Under 11B Grand Final: Flemington Colts v the Red Devils

WRFL under 11 B 

Grand final (at Tarneit)

10 August 2014

Flemington Colts v. North Footscray


Background The greatest challenges usually involve very simple propositions.  For Hillary, climb that mountain; for Columbus, cross that ocean; for we mere mortals, get an answer in the cryptic or….. well, find your way to Tarneit.  And so it was that, for the Colts, the finals presented a challenge of the utmost simplicity.  Having finished fourth, defeat the teams that finished third, second and first in consecutive weeks.  What’s more, do so after a home-and away season in which they had defeated none of those teams.  None.  Zero. Nada. Not one. To the Objective Observer, the proposition seemed ridiculous.

However, come Sunday 10 August, the Objective Observer was a good deal more circumspect than he had been two weeks earlier.  At the end of the home and aways, before the finals had commenced, it was obvious that Flemington would finish fourth and North Footscray would romp its way to the premiership. But the first two weeks of the finals had provided grounds for reassessment.  Yes, North Footscray had made its way to the GF, but contrary to the script the rather unfashionable Colts had dispatched the third placed Altona and second-placed Sanctuary Lakes with a savagery that had some spectators averting their eyes. Ragnar Lothbrok, Viking warrior, would have been proud.  In eight quarters of finals football, the boys from Flemington had conceded only one goal.

But of course a grand final is different.  North Footscray had lost just one game for the season.  They had won the second semi-final and had the benefit of a week’s rest.  They had a percentage of 407. The last time the teams had met they had scored 19 times to the Colts’ three.  The Vikings were about to take on a tank division, complete with air cover from the Pacific fleet.

The venue The first challenge for the Colts was for their parents to find the ground. However, with fuel lights blinking, the convoy pulled in to Tarneit on time. Awaiting them was an expanse of tawny felt the size of Etihad. As the boys ran for the changerooms parents and grand parents shuffled nervously and sipped their coffees, mulling over whether the word Tarneit is derived from the Koori word for “middle of bloody nowhere” or the Gaelic for “cold as a dead sheep’s guts at Christmas”.

Soon enough, the lads emerged, led by 50-gamers Oliver Anderson, Oliver Noke and Noah Seiderman. They charged through the banner, destroying it in a surge of joyful optimism.  The supporters’ cheers were loud and heartfelt, but they knew from bitter experience that fairytales rarely happen. So the last thing many of the children heard from their parents before the match was “it doesn’t matter if you don’t win.  You just need to do your best.” Which of course is true.  But their sons were not really listening. They knew all that. They always played with grace and humility, and would do so again today.  Eddie and Rob had drummed that into them long ago. No, they had only one thing in mind; today was the day for a premiership.

A breeze fresh from the shores of Antarctica blew directly to the northern goals, stiffening as the first bounce approached. And, of course, the North Footscray Devils won the toss and kicked with the snow.  The Objective Observer nodded, knowingly.  There would be no surprises today.  The Devils would take a seven goal lead into quarter time and the trophy could be engraved.

Q1 North Footscray won the first contest and pumped the ball forward in accordance with the script.  But the task of the team kicking with the wind required more than a long bomb.  The breeze was pushing across the ground to the eastern flank.  That is where an indiscriminate long kick would end up. Not quite a dead pocket, but certainly one from which it would be hard to extract your wallet. So attacking with the wind required some thought and a degree of precision.

Early in the quarter the Colts were playing the smarter football.  They could not push into attack due to the gale, but they were reading their opponents’ attacking kicks far better.  In the first ten minutes, Noah, pushing down from the wing, marked at least four NF kicks in the backline.  Marcus grabbed another handful.  And when the ball hit the ground, Mark, Oliver A, Ashton, Jack, Luca and Lucas stood firm, with the able assistance of on-ballers Rory and Louis.  However, as the quarter wore on, there was little respite for the Colts’ defenders.  NF were launching their mortars deeper and deeper into enemy territory and it seemed only a matter of time before defences were breached. They registered their first behind then a second, followed by, inevitably, a goal.  The red and white crowd roared its approval.  Were the floodgates about to open?  Not if the Colts had any say in proceedings.  They pushed forward into the breeze and won several heavy contests before Linus collected the ball and kicked deep into attack.  The Devils repelled the advance, but it was clear that scoring at the south end was not impossible.  Late in the quarter, the Devils scored a second goal, but when the siren sounded Eddie and Rob should have been pleased.  NF had been restricted to two goals in conditions where, only a few weeks earlier, they would have kicked six or seven. It was an impressive start by the underdogs.  Quarter time – 0.0 0 :2.2 14

Q2 The second quarter was identical to the first, save that the roles were reversed.  Flemington pressing forward, NF loading its back line and soaking up the pain.  It was frustrating to watch.  Time and again the Colts bombed to the square where six red Devils awaited.  Lachie Gibson was the first to see the problem and centred the ball from the pocket.  “Go east west” had been the coach’s demand at training. Lachie’s kick did not produce a goal but it presented the answer to the deadlock. Intensity at the contest, composure with the footy. Frank, Alec and Macsen were providing good forward targets but there was a red flood close to goals. However, eventually Marcus found a way.  The Colts were on the board. He soon followed up with another goal, and one could not help but feel sorry for the poor kid in red and white who had the job of tagging him.  He was producing a mighty game. When the siren sounded the match was on a knife’s edge. Half time – 2.0 12 :2.2 14.

Shortly after the siren, the sky blackened and a tempest struck. The team took shelter in the rooms as trees were uprooted from adjacent paddocks and barns took flight like pelicans. Several young children were last sighted floating off towards Tarneit Upper. These were not pleasant conditions for the Chardonnay sippers from FlemKenNMAscotV, but the storm gave the occasion an epic quality. Something remarkable was imminent.

Q3 The third quarter commenced in the same fashion as the first.  The Red Devils went long with the wind.  The Colts were brave but capitulation seemed inevitable.  If Flemington was to survive the onslaught, brazen defiance was required.  Regrettably, it seemed unlikely. Within the first four minutes the Devils had goaled twice; North Footscray  were suddenly as irresistible as a rising tide; the Colts were about to be inundated.

At this point, it is worth reflecting on the significance of the third quarter in a grand final. It is known as the premiership quarter because it is usually the last chance to shift the momentum of the game.  And so far the premiership quarter belonged to the Devils.  The Colts were 14 points down and kicking to an end where the goal umpire had dozed off for lack of gainful employment. A beautiful Colts finals campaign was surely about to come to an end. But then, something remarkable happened.  The Colts began to seize control in the midfield, shifting the ball further up field through the likes of Anthony, James, Noah and Louis. And of course Marcus.

It is also worth reflecting on the Colts forward line. With the coach playing an extra man in defence, the Colts forwards were one man down for the entire finals campaign. But they responded to the challenge beautifully. They also each had more bench time due to a concern to maintain stability in the backline and mid-field. But not a murmur of complaint was heard. And at this critical moment of the match, the forwards came alive, leading their opponents to the contest. For the first time in the match, despite the wind, the ball was being held close to the southern goals and the Devils’ defence was under pressure.  The goal umpire woke up. Kye seized the moment and drove the Sherrin to the top of the square.  There was a scramble and the ball came loose.  Frank hit the contest with abandon and was struck high.  He won a free and slotted the first goal into the breeze.  The boys were elated but did not seem surprised – after all, they were here to win the premiership.  Everyone else was astonished.

The next few minutes were critical.  North Footscray went forward, only to be denied yet again by a furious Colts defence. They had conceded only five goals in the entire finals campaign. They would not tolerate a sixth. A group of North Footscray parents were heard to remark that their coach should do something about number 44, Noah.  However, by this stage, it was a little like asking the coach to do something about gravity. The Colts were irrepressible.  They pressed forward and, after a passage as heavy as Tolstoy, Linus shot a handball to Marcus who goaled once more. When the siren blew the teams were separated by a cigarette paper. Three quarter time – 4.0 24 : 4.2 26

Notwithstanding the scoreboard, at three quarter time it was hard to say who was really in front.  The Devils had a precious 2 point lead.  The Colts would be kicking with the southerly, but the wind had died down.  And when the teams had last met, the Devils had produced an avalanche of goals in the last quarter.  Nevertheless, Eddie was calm and composed.  The opposing coach was seen banging his head on a brick wall.  Your correspondent was calling for the oxygen.   The Colts pressed in close together, clasped hands and roared as one. A congress of children free of a single doubt.

Q4 What follows is the author’s best guess at what actually occurred in the final term. It began with a stunning attack on the ball from the Colts in the centre square and on the wings, led by Ayui in the ruck. He had been allocated the task of shadowing the Devils’ towering ruckman but he had done so much more than that.  He contested everything, his tackling a particular revelation. Rory was his usual self, blocking, tackling, sharing and inspiring in equal measure.  Louis, James and Anthony were everywhere. The breeze might have eased, but the Colts pressed forward with that tail wind otherwise known as self belief.  They drove the ball in deep time and again, but the Devils were not for turning.  They resisted everything, pushing players into defence and absorbing every thrust. Indeed, they did more than that.  They rebounded, but their focus on defence found them outnumbered across the centre and beyond.  Their rearguard action was soaking up all of their resources. And as the quarter wore on they began to waiver.   Meanwhile, the breeze picked up; Flemington pressed again and a behind took them to within a solitary point.  A second moments later levelled the scores.  It was a mad scramble in the forward 50. Oliver Noak, Felix and Macsen were leading, darting, harassing. Kye was electrifying. The whole team was ruthless and relentless in equal measure but clear space was hard to find.  And then, in a flurry, Kye kicked long to the square; the awkward bounce eluded Lachie but produced a behind.  And for the first time in 12 quarters of football in 2014, the Colts led the Devils. By a solitary point.

North Footscray kicked out and found targets, stringing together short kicks and handballs, but they were not advancing far.  Every time they reached open territory, the Colts overwhelmed them and launched another offensive.  And from one of these the ball came to Louis whose long bomb bounced in the square and through for a goal.  The lead was seven points with three or four minutes to play.  The centre bounce was crucial; again the Colts won the clearance and went forward.   NF resisted and cleared only to see Ayui lay the perfect smother.   Felix scooped up a loose ball and led the Devils a merry dance, soaking up precious time.  The ball went deep to the Colts goal line where Noah smothered an attempt to clear, the ball ricocheting through for a behind. It was to be the last score of the match.  The siren sounded moments later. Full time – 5.4 34 : 4.2 26

This was a truly remarkable victory. Not only had the boys won a premiership, they had beaten an outstanding team against the odds. To their great credit, though hugely disappointed, the North Footscray players were gracious and generous in defeat.

The commitment of Eddie and Rob this season has been something to behold. The boys will forever be indebted to the coaching team which engineered an astonishing finals series and that rarest of commodities, a premiership. Thanks also to our exceptional team manager, Mark Otter, and our band of regular assistants, led by Vaughan, Patrick, Anthony, Seth, Brendan and Xavier.

Flemington Colts 5.4 34 def. North Footscray 4.2 26

Goals: Marcus Jackman 3, Frank Otter 1, Louis Hoppe 1.

Best: everyone.

Medal for best afield: Marcus Jackman.

About John Harms

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

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