Local Footy: Good-time Tigers keep eyes on the prize

By Paul Daffey

Peter Davis, a committeeman from the St Bede’s-Mentone Tigers, lets out a chuckle as he leads me towards the rooms before the senior match at the club’s home ground in Mentone. “A few of the boys have pre-game superstitions,” he says.

I played with a handful of players who had pre-game rituals at St Bernard’s (which is an Amateurs club very much like the Tigers). Cory Klaaysen washed his car on the morning of a match. Mark Mahady had a haircut before every home game (it was the era of flat-tops). Wayne Carey (our own Wayne Carey) and Rob Purcell had a cup of tea and a smoke on arrival at the ground. At half-time in the seconds, one of them would hide a bit of the Styrofoam from their tea-cup somewhere in the centre square. The other one had to find it during the game and show his mate.

But we had nothing like the St Bede’s boys’ idiosyncrasies. The first thing I see when I walk in the door is midfielder Sam Anstey jogging and handballing in a cheap, shiny blue dressing-gown. I’m disappointed when it doesn’t have “Slammin’ Sam I Am” or “Kid Anstey” emblazoned across the back.  “He wears it up every week during the warm-up,” explains Peter Davis.

Peter McGettigan is doing his warm-up in an old blue and gold basketball singlet that looks like it’s escaped from the family rag-bag. I happen to know Peter’s grandmother. She told me during the week that Peter has an Irish passport. I wonder whether a few friends might chip in and buy him a new Boston Celtics vest for warm-up purposes. “He just seems to like that old singlet,” says Peter Davis.

Midfielder Anthony Scafidi apparently won’t go on to the ground unless he’s the last to sign the team sheet. James Maddocks used to sign it last but he must be a generous soul because he’s handed over that honour. I’m reminded of the tradition in the Australian cricket team of a particular player leading Under the Southern Cross I Stand after a victory. There is no sprig of wattle to be seen next to the St Bede’s team sheet.

Fellow Tigers go about their warm-ups with no great urgency. Key defender Paul Wintle jogs a little, but not much. Talented teenage forward Michael Curcio shakes the hair out of his eyes. Coach Owen Lalor talks about coaching a lot of these blokes in the under-19s.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Tigers players doing a Cossack stomp after their win against Uni Blues. Lalor explains the origin of the stomp. When he was coaching the under-19s, his captain Rob Swain took the “Ooh-ee-ooh, Ooh-ee-ooh” chant from the Wizard of Oz and adapted it for him. With all the players chanting “Ooh-ee-ooh”, it was a natural progression to stomp along. Owie Lalor this season took over as the Tigers’ senior coach when Luke Beveridge left to become the development manager at Collingwood. Lalor’s old under-19 players introduced the stomp into the senior team’s victory celebrations.

I later learn via Google that, in the Wizard of Oz, the guards of the Wicked Witch chant “Ooh-ee-ooh” as they parade outside the witch’s castle. I imagine Owie Lalor would like this story. The notion of him being a wicked witch, or even an intemperate one, is preposterous. In the rooms at Mentone, he laughs about the characters in his team. He thinks the stomp is a hoot. The coach and his players are very relaxed considering they’re about to take on a team that’s won its past 14 games.

Old Xaverians, the A-section powerhouse, had an off-year last year in that they were defeated in an early final. They go into today’s game on top while St Bede’s, the reigning premiers, are second. Despite giving the appearance of warming up for a barbecue, the Tigers are keen to place themselves in the best position to defend their premiership. Their performance against Uni Blues ended a mid-season slump that matched North Melbourne’s June lay-offs in the late ’70s. And today the Tigers are playing at home.

Rival clubs are not keen on the Tigers’ ground. They claim it’s too small for A-grade footy, but Peter Davis tells me it’s not as small as people think. “It’s 160 metres long,” he says.

I say the MCG is 159 metres long. The Brindisi Street fortress is not too small at all.

Peter hesitates. “Maybe it’s not 160 metres goal-to-goal.”

Pause.

“Maybe it’s from fence to fence.”

For a bloke who does the stats for the senior team, Peter seems unsure of his figures. Under severe questioning, he lets out that the ground is about 120 metres wide. I keep it to myself that the MCG is 137 metres wide. Peter actually calls this ground the MCG, as in Mentone cricket ground. He retires to his version of the Olympic Stand to do the stats.

I like the Mentone ground. I played here once, against the St Bede’s College Juniors when I was in Year 9. As a boy from the flood plains of the Maribyrnong River I was impressed that the ground was dry after days of torrential rain. The water seeps through the sand near the Bay, I was told. I looked in vain for palm trees.

After that game the St Bede’s coach was so impressed by our captain, Midge Wade, that he came into our rooms to congratulate one player on carving up his team. Midge stopped playing footy a year later to concentrate on surfing. It’s a sentiment the St Bede’s boys understand. Michael Wintle, the youngest of the three Wintle brothers in today’s team, returned home early in this season after working as a surfing instructor in Morocco.

Today’s north-westerly wind might make for decent waves on the Victorian coast but it’s no help for a footy match. It’s a horrible, blustery thing that whips in towards the south-east forward pocket. Xavs do their best to run the ball upfield, while the Tigers struggle to take advantage of the scoring end. Xavs kick four goals against the wind. They threaten to go into quarter-time with the lead until Tigers forward Peter McGettigan, wearing the No.64 guernsey, takes a mark at half-forward just outside the 45-metre arc.

Even his Tigers teammates have been wayward when kicking from the dead pocket, but McGettigan boots hard and true towards the far behind post. His kick has enough penetration for the ball to maintain its course. Then at the last second it curves over the heads of the pack of players in the goalsquare and blows through for a goal. On a day on which many players are kicking as if they’re trying to perfect the knuckleball, McGettigan’s goal has a decisive air about it.

The Xavs maintain their attack on the ball in the second quarter but the conditions and their opponents frustrate them. They score only two goals with the wind. The Tigers also score two goals. St Bede’s-Mentone Tigers lead by four points at half-time.

The game is in the balance until the Tigers kick three goals in a few minutes in the third quarter. The piece of play that sticks in my mind is a dinky handball from Paul Wintle under pressure at half-forward. It’s the sort of handball you see only in A-grade or representative games. It travels the length of your arm, just enough to free up a teammate. The Tigers boot a goal. I sense the Tigers are running hot when ruckman Daniel Poynton charges through half-forward like a rhino on the savannah and, with the wind directly at his back, bangs the ball through.

In the shadow of three-quarter-time Peter McGettigan takes another strong mark, stretching up in front of an opponent. He’s again at half-forward, but on the other side of the ground to where he kicked his goal in the first quarter. Once again he’s outside the arc. The siren sounds as he lines up. The wind is at his back.

McGettigan follows through like Warren Tredrea. The ball follows a course inside the boundary line as the wind weighs up its options. It threatens to take the ball and shove it across goal like a bully in the playground. But the ball holds its course. It even seems set to pass through the near behinds until, at the last second, it allows itself to be guided through the big sticks for an amazing goal. Tigers teammates jog towards McGettigan while spectators applaud. I wonder at the execution of such a difficult kick at such a tense juncture. It is the goal of a player with a magnificent temperament. It is also the goal of a player who knows intimately this ground and its conditions. The Tigers go into three-quarter time with a three-goal lead.

Xavs lose no friends in the last quarter. Peter Roebuck once wrote of Mark Taylor that he played like a gentleman’s outfitter. You wouldn’t write that about a footballer, but Xavs centreman Tim Clarke is just so tidy. I also admire his fellow midfielders Josh Agius and Nick Dimattina. Matt Handley keeps presenting in his engrossing duel with Paul Wintle. When midfield ball of muscle Joe Mercuri barrels over the boundary line just in front of me, I imagine the fence to be in danger.

Xavs attack. The Tigers attack as well. When Brett Collins kicks in, he sends the ball long and low to the top side, into the teeth of the wind. It’s a credit to his power and technique that the ball reaches the arc. From one such kick-in, the Tigers sweep around the attacking wing before kicking a goal. Xavs continue fighting.

The intensity of the match is typified by a contest at the Xavs centre half-forward area in the dying seconds. The two No.14s, Josh Agius and Simon Richards, approach from opposite directions. They put their heads down and hunch a shoulder as they reach for the ball. Neither flinches. Their bodies collide. The siren goes. The combination of the siren and the impact of bodies seems to produce an expulsion of air across the ground. It’s as if the crowd is in simpatico with the two midfielders. The No.14s get to their feet and shake hands. The Tigers have won by 28 points. It’s been a mighty battle.

In the St Bede’s rooms after the game the players belt out the Tigerland song and sing about being beside the seaside. A few start to chant. Rover Luke Terrell gets down on his haunches and looses a few steps of a crazy Cossack jive, but no one stomps. The players are not euphoric, as they were in the pavilion after beating Uni Blues. They’re relieved. They’ve won this battle but another one is likely during the finals, and on neutral territory.

The Tigers slump on the seats or on the floor exhausted. As they showed before the match, they have perspective.

Comments

  1. i remember seeing something similar on the Collingwood site. i think it was Harry O’Brien. He ALWAYS has to run behind Dale when they run out on the ground and through the banner. Even Dale caught onto it because once Harry forgot and Dale tapped him on the shoulder to remind him!
    Harry also has a habit of Calling Bucks the night before the match for advice on which DVD to watch.

    In my primary school days as a netballer I would only wear anklet socks, no other socks would do! Even when I go to the footy I have to make sure that im not wearing the opposition team’s colours, I’ve paid the price before!

    Danni :)

  2. I knew a player who would put on both boots and then tie the laces on the last boot on, first. (If that makes sense). Had a pretty good win/loss record…

Leave a Comment

*