On Sunday we returned to Frank Gray Oval in Curl Curl to take on the Manly Phantoms. Manly’s other U9 team, the Lightenings, had given us a bit of a touch up earlier in the season, so we were expecting a tough game. And so it proved.
The Phantoms had a couple of big strong players, who used their physicality to good effect, in particular number 24, who had a great fend to go with his imposing size. The problem for the Cockatoos however was not so much the physicality of the game, but the lack of support our boys were providing. Too often we would have one player on his own playing against three opponents, so even when we won the ball, there was no-one in support to offload the ball to when the inevitable tackle came. Too many of our players were waiting for someone else to win the ball, or sitting back waiting to intercept the long kick. It made it far too easy for the Phantoms midfield to get the ball forward, and put our defence under constant pressure. Our backline of Jonti, Oscar and Jude did a good job of repelling their forwards, but they had to work a lot harder than they should have, and couldn’t stop every goal. Jonti’s abiltiy to clear the ball out of the back line with that powerful left foot of his meant we did get the ball into our forward line from time to time, but it was far too little in the first quarter.
The Cockatoo’s Coach was not a happy one at quarter time. It was not so much that we were being beaten, but that we were allowing ourselves to be beaten. The second quarter was a slight improvement. but still we were failing to work as a team. Ivan did a mountain of work in defence getting his hands on the ball and working it forward, including taking a couple of strong marks. Jerry and Aza lifted their intensity following Ivan’s lead. Our midfield started to win the ball, particularly Jonti and Jude who both worked together to get to the ball and to pass it off to the other player in space. We were able to make a bit of an impact on the scoreboard, but we were still playing well below the standard we set ourselves in the previous two weeks.
At half-time our players came off the field grumpy and sore. The main message at half time was to use that grump to get their hands on the ball, and to work together as a team. To that point the Phantoms were showing us the benefit of team-work, and we were not.
The message must have gotten through, because what came next for the last two quarters was some of the best footy our boys have played. They did indeed use that grump to get to the footy first, and were backing each other up and being there for the hand-off if the Phantoms were able to tackle. They applied enormous pressure on the Phantoms, and minimised the impact of that big number 24. Best goal of the game came from Jerry scrambling to the ball after a ball up, passing to Jonti, who kicked into the forward line, where it was crumbed by Aza, notwithstanding he was outnumbered. While being tackled he hand-balled to Jude in space, and Jude ran in front of goal, about 15 metres out, steadied himself and kicked the ball perfectly through the middle of the big sticks. It was a great team goal, with Jude’s composure and poise in front of goal the cherry on the cake!
The last quarter saw Ryan playing head and shoulders above the other midfielders (not bad for the shortest guy on our team). He took running marks, won the contested ball, and kicked into the forward line with precision, setting up a number of goals. When he didn’t have the ball, he chased, tackled and pressured the opposition. Whether the ball was in our back zone, midfield or forward zone our boys were hard at the ball, and hard when they didn’t have the ball. Jerry made a number of goal saving tackles in defence, always supported by Jude and Ivan. Ryan, Aza and Ollie worked hard to get the ball in the forward zone, and Jonti, Hamish and Oscar finished off their hard work with great goals.
Despite an inglorious first half, we more than made up for it in the second, giving us good cause to sing our team song at the end of the match. Four quarters played like the last two and we can match any team in the competition.
The decision on who should win the coaches award came down to the players who contributed for the full four quarters. Ryan had an exceptional second half, Jude had one of his best games, including his first goal for the season, Aza worked hard to get to the ball, and Jerry ran out the game superbly. However there were only two players who played hard for all four quarters, being Ivan and Jonti. In the end Jonti just shaded Ivan for the award. In the first two quarters Jonti was everywhere. Including chasing down his own kicks when our players failed to win the ball. He continued with the same intensity in the second half. He kicked two great goals (albeit one when he was a midfielder, which despite Jonti telling the umpire that he was not a forwarded, was still called a goal), and helped set up a number more. He played a big part in neutralising that big number 24, including winning the ground ball off him, and using his pace and strength to get into space, and laying multiple effective tackles. That does not downplay the game that Ivan played, it took an exceptional effort to shade him this week.
This weekend is the June long week-end which means NO game this Sunday. As we will have most of our team away, there will also be NO TRAINING this Thursday night. We will resume training next Thursday, 13 June 2019 at the usual time and place. Have a great week in the meantime and I will look forward to seeing you next week.