On the way home from our match against the Leichhardt Cygnets on Sunday I was thinking about a few aspects of our game play. In particular I was thinking about how to get our boys to make better decisions about when to play on, or when to take the free kick; how to better offload the ball when being tackled; and to improve the match ups in defence. We played our opening game of the season against the Cygnets back in April, and back then my thoughts were about teaching the kids to kick, to hand-pass and tackle, the very basics of the game. It occurred to me as I drove home just how much we had improved as a team. We still have to work on kicking and tackling and hand-balling, and at times our concentration still needs work, but our improvements in these areas are impressive. Our passing and marking the ball on Sunday was at times nothing short of brilliant.
At the start of the season we probably had only a couple of players capable of taking a mark under pressure during a game (which is much harder than marking in training with no pressure). In this match nearly every Cockatoo took at least one mark under pressure. In the first quarter we saw Hamish take a great grab at the top of the forward zone. Knowing he was too far out to score he kicked a perfect pass to Jonti just in front of the goal square, and despite being between two defenders Jonti nabbed a big contested mark, and kicked an easy goal. It was one of three contested marks Jonti took during the game, in addition to a number of uncontested grabs.
Hamish also showed his strong hands throughout the match, as did Ivan, including taking a goal saving grab in the opposition’s goal square from a towering Leichhardt kick. Jerry’s composure under the ball has also improved immensely. He has always been strong in getting the contested ball off the ground, but now he is starting to show off his aerial skills as well.
The third quarter was the the Ryan and Ivan show. The first goal of the quarter started with a free kick to Ivan just outside the forward zone. He kicked a perfect pass to Ryan who was in space 20 metres from goal on a 45 degree angle. Ryan nailed the mark and then nailed his kick. Shortly after Ryan returned the favour, marking the ball in the forward wing, executed a perfect chip kick to Ivan in the goal square, who marked, turned and kicked his first. Ivan’s second goal came from a brilliant pass from Ryan who gathered the ball as it entered the forward zone on the left wing. Ryan spotted Ivan tearing towards the goal square so he kicked it in front of Ivan, who gathered the bouncing ball at full pace before slotting the goal. It looked easy but it took great skills from both players. Ryan also had another shot on goal, this time after marking a midfield pass 15 metres from goal.
In between those goals we saw some great passing and marks from Jerry, Hamish, Oscar and Ollie. It was a strong mark from Hamish, were he elected to play on rather than go back, that got me to thinking about decision making. Hamish is one of our more accurate kicks, and can execute pinpoint passes when he has the time. Like every player (including those in the AFL) he finds it harder to kick to a target when under pressure. Sometimes our players need to be reminded that they are not playing rugby where you need to run the ball forward, and that a kicked ball moves much faster than a carried one. The reality is, however, that the fact that I have to start getting the players thinking about tactics and decision making, is a part and parcel of their improved ball use.
Our players have also improved in getting their hands on the contested ball, and stifling the opposition’s run. Jack, Jude, Aza and Ben continue to feature heavily in this skill, and played a key role in limiting the Cygnets to a single goal for the match.
Choosing the winner of the coaches award was particularly difficult this week, because every player could make a case for why they should win. In the end though it was Ollie’s consistency week after week in getting to the hard ball along with his improved ball use that swung the result his way. He had yet another great match, and deserves to be the custodian of our giant Cockatoo statue for the next two weeks.
No games this weekend or the next, with the Manly Spitfires our next opponent on 21 July. In the meantime have a great school holidays, and remember to spend some time over the break kicking a ball to keep those skills improving.