanted to give him a fitness test – Oscar Vs Damo in a shoulder to shoulder bumping contest. Well I’m glad I only joked about it because I think I might have been hurt if we had done it! Oscar is fearless and in the ultimate fitness test, he threw himself into a big bump at oncoming traffic during the third term. I was holding my breath, but he didn’t miss a beat, sprinting off to the next contest. He’s good to go.
The two Bailey’s, Matty G and James were all looking dangerous as we pushed forward, we had another couple of near misses and went into three quarter time having opened up a handy 28-point lead. This is finals though and you can take nothing for granted, you certainly can’t afford to get too far ahead of yourself.
We told the boys to expect St Peters to come out and give it their all – their season was on the line and they were unlikely to throw in the towel. So once again, we needed to focus on just winning the quarter, continue to be accountable and move the ball quickly.
Well, the boys once again carried out instruction to perfection. The backline barely saw the ball, but every time I looked back there every player was standing shoulder to shoulder with his opponent. The midfield continued to dominate, pushing forward at every opportunity. James found some space out on the forward flank, running onto a couple of balls, Niko couldn’t quite hold a mark that would have been a certain goal but was positioning himself perfectly. Wes was finishing the game just as he started it, gaining plenty of the pill, while Will and Hugo continued to work very hard. I was really pleased to see Bailey S get rewarded for his hard work in the last quarter – once again, he used his strength to great effect in the goal square picking up the ball and shrugging opponents off all in one motion before toe poking the ball though for our first goal.
Not long after Will kicked the ball to Wes who marked and goaled, capping off a great game. Our final goal started with Giddy who centred the ball, Ollie marked and proceeded to kick the goal, fantastic effort by Ollie who had pushed forward from the back flank to get amongst the goals.
The boys were all amazing in the last quarter, they really peppered the goals kicking three goals, eight. To highlight just how determined the boys were, at one point Giddy was dragging his opponent along the ground as he tried to run off with the ball. He was trying to steal the ball out of the hands of the St Peters player, however, the St Peters boy wouldn’t let go. So, what else would you do but drag the kid along with you! (only about 10 metres through the mud!).
When the final siren blew we were comfortable winners. It had been a terrific effort – almost faultless in terms of instruction converted to effort. The prize for us today is to get another game of footy next week. It’s the big one – the Grand Final.
Congratulations boys, you should be incredibly proud of yourselves. Enjoy the moment, but we need to quickly re-focus on the task ahead. Let’s look forward to a one final big effort at training and carry this momentum we’ve created into next week. It’s going to be tough, but I know we’ll be ready. Bring it on!
A special thankyou to everyone who helped out today. I have failed to thank our volunteers through this report this year but your assistance every week makes our job so much easier. It is great to have you all as part of this team and this special season we are having. In particular, thanks to those who did a little extra this morning to organise marquees, chairs, blankets, hot milos, hot water bottles and anything else I’ve missed. The extra running around at the last minute was all part of giving the boys every opportunity to perform at their best. If we can make just a 5% difference to their performance because they are warm and ready running onto the field, it can be the difference between winning and losing. I won’t name names, you all know who you are (I certainly do).
Exciting week ahead, I say we embrace it! See you all at training. Don’t forget to touch your football 100 times each day!
Damo, Chris and Rod
Hampton Rovers – Best Mates