“This Is Country Footy”

by Michael Filosi

It took just three minutes and one warm up lap before any thoughts of a glowing come back match this Saturday were dashed.  Along with the addition of three extra light towers, I could have sworn the council had increased the dimensions of Tamworth’s No. 1 Oval since I had last run around it.  Eight months of no exercise, save for negotiating the gentle incline of my driveway, will do that to you.  Next time I hear Tour de France cyclists talk about gut busting efforts and burning lungs after they have taken on the Pyrenees, at least I’ll be able to empathise with them.  Yep, I’ve been there, pushing my body to its oxygen consuming limits.  Unlike the professional cycling scene, there was a distinct lack of spectators lining the terraces to cheer me on at Monday night footy training with the mighty Tamworth Kangaroos.  No, I had to grit my teeth and push on without any public fanfare.

It was great to be back, though there were certain parts of my body which would disagree with this sentiment.  The mateship, the laughs, the infinite potential of what this weekend’s match may hold, and I suppose the exercise has its benefits as well.  Tamworth’s No. 1 oval at dusk is a great sight.  The weather worn white pickets are yet to be sullied by advertising, the historic post office clock is visible from the ground and the hills further to the East all add to its charm.

The oval has dual water hazards as its bookends behind the goals.  At its Northern end the Tamworth Olympic Pool ensures a ready supply of extra footballs is needed come game day as long kicks for goal become marooned in the water.  At the Southern end of the ground lies one of the ponds on the edge of Bicentennial Park, where there is a concert on Australia Day during the annual Country Music Festival.   To lodge a ball in the water here requires a little bit more (or less) luck.  An errant kick has to avoid the sightscreen behind the goals, cross the pathway leading to the ground and bounce awkwardly through the pond-side monuments and rock features before finding the drink.

The banana for energy prior to my first training session back seemed like a sensible idea at the time, but thirty minutes into a not particularly strenuous session and I’m at risk of leaving banana deposits dotted around the oval.  Mercifully a drinks break is called and the group comes together to run over what went right and wrong in the victory last Saturday.  Electrical tape, elastoplast and the odd mouthguard are peppered around the ground, evidence of last weekend’s bruising contest against arch-rival Inverell.

As much as we might love to lay claim to it as being our dirt-patch, the ground is first and foremost a cricket oval.  Much to the annoyance of anyone who has ever been tackled to its highly abrasive surface, the cricket pitch remains rock hard on dry days throughout the footy season.  Midfielders are left assessing and comparing multiple grazes and gashes to their limbs after each hard fought match.  Once the heavens open the centre square area quickly turns into a mud-pit.  This is in contrast to the grass on the wings of the field, which can grow long enough to stop a ball in its tracks after just a couple of bounces. This is country footy.

There is plenty of  banter among the group, mostly converts from other codes of football in this traditionally non-AFL state, combined with a few expats from the Southern states who have only ever known Aussie Rules.

The addition of three light towers has allowed night matches to be played at the ground. With just a solitary light tower until six months ago, you ran hard at a ball in the air at your peril with the light behind you, knowing the Sherrin was coming your way but not being able to determine exactly when it would lodge in your hands, or on your head. As a consequence of the better lighting, marking has improved noticeably since I last came out for a run, but not for everyone.

Tin-man lives up to his nick-name as ball after ball clunk off his outstretched hands every time he attempts a mark.  He takes our gentle ribbing with good humour and inadvertently gets his own back at the end of training.  Being the first to leave, he decides to turn the light-towers off, leaving the rest of us scurrying in the darkness in search of our keys, phones, kit-bags and the rest of the footballs.

I make it through my first session back, muscles sore but stomach contents intact. Bring on match day.

Comments

  1. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Great to hear that footy in Tamworth is being played on No 1 Oval and that it now has lights.
    I recall playing against Tamworth when they first started in 1975 on No 2 Oval – it was the size of a primary school ground. The No 1 Oval was used exclusively for rugby and cricket.

    Look forward to seeing you run around on July 17 when the Kangaroos travel to Armidale to play the Nomads!

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