They say a week is a long time in football, the contrasts can be enormous. I’m a big believer in momentum in football. It is something that ebbs and flows in games but I believe you start a game the way you finished your last game, the momentum carries. Last week we got towelled up for three quarters but the boys refused to give in and although we finished the game with only 16 players we had all the play and dominated the last quarter.
Fast forward to today. It was our first final, although finals are yet to commence. Sitting third, it would be possible to finish anywhere between 3rd and 5th, likely 5th if we lose. We had a lot riding on this game and you don’t want to have to rely on other results – that is when football gets really cruel. Add to the complexity of our situation that we came up against the top side, who have lost only one game all season, to be played on their dung heap. I’ll correct myself, football is cruel. It seems cruel to have play this side three times in a season when others don’t because of the way the draw works. Tough assignment.
In these situations, it is really easy to sit there and feel sorry for yourself, to start concentrating on how unfair life can be. Or you can turn your focus to the things you can control. We had control of our destiny today and there are a couple of really important points that we reminded the boys of to give them confidence. Firstly, the way we finished the game last week was outstanding. The desperation, effort and comradery was first class, played with true Rovers spirit – so we needed to continue in that vain today, right from the first bounce. Secondly, the last time we played East Malvern at their ground we were four goals up at three quarter time and lost our way kicking into a howling wind in the last quarter, to go down by three points in a last kick of the day thriller.
Tom Cruise wasn’t at the ground today. This was not Mission Impossible!
Bailey Stewart has been in fine form recently, a move to the backline has done him wonders. Bailey is great to coach, he’s a cheeky kid, but someone who listens, gives his all and shows great respect towards his team mates, his coaches, umpires and opposition. Bailey was rewarded with the captaincy today because of all this, in what was our biggest game of the year. And he delivered in spades, playing his best game of the season.
Having said this, Bailey lost the toss and we kicked into the wind in the first quarter. Our boys have been a little slow to start games recently, but getting back to the point about dragging momentum out of the last game, they were “on”. They were loud and focused in the pre-game and they hit every contest with everything they had in the first quarter.
We may have been kicking into the wind, but the boys took no notice. Bailey S had the ball on a string down back in the first quarter and was leading his team from the front, he was getting lots of support from some ever reliable defenders – Matt C, Jake, Mitch and Geordie. We played Thomas off half back to give us some rebounding run and Thomas didn’t let us down.
The ground was a small one but our midfield still needed to work very hard. There was a lot of sprinting required between half back and half forward as the ball pinged back and forth. James C was giving us first access in the ruck and willing himself around the ground. Peter shook off his injured knee that crippled him last week and returned to the power running we’ve seen all season, Will S continues to get better literally with every game played and is now understanding the angles to run to get to the contest very well. Ollie M puts his body on the line week in week out and his skill really shone today. His desperation is inspiring and he never takes a backward step.
After getting a bit of a rev up last week, Sidney returned to his best and contested everything that came near him in the air and Max played a very smart defensive midfield game. He had his eyes on the back of the pack, just like we talked and about at training, looking to cover their runners.
We rotated the forward line, but we got great service out of Jack W who played possibly his best game of the year. Jack contested everything that came near him. He held the ball up when he was outnumbered and he used his body (particularly his hips) to great effect to put himself in prime position to win the ball in the pack. Robbie was another boy who got off to a great start in the first quarter and also played one of his best games for the year. I am really loving seeing his second and third efforts, today he held off three opponents and held the ball up ensuring it wasn’t cleared out of our forward line, giving us a chance to reset and get numbers to the ball.
Jack H also played just about his best game for the year. A bit like Robbie and Jack W, Jack H busted a gut to get in the play, push the ball forward and lock it into our forward 40. James P was back from injury and played up at full forward, providing a terrific target to kick to. James worked really hard and if not for a couple of bounces going the wrong way, could have had a couple of goals.
Jack M was terrific up forward. Full of poise and polish, his silky skills were on show and he was the most dangerous forward on the ground. Bailey M, Niko, James B, Ollie F and Stefan were all on rotation and similar to their forward mates, were right in the play and showing great desperation and commitment to the cause.
We got on the board early with one of the best pieces of link play we’ve seen this season. Bailey S won the ball in our back pocket and got the ball out to Sidney, who passed the ball out in front of Will. Will then kicked the ball deep into our forward line where Jack M marked and converted for the first goal of the game. The boys celebrated loud and proud. We were definitely up and about now.
We went into quarter time two points up which was a great result kicking into the wind. We now had an opportunity to put some space between us and East Malvern if we could take full advantage of the wind. The message was move the ball quick and kick long.
The boys responded and we dominated the play, hitting the scoreboard seven times. Unfortunately only for two goals, but none the less we had confidence and momentum (there’s that word again). Will S was stiff to not kick his first goal of the year (& his footy career) when he launched a long bomb from inside the centre square that hit the post.
Jack M scored his and our second goal after another great piece of team-work and team desperation. Niko kicked the ball forward, James C and Stef then got involved to keep it moving before Jack M got on the end of some great teamwork and kick a lovely goal.
Sidney continued his great form from the first quarter and kicked our second of the term. He was being well supported in the middle by Peter who took it upon himself to run with their best player – their ruckman – when we didn’t have the ball and he hurt them with his run when we did have the ball. Thomas was also providing great run off half back, moving up the field with a great rebounding mentality. Ollie M and Max also worked hard through the middle and kept the pressure right up.
We went into half time 19 points up, with plenty of belief. We needed to hold the Knights off who had the wind in the third. The Knights came out fired up. They are top of the ladder for a reason and they attacked relentlessly, setting up a wall across their half forward line to great effect, holding the ball in. We defended with all our might though and managed to keep them to one goal (& five points!). Jake was fantastic on the full back line, as was Mitch. Matt C is never out of the contest and put some big goal saving tackles on. Geordie was also having a really good quarter and Thomas and Bailey S continued to find the ball and push back on the Knights forward thrusts.
The mids worked really hard. Maybe too hard because we were running too deep defensively leaving us without options as we tried to exit our defensive area. James C had run himself into the ground and he received some relief with Niko stepping into the ruck and doing a really good job.
The forwards didn’t see as much of the ball, however, there were some great individual efforts such as Robbie on the half forward line with repeat efforts, holding the ball up. Jack W fighting tooth and nail when outmanned. Jack kicked our only point of the quarter and was so close to converting a long range shot, just needed a kinder bounce of the ball. Ollie F was another who fought against greater numbers and did a fantastic job to hold the ball up and send it further forward. Stef was being a target and looking dangerous, while Bailey M buzzed around the feet of the talls and was so close to picking up the crumbs on a number of occasions. Jack M continued a really good game, looking very dangerous on the outer flank and James P continued to present when the ball got down there.
At three quarter time our margin had been reduced to nine points, but we were still in front, looking very confident and the wind was picking up. The Knights pushed us hard in the last quarter but we were able to absorb their pressure and push a bit back on them ourselves.
They got an early goal but our boys kept their heads up and started attacking. Ollie M was desperate up forward and cooly converted an opportunity to restore the lead to two kicks. Niko continued his fine form on the day, James B was well into the play and racking up possessions across half forward.
It was a very exciting last quarter with so much on the line. The boys didn’t give an inch. Jake was amazing down back using his height, reach and booming kick to clear the ball on a number of occasions. Matt C was right there with him, Mitch finished a terrific game down back, as did Bailey S and Geordie came into his own in the last. He had been good all day, but got some really important possessions in the last quarter.
Ollie F had us in a frenzy at half forward as he shrugged off a couple of tackles, regained his balance and sent a low bullet down towards goal that evaded everyone and just missed the goals, sneaking through for a point. Jack H worked hard to keep the ball in in our attacking area, as did Stef.
The siren finally blew, we were seven points up with some super excited boys. Our spot in the finals guaranteed. Congratulations to the all the boys – today was a fantastic team effort. All 22 boys pulled together, played their role and all contributed to our best win of the season.
We need to continue to ride the wave and keep the momentum going. With the spirit and team-work we displayed today, we will be hard to beat.
Get to training, we need another big focused week on the track in preparation for our first actual final of the year.
Enjoy the moment and the company of our mates.
Hampton Rovers – Best Mates!
BTW – Boys make sure you touch your football 100 times each day!!