With the grading phase over we entered the season proper on a crisp, sunny and blustery morning at Castlefield. Moving from Red to Purple, we are facing our toughest test as a group with some very powerful opposition teams looming in the coming weeks.
Last Sunday we faced cross-highway foes East Brighton Vamps and with so many teams on their roster at U9 level it was futile even trying to predict what they were going to bring. Instead, our Good Cop (Tim) / Bad Cop (Walt) coaching duo focused on what was firmly in our control. Our own game plan and team rules: to always tackle and defend, to kick long to space, to try to use effective field position and to have instructional voice to help organise and support teammates.
There seemed a steely resolve and focus (well as much as can ever be expected for 8 year-olds at 8.30 on a Sunday morning) in the warm up with Walt running the boys through their paces. We looked up for the contest and there weren’t too many dance moves or irrelevant vocal coach interruptions during the pregame huddle. Miracles can happen!
With a mild northerly blowing captains Spence and HD won the toss and kicked with the wind to the Kingston Road end. Well that’s not entirely true. They actually lost the toss but the opposition chose to kick in to it so the boys got their wish anyway. Thoughts of Trent Cotchin’s decision to kick into a howling gale in the final against Port Adelaide crossed my mind and I was glad it wasn’t one of our boys who made such a ridiculous decision. Time has healed that wound now though and clearly I digress….
We started the game with a full complement of players and for the first time ever had four players in dressing gowns on the pine. We warmly welcomed Max to the team and welcomed his guts and determination in his first Rovers game. Kicking with the wind and with our midfield dominating clearances the ball spent the entire quarter in our forward half of the ground. Will R cracked in like a human tank and his ever-improving appetite for the contest was great to watch. Jack A hit Charlie lace out on a long purposeful lead – a great example of just how damaging movement into space and towards the ball carrier can be.
Jimmy D finished the quarter caked in mud after being pushed in the back in the middle of the ground. The smile on his face despite it all was priceless. The Tractor was lively early up forward kicking two points, and Axel and Nick were twin towers at full forward kicking a goal each. As for the backline, they didn’t get a sniff but held position really well and HD was instrumental as our designated link player behind the ball in the midfield. This is a pivotal role for the team providing both a defensive cover when kicking with the wind and a passage to the forward line when running in to it.
With the north westerly steadily increasing the second quarter fast became a defensive scrap for the boys with the ball spending most of the time in our back line. There’s nothing that kills a footy game like strong wind with the ball harder to read in the air and kicking skills difficult to execute. With the back line under siege, the players were quickly encouraged to man up, stop ball watching and be first to the contest. They took the advice on board with Tractor executing a lunging goal save, a number of goal strong saving tackles from our defenders and good run and carry from the midfield. There was little for the forwards to do with only a one inside 30 and a point the result. The Vamps were held goalless.
At the half time huddle Tim reiterated some of the team rules – manning up, second efforts, kicking to hot the spot and keeping your feet. It was our turn again to kick with the strengthening breeze.
Our midfield dominance was obvious early with Angus storming out of the centre to deliver a peach to Lach Matthews who marked and converted. Zach was everywhere in the midfield with our forwards getting plenty of service. Our inaccuracy cost us scoreboard dominance with George, Angus kicking points and Jimmy D storming into goal and hitting the post.
Once again our back line didn’t have to do much but with the final term looming against an ever increasing gale we all knew that wouldn’t last. Maybe the East Brighton captains weren’t so silly after all and had some BOM intel that we hadn’t received. Tim appealed for all forwards to play in front and for our defensive structures and non-negotiables of tackling and chasing to be rolled out. The mids were asked to run and carry and be accountable for their men.
The fourth started with a push by the Vamps to close the gap on the scoreboard with the ball spending most of the quarter in the scout hall pocket where it had been all day. Stevie, HD and Zac were instrumental in setting up two goals against the flow – one to Axel and one a lace out pass to Max for his first goal in his first game for the Rovers. Our defensive unit, led by Mans and Jack R, stood resolute and we hung on for a well-earned victory.
Axel, Jack A, Mons and Max.
Thanks to all the parent helpers on the day and ongoing thanks on behalf of the parent group to Emily, Tim and Walt for all of their efforts week after week.