St Kilda Red pipped at the post by a point

Sunday April 6, 2014

Round 1

St Kilda City Under 12 Red v Cheltenham Green

Le Page Park, Cheltenham (Oval 2)


By Joe Gillis

It was fun for a while. There was no way of knowing.” – Bryan Ferry

Turn the clock back to Eastern Standard Time day today, heralding a week or so of unsettling punctuality-based anxiety. Standing on a train platform, knowing that you’re early, but feeling like you’re running late. Catching a glimpse of a non-adjusted clock and momentarily freaking out. Young people up and thudding around the house at an ungodly hour and then tetchy and snarky later on at the dinner table, when it has all caught up to them. Nodding off during MKR and missing the bit when that mean girl says that rude thing about that other mean girl’s rosemary-infused kiwifruit coulis.

One of the boys has brought along some Deep Heat, and the robust, pungent, satisfying mentholatum fragrance hangs sweet in the rooms – the Australian sporting man’s version of Proust’s madeleine. Dads let themselves be transported for a moment or two, back to a rough sheep paddock in Narrandera or to the lush, well-manicured sporting fields of School, or to a freezing, rock-hard oblong in Toowoomba, and think deep thoughts on the circle of life and the transitoriness of human existence, before snapping back to the realities of the here and now – a glorious autumn day in Melbourne and our first game in Division II.

A bit of a kick-around out the back, and then into the rooms for the pre-game remarks from the coaches. Coach Marcus opens the batting. We’ve gone through under 9,10 and 11 together, and each year we’ve been stronger, better, more skillful footballers. We are in under 12 company this year, so we’ll have to ratchet things up another notch again. Coach Brian chips in.
“Every year as you progress through junior ranks your opponents look bigger, stronger, faster. You have to remember that we are bigger, stronger and faster ourselves. We have the size and the strength and the pace and the skills to win this game of footy.”
Now Coach Marcus again, with the line-by-line broad tactical outline.
“Backmen, you have one job – outplay your opponent. Wingers, you are link men. Stay out of the 50 metre arcs. Be there when we are transferring into attack. Half-forward line, there will be 4 of you. Play high up the ground and leave our 2 man full-forward line plenty of room to lead into. Lock the ball in the front 50.”

Coach Brian wraps the whole thing up with his traditional chimera – be hungry (first to the ball), expect to win (this ground has been a happy hunting ground for us) and tackle hard (make them think twice about picking up the agate). He upgrades it into a baker’s chimera by adding a fourth point – possession is the key (hold your marks). Last year’s runaway B&F winner, Roman Anastasios, is our skipper today.

The coaches unveil a new warm-up strategy – 3 groups (forwards, mids, backs). 3 mentors (Marcus, Brian, Randal). 3 separate sets of drills. The boys look sharp, going through their paces. They proceed to the sward with coach Marcus’s single objective in mind – be in front on the scoreboard when we re-convene here in 15 minutes.

First Quarter

Objective achieved, at the end of a very entertaining quarter of junior football.

For some reason the first bounce occurs about 4 minutes ahead of schedule and Cheltenham have a major on the board while some spectators are still in the coffee line or otherwise engaged. The Greens win the subsequent centre clearance and are into attack again and it looks like we might have been caught on the hop by the ferocity of their attack on the pill. We’re deep in defence when Jack Pougher makes his first heroic act of the day, charging on to a loose football in a back pocket. A composed, unfazed Elijah McMeekin clears the ball from danger with a deftly executed right foot banana kick.

We get it in our hands for a spell and we look pretty good. We see Roman Anastasios breaking free down the left hand side and launching a long bomb into attack. We’ve got Roman and Luke McIntyre engaging in a rapid fire 1-2 handball exchange at half forward. We’ve got Alex Goldman, starting up forward today, looking dangerous at the fall of the ball. We do a solid job of holding the persimmon in the forward 50 for a minute or two, then Roman roves the pack at pace in the left forward pocket and snaps a ripping goal.

In the guts, Sam Dawkins has come to play, as he always does, and he does some great body work at the bounce and subsequently on the deck, fighting for the loose pomegranate. Jake Austin looks fierce and committed also, and he pulls off a cracking smother. Ryder Logan is on a wing, and he’s getting plenty of it. He gathers a couple of loose balls wide out and turns defence back into attack. We’re looking snug and sturdy around the middle of the ground and we’ve been controlling play for a good few minutes, when Cheltenham takes advantage of a lapse in concentration at the back of the centre square and moves the ball quickly for a second major. Disappointing to be behind on the board again, after having the better of the play.

But back we come, with the best bit of link-up footy of the day so far, showing what we can do when we get it in our hands and dare to pull the trigger – Elijah McMeekin hits a loose ball at speed at the back of the ground. Bang! Down to Ryder Logan on a wing. Quick kick to a contest at half forward. Snap out of the pack by Sam Dawkins* to Frank Lyon in space. Solid grab. Back behind the mark. Deep breath. Set Shot. Goal to Frankie. Woot! Woot! This would have been a heart-warming bit of footy to watch at any level. Dash and dare and confidence and a free spirit. Lovely.

In the see-sawing spirit of the stanza, the Greens bounce it back and we’ve got a bit of spade work to get through at the rear. Doughty warrior Xavier Field bullocks through a pack and clears with a long kick. Nick Tu contests hard on hands and knees, ripping and tearing in the pack. Ty Glennon earns a holding the ball decision with a spiffing tackle. Sweeney Crabb clears space with some unambiguous body work. Roman Anastasios slides back and takes a couple of handy relieving marks, and then pinpoints Henry-Joe Nankervis, who has worked into space to offer up a target. Crisis over and back we go to the other end, where Alex Goldman earns a free for a push in the course of attacking the footy. Vinnie Farrelly gets out on the lead, pouches a secure catch and makes no mistake from a set shot. This tactic of leaving plenty of space for a couple of boys to lead into certainly seems to have been vindicated. The only open question is what we should call it – Marcus’s Meadow? Brian’s Bottomland? Submissions accepted, c/- Team Manager.

  • Probably Sam. Reporter unsighted. Relying on testimony of bystander.

Quarter Time St Kilda Red 3/1/19 Cheltenham Green 2/0/12

Positive words from coach Brian at the huddle. Shout out to debutante Joe Nossal for a nice grab and some very tidy work in the backline. Shout out to his lookalike Henry Manallack for being his usual reliable self in the same region. Good work Henry-Joe Nankervis for nullifying a large ruck opponent. Great stuff Ryder Logan, helping to set up 2 goals with sterling link work on the wing. We need to roost long out of defence.

From the desk of Coach Marcus – great to see us clunking our grabs down forward and holding our positions and giving Marcus’s Meadow (pat.pend.) a chance to work. That’s how to do it. Man up and punch from behind down back.

Second Quarter

Antepenultimate stanza opens up with Roman Anastasios working like a cut cat, zooming to all corners of the centre square, but a little short on collaborators. The Greens work it forward and Elijah McMeekin saves our bacon, hitting the bobbling ball at speed and hoisting a long calcitration down the right hand flank. That’s his trademark move. Whereas Roman was short of collaborators in the comic cuts, there is no shortage of willing workers down the Fleetwood Mac. Ty Glennon, fast becoming an elite tackler in the side, makes a tooth-rattler in the last line. Jack Pougher, hard as a goat’s knee, is an off-putting presence for the Cheltenham forwards, throwing his big frame around in the ground-ball contests and showing some deft touches in his roving work around the packs. He shakes the metaphorical rafters late in the term with a bump that must have almost caused the bumpee’s mother to run out onto the field. Henry Manallack is stoic and, as usual, he’s all over his man like stink on a monkey. Sweeney Crabb rough-and-tumbles it across the back of the centre square, always up for a scrap. Xavier Field, Nick Tu and perennial football thief Joe Nossal get through a power of spade work on the Axminster. Sam Dawkins is a veritable Gibraltar in the back half of the centre square.

With this solid stuff being laid down at the back, we’ve got a chance to launch some meaningful counter-attack, into the wind or not. It all starts with Roman Anastasios, as it so often does. Roman is the hub from which the spokes of our attacking raids radiate. See Roman measure a lovely long, flat pass to Xan Matthews Wood on the lead. See Roman again, tiptoeing through traffic, and bang – lace out on the chest of the hard-leading Nick Tu. Nick by hand to Joe Nossal. Joe neat by foot to Ryder Logan on the move. Ryder a sweet drop punt to Alex Goldman,  ducking and weaving and jinking inside 50. Lovely passage. Jack Pougher smartly roving a ruck tap at ground level, belting it forward, Roman crashing onto it, swift and sure delivery to Alex by foot. Goal. Attractive footy. Effective footy. Moving the ball quickly.

We’ve got some real livewires who are testing and stretching the Cheltenham defence with their pace and evasive skills. Alex Goldman looks a million bucks up and down the left forward flank. Ryder Logan is patrolling a wing on the other side of the ground, and he’s cutting them up, proving to be a very dynamic link man out of defence. Ty Glennon likewise on the other wing, contesting hard when the ball is coming out from the back. Henry Joe Nankervis exercises his footy nous by sliding between the 50 metre arcs, providing a reliable marking target moving both ways.

Against the odds (because against the wind) we spend a fair amount of the quarter encamped in our attacking 50, and some excellent forward pressure is the reason why. Will Conolly makes some great tackles on Cheltenham backmen as they try to evacuate the area, and ensures that they do not. Luke McIntyre, heretofore  fairly quiet, makes a cracking stand-up tackle and jars the ball loose from his opponent’s grip. Ryder Logan, Sam Dawkins, Henry Joe Nankervis and Roman Anastasios all drift down into the 50 to help with the effort. Taken all in all, it is a very tidy quarter for us into the breeze.

Half Time St Kilda Red 4/1/25 Cheltenham Green 3/3/21

Coach Brian is up and about at the huddle. It has been a great quarter. They had the wind and only managed 1 goal. Our first quarter was very good, and we have consolidated by keeping the pressure right on. Our tackling and smothering were fabulous. Great to see some thoughtful shepherding. Shout out to Ryder Logan for top link work. Props to Alex Goldman for a great goal and for general industriousness. Big ups to the entire backline. Nice job one and all, but the important thing is to continue.  The wind has really come up. We’ve got an opportunity to build a match-winning lead.

More props to Alex Goldman from Coach Marcus. He’s matched up against a big bloke who is paying him plenty of attention, and he is besting him. Kudos to Xavier Field, mixing it up and making his presence felt. Plaudits to Ty Glennon, also doing some great transfer work on his particular wing and to Sam Dawkins for some formidable body work. This is a skilled team that we are playing but we are getting on top of them because we are applying ourselves – sticking our tackles and supporting each other.

Third Quarter

Sweet, sweet knock from Henry Joe Nankervis at the first bounce ushers in one of the great terms of Reds footy. Roman Anastasios hits it at speed, runs hard through the top of the centre square and kicks a long, long goal. Oooh yeah – vintage Anastasios. No more than a minute or two later, Roman goes wide to Luke McIntyre, who gathers off the deck, sums up the sitch and executes a sweeping handball over the top to goalsneak Vinnie Farrelly. Vinnie makes no mistake – straight over the umpy’s chapeau for a classy sextet.

Short defensive interlude as the Greens regroup and regather and press forward with a series of uncontested possessions. Some lovely precise kicking and hard support running remind us that these boys are a talented lot, and that we’ll have to keep working hard to build and keep our lead. They’ll come home hard with the wind behind them in the final farthing. Joe Nossal continues to impress at the back, cracking in hard at the footy. Jack Pougher takes a couple of very strong overhead marks. A moment or two of laxity in our manning up sees Cheltenham gather the pill from a boundary throw in and claw back some of their deficit with a frankly fairly preventable major. These “unguarded moments” are killers at this level – when a winning score is 9 or 10 goals, you can’t afford to drop singles here and there through lapses in concentration. That’s the second soft Cheltenham goal against the run of play today.

Meanwhile, back at the other end, we put that glitch behind us and the onslaught continues. Alex Goldman’s opponent is still trying to monster and maltreat him, but Alex is drinking the kid’s milkshake. He’s bobbing up all over the attacking 50, roving loose balls, sticking tackles and dishing off handballs. Will Conolly is locking the ball in the forward quadrant with some spirited contested ball work. Vinnie Farrelly is having a day out. He takes possession off hands from an aerial pack contest, throws the ovoid on the boot and goals. Minutes later, he takes advantage of some sterling forward pressure lock-the-ball-in work from Xan Matthews Wood, and snaps anothery. Roman Anastasios throws his hat in the ring again, taking a strong mark, delivering to the crafty Joe Nossal (running on from the interchange) who hits the hard-leading Frank Lyon with a solid pass in front of goal. Frank goes back, cool as the Fonz, and converts. To round out the point-scoring extravaganza, Roman plucks a boundary throw-in from the air and snaps our sixth major score of the term.

Our sharp-shooters around goal have built their blitz on some strong work in the middle of the ground. Elijah McMeekin is full of dash, initiating attacking moves by charging on to the agate at halfback. In the same region, Xavier Field and Jack Pougher are getting through plenty of bullocking work. Jake Austin and Sam Dawkins are worth their weight in gold in the clinches. Our ball winning and delivery are a well-baked cake. Half a dozen goals are the silky, sweet icing. Some quarter.

3/4 Time St Kilda Red 10/3/63 Cheltenham Green 4/3/27 

Coach Brian is over the moon – sensational stanza. Laudation to Luke McIntyre for his team play with that good handball. Round of applause to Vinnie Farrelly for his goalkicking exploits. Thumbs up to Frank Lyon, playing his part by being a serious marking target.

From coach Marcus, proper respect to Roman Anastasios for an outstanding term. Citations for Jack Pougher, Sam Dawkins and Jake Austin for their hard work in tight. Nod to Henry-Joe Nankervis for some solid ruck work.

Coach Marcus says that the space up forward thing is clearly a goer, but we have to be disciplined and continue to work it properly. We’ve got a big lead, but we must beware – this is a very stiff breeze that Cheltenham will be kicking with, and we cannot afford to run back out there thinking that this game is in the bag.

Fourth Quarter

Speaking after the game, one Reds supporter, an intelligent, very talented, vastly experienced sportsman and coach, remarked thoughtfully that momentum is such a hard thing to stop in sport, no matter what the game and no matter what the level. And the theme of this last quarter was undoubtedly momentum. That most mysterious and uncanny of intangibles in sport and life (where does it come from? where does it go?) took hold of this game of footy and turned it on its head.

You’d have thought that if momentum was going to play a role in the last term it would be on our side. We’d just turned on a 6 goal quarter. Our ball winning was productive, our delivery crisp, our conversion efficient. All of our cogs were whirring. We were well placed to go on and record a resounding win. But momentum is a whimsical and a capricious creature, and it didn’t pan out that way.

We open the term with Roman Anastasios and Sam Dawkins cracking in hard, as they had been all day. Sweeney Crabb, too. We concede a little ground as the Greens roll forward without much fluency, but with plenty of tenacity and, considering the state of the game, a decent measure of self belief. Henry Manallack clears from the last line and we lock down, the ball in fierce dispute, a kick-and-a-half from the Cheltenham goal. Sam and Sweeney tackle hard, hold the ball in, scrape and scrap and tussle. Suddenly the nudgee pops out of the pack, bobbles toward the sticks and we’ve got no one goal side to mop up. A fleet-footed Greens midfielder pounces. Goal. But we’re still 30 points up.

Centre bounce. Spirited scrap. Back and forth. In and out. A scrubby kick forward by the Greens. A Greens mid emerges from the pack, chasing hard. A gallant Nick Tu sets off to run him down but can’t bridge the gap. Goal. Now we’re 24 points up.

Two goals clawed back in quick succession, but we’ve still got a 4 goal buffer with 10 minutes to play. We’re still the long odds-on favorites. We just have to stem the flow, eat up some time.

Another agricultural hoof forward, with Cheltenham players streamimg down the ground behind it. Nick Tu again the man for the moment. He takes the grab, but the hungry Greens have arrived in big numbers. Where does he go?  The would-be recipient of his relieving kick is swamped by hard-running Greens. They pilfer the pellet. Goal. We’re only 18 points up.

We’ve gone from the proverbial cloud the size of a man’s fist on the horizon through a sheep graziers alert and on to a category five cyclone warning in the space of about 6 minutes. The Cheltenham Greens have flicked some sort of self-belief switch and now seem bigger and stronger and quicker and more numerous and hungrier and more full of running than any side we’ve come up against in years. The Greens ruckman is leaping high and smashing the ball down the ground. Boys from our side who have been fierce competitive ball winners all day long are being gang tackled and thrown to the deck and dispossessed. Every hard-won, tumble-punted hack forward by the Greens is being met by 5 of them, maybe 1 or 2 of us. Every time the ball bounces, it bounces to them. You can’t say we’re not trying – we are trying desperately but, just right now, as hard as we try, we can’t match them. If we could just string a couple of passes together, we might work it down the other end, kick a goal, take the pressure off. Forget about it – we can’t get it past halfway and it is everything we can do to try to stem the bleeding in our back half.

Cheltenham press. They have what seems like 15 players in the front half. Some are forwards who have cut loose from their man. Some are midfielders and backmen drifting down to up the ante. We can’t find a way out. Jack Pougher flies in the pack and makes a mighty last-ditch spoil, and Roman Anastasios, Sam Dawkins and Elijah McMeekin make the scene. They scramble and scrap and battle, but they are badly outnumbered and under extreme pressure. We are forced to rush a point. 17 up.

Roman Anastasios takes a strong mark from the kick-in. He bangs long to half-back. Cheltenham get numbers to the fall of the ball and shark his kick. They go forward again but Roman intercepts. What a gallant stand he is making. He must be out on his feet. He finds Luke McIntyre out wide and Luke, under pressure, kicks for touch rugby-league style and buys us 30 or 40 metres and a chance to take a breath. We’re 20 or 25 metres to the good side of halfway, and we need to hold it there as long as we can. Which proves to be not all that long, as the Greens rove the tap at the throw-in and go forward again.

For the next minute or two, there’s a lull in the frenetic pace of the scoring, as the elongated sphere pinballs around the middle of the ground. Alex Goldman looks our best chance to turn the tide. He’s lost none of his dash and ebullience as he bounces around the top of the centre square, but the half-chances that he creates are being snuffed out by weight of Cheltenham numbers. Likewise Ty Glennon, who’s up and about and galloping down the flank, but being swamped before he can break clear. Jake Austin is able to make a couple of hurried roosts forward but they lob in the wrong sets of hands. We can’t break through. There’s nothing to do but dig in and defend.

Xavier Field does well. He’s never afraid to mix it up down back, and he clears the congestion with a couple of long kicks. When the Hail Mary kicks come forward from the Greens, Nick Tu charges out, marks them and sends them back with his thumping right boot. Sam Dawkins is tackling everything that moves, and he earns a holding the ball call with a copybook effort. Jack Pougher is en fuego in the tackling department. He lays a couple of absolute ripsnorters, each of which, to the naked eye, looks like an excellent candidate for a holding the ball decision. We could do with them, but nothing doing. That’s footy. He keeps his chin up and flies into a pack to execute a valuable spoil.

As plucky and manful as these lads are, we’re still on the back foot. Cheltenham seems to be drawing on reserves of energy that we simply don’t have. When the ball comes in on the fly, they’ve got more numbers at the fall than we have. They’re winning the foot races. They’re outnumbering us. We tackle one of them, and two more run by, looking for a handball. It is like they have twice as many men on the park as we do. It is just a question of whether our last-ditch defensive efforts can hold them up long enough for the siren to go before they overtake us. One of our boys gathers the ball in front of the Cheltenham goal. Whooshka! Half-a-dozen Cheltenham players swarm in and pin him to the deck. Holding the ball. Goal. Surely there are no more than a couple of minutes left to to play. Just 11 points up.

Back to the middle. The rucks go up. The ball hits the deck. Again the Greens bear down on the loose mango. They stream forward frenetically. They’re in overdrive. They step around us. They handball. They shepherd. Goal.  It feels the clock is our only hope. Surely the 15 minutes must be about to tick over? This quarter has been going forever. We’re a very skinny, very worrisome 5 points up.

This must be the final ball-up of the day. Rucks up again. The ball falls in no-mans-land marginally on the kiosk side, bobbling toward our halfback line. The seemingly inevitable plays out, as if in slow motion. Number 16 from Cheltenham steps free of the tangle of bodies into clear air. He gathers the coconut, drops the pedal and sets off in search of glory. He streams through the fifty, launches his roost and it flies between the uprights. Two seconds later the siren sounds, three seconds too late.

Final Score St Kilda Red 10/3/63 Cheltenham Green 10/4/64

We’re all a little shell-shocked by what has just got down, so the coaches keep it short. Coach Brian says, result aside, it was it was a remarkable game of football. There are obvious lessons to take from it, and we have to take them. We can’t relax into a lead – we have to keep fighting even when we think that the games is won. We did everything right for 3 quarters, and we have to remember that. Coach Marcus echoes this. We’ve had some bad luck here today. We let 1 bad quarter undo all the good work we did. When we get in front, we have to bury our opposition, not let them back in the game.


Roman Anastasios 4

Vinnie Farrelly 3

Frank Lyon 2

Alex Goldman



Roman Anastasios

Joe Nossal


The Takeaway

When you squander a big lead and give away a win, the lesson is so obvious as to be almost trite – you have to play out the 4 quarters. The most important lesson that we can take away from this game comes not from our own efforts on the day, but from the efforts of our opposition. At 6 goals down at the final change, Cheltenham looked like shot ducks. Many teams in that position would have gone through the motions in the last term, taken their lumps in the form of an 8 or 10 goal beating and looked ahead to next week for redemption. Cheltenham didn’t. They ran back out with pride and purpose. They worked hard, they dug deep and they believed in themselves. They chipped away at the lead, gradually gained the upper hand and eventually became unstoppable. As the season wears on, and we inevitably find our backs to the wall on occasion, we should remember this day and what Cheltenham did and know that, with self-belief and effort, all things are possible.

The other thing that we should remember is that, for three-fourths of this game, we were the superior team. On the back of a sketchy preparation, fitness and match practice-wise, and in our first game at this level, we matched it with a legit Division II side for the first 2 quarters, and then blew them away in the third. That ain’t nothing. That’s something. Of course the final score is very important in footy, but too often when analysing games, we place undue emphasis on the last quarter at the expense of the first three. Make no mistake – Cheltenham came to play in the first three quarters, and we rolled them fair and square to three-quarter-time. Maybe our fitness gave out in the last quarter. Maybe we were complacent.  Maybe our ringcraft was rusty. Maybe we haven’t quite got our structures bedded down. Maybe our inexperience at this level found us out. Maybe all of these. Who knows? Whatever the reason or reasons, we know we had a poor last term. But don’t forget – we kicked 10 goals, the winning margin was only 0.007 of the total score, and for the bulk of the match, we were the better side. So, don’t panic. We’ve got plenty to work with. We belong here.


The Role Models

Roman Anastasios 

He gets the nod plenty often in this category, but why wouldn’t he? He’s a champ.Put aside his formidable skills. Put aside his athleticism and his speed. We all know about that stuff. Concentrate on his effort. Those who saw Roman in the rooms after this game saw a young human who absolutely, totally 100% spent. From first bounce to final siren, he had run and run and run and run and run until he was like to drop. He had given and given and given until he had no more to give. Obviously we can’t all play like Roman, but there’s no reason why we can’t all work like Roman. Tremendous effort by the kid, and heartbreaking that he wasn’t rewarded with a win.

Nick Tu

He was under the pump big time at various points in this game, especially in the last quarter. But you had to admire the verve which he continued to bring to his play. At times outnumbered 4 or 5 to 1, he never panicked or went into his shell, just kept attacking the footy at a full gallop. Great to see a kid playing with such dash and dauntlessness.

About John Harms

John Harms is a writer, broadcaster, publisher, historian, speaker and teacher. He loves stories.

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