Our Grand Final
The week that turned out to be our final week of football. My toughest week as coach of the Under 12 Div 2 team.
A week ago, unexpectedly our world turned upside down. While enjoying a well earned beer at the At Home With the Rovers function, we were advised that 3 of our boys had played too many games up during the season while helping out their older brothers teams. We had apparently broken the SMJFL’s rules. While it was a clear misinterpretation of one of their rules, and gave us no advantage whatsoever, there was no leniency, and as a result our team was penalised. While our seasons hard work had earned us a position at 3rd on the ladder, and a clear opportunity to play finals, we were stripped of 2 wins, and dropped to second bottom. While our whole management team fought hard all week to appeal the decision, it was not granted. Our season was over. We had no chance now to make finals. To say the boys were shattered was an understatement. Not to mention how Chris and I and the management team felt. Hard to put into words.
So we picked ourselves up, and approached what would be our final game, and called it ‘Our Grand Final’. After 2 years as coach it may have been my final too. And with grading next year, was to be the last game these incredible kids would play together as a group. A group in which the majority had played together for 5 years since U8s. Due to our disciplinary action, we could not even win the game, nor take any points. Regardless of how the game played out, the Vampires would win 60-0. With nothing further to lose, we went into this to ‘raise hell’.
Numbers were short. But the 17 we had were pumped. Our pre game warm up included Europe’s 80s anthem ‘The Final Countdown’. The game was not about finals, points, winning, or losing. It was about only 1 thing. EFFORT. It was about what the boys put into this game. It was about hunger, courage, fearlessness, attack and pressure. It was about their commitment to this team. And about their commitment to each other. The last war cry was a tribute to BraveHeart as we ran out on the field. ‘They can take away our chance at finals! They can take away our wins! They can take away our points! But they can never take away OUR ROVERS SPIRIT! With a united roar, we took the field.
From the bounce we were relentless. Everyone played with such passion. They were on fire. The back 6, a force. The midfield and engine room. And the forwards ruthless. Tackling like beasts, and explosive in attack, we won the first half. In the half time huddle, we lost another to illness. Down to 16. When we hit the ground for the second half, we asked the Vampires for some sportsmanship, to drop 2 of their boys to match our numbers. Unfortunately they didn’t accept, so had no choice but to fight on regardless. While the Rovers fought an incredible and courageous battle, we were out numbered. Never giving up for a second, they threw absolutely everything into it. The boys were completely spent, going down by 1 point.
I won’t lie. That one hurt. And the boys felt it. To have worked so hard. Victory so close slipped through our fingers. But again, these strong, brave little champions, held their heads high as they’ve always done. We talked before the game about how challenges in life make us stronger. And this experience certainly did that. In our hearts, we won our final. We all sang the song anyway. It was sung with the most pride I’d probably heard all season. A game none of us will probably ever forget.
I am so lucky and privileged to have had the honour to coach these amazing boys. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see them grow, improve, develop and become impressive young men. Hopefully I’ve helped shape them in a positive way over the last 2 years. But it’s not just one way. They have taught me much more than I expected along the journey too. It’s been an experience I’ll treasure always.
To my brilliant assistant coach Chris Gleeson. Thank you so much for your unwavering commitment, effort and passion. You are a champion in every respect of the word.
To the amazing team mangers Di Thomas, Cara Julian and Paul Ryan. Thank you so much for your endless support and guidance, through the good times and the tough. And thank you to all our other volunteers, all part of the very fabric of our great club.