International recruiting still not paying dividends

By Avan Stallard

One of the quirks of playing in the lower grades is that it is the way station for new talent. Fellows who have never touched a football in their life get to thinking: ‘That looks like fun. I could do that.’ And, so, they strap on the boots and join our humble team.

Now, when a chap is new to the game, you never know exactly what to expect. Psychopath in boots? Powder-puff who has made a terrible mistake (‘Mummy, I’m scared’)? Confused fool who just likes to drink red cordial and run around aimlessly? Superstar? We get them all.

That’s what makes footy with the 4s exciting, exasperating, and hilarious all at once. Forget that predictably excellent rubbish they play in the higher grades – straight kicking, clear thinking, ferocious attack – we’ve got unpredictability.

Take the Irishman, John Mulvey. From the moment he joined us for pre-season training, we knew there was something about John. He couldn’t kick to save himself, but when that ball came towards him he ran at it, straight and angry. That’s right, angry – at the ball. Who gets angry at the ball? Angry at the opposition, certainly, but John had no opposition at training, just the ball. So, he ran at it, angry.

More times than not it would smack into his chest and rebound 20 metres away. There was always the gesture of flailing arms, but I think the truth is that John considered each of those marking contests an opportunity to shirtfront the ball. Hate the ball.

So it was that everyone was looking forward to see this crazy brick of Irish aggression hit the packs in round 1. But wouldn’t you know it? Struck down by the shits. Crapped through the eye of a needle for a fortnight. Must have been the cane sugar in our beer. Just doesn’t belong.

Anyway. This weekend, John finally made his debut. And I tell you what, it was exciting. My instructions to him were clear: get the ball, get the ball, hit someone, get the ball.

Said ball is bounced in the centre, John comes barreling in from the wing. Ball spills, John swoops and he has it. A quick jig, and he’s off, running in a straight line. He’s unstoppable. It’s amazing. The whole ground just stops and watches. No-one was ever going to touch him. And he runs and runs, and we just watch. And he runs some more. And then he’s 30 metres out and onto his boot, and whammo – through the big sticks. And then the umpire blows his whistle. John: you can’t run 40 metres without bouncing the ball. Love the unpredictability.

Then there is Ray – another Irishman wet behind the ears. At training, Ray helps with the game-day conditions by sending the ball careening off the side of his boot – much like most of our kicks on the weekend. I pulled Ray up on Thursday and asked him, “Mate, what’s going through your head when you’re dropping that ball?” In his fetching Irish lilt, Ray replies, “Ai, laddy, I know well what my foot and hand best be doing, but do it they won’t.” ‘Tis true, ‘tis true.

Game day. Ray takes a spell in the forward line. A bold move. The ball comes into a contest. As drilled throughout the week, the forwards get to the contest to crumb. Ray’s in a good position and he comes up with it. There’s Robina sea-gulls everywhere. I expect Ray to lose his mind and do something…unpredictable. Lose his mind he didn’t, but what happened was certainly unpredictable.

Ray stands up, runs a few metres to his right, looks up at the goals, steadies himself, composes his mind, three steps, drops the ball, and it effortlessly sails through for a goal. Brilliant.

But it’s not all Irishmen. Nick Majeau is everything you’d expect of a Canadian: clean-shaven, well-dressed, and polite. So, good-bloke, but not exactly the stuff of a mongrel footballer.

Oh how wrong we can be. Nick was asked to do something both simple and difficult: stay in the goal-square, get the ball when it comes to ground. The only problem is that while the side is still finding its attacking feet, there’s not a huge amount of ball going up forward. When that happens the urge to push up-ground and get the ball is almost irresistible.

But that’s where Nick’s wholesome goodness comes in to play – he has discipline. He stayed in that miserable goal square all day, only receiving a handful of opportunities. But when he had the opportunities, he made the most of them, crumbing the ball with implausible skill and ease for a 6 foot 6 greenhorn. With three goals for the day, we’ve found our full forward.

As for how the game played out, it went like this. First quarter, great contest. Best footy we’ve played. Second quarter, Robina piled on the goals. Their full-forward should have been playing for the Lions. Third quarter, good contest. Fourth quarter, Robina piled on the goals. That’s two good quarters, two slightly ugly quarters. The day we put together four of those good quarters, we’ll be a real chance. Especially if John learns to bounce the ball.

(Final mention must go to Rob Baker. He doesn’t look like much – well, a bit like a metrosexual if we’re being honest – but when he took the ground he showed some real commitment in the backline. He took some crucial marks in defence and was willing to put his body on the line. He’s another surprise package.)

2.4 to 5.2
3.5 to 12.5
6.6 to 17.8
7.8.50 to 25.10.160

Goal Kickers: Nick Majeau 3, Owen Stephens 1, Tom Gould 1, Ben Nilsen 1, Ray Argue 1
Best Players: Martin Saunders, Cameron Scott, Bort Edwards, Tom Gould, Ben Nilsen, Sean Hart

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo9, Anna8, Evie6. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

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