Local Footy: Oopy’s oration stirs players and supporters to score win for the ages

By Darren Dawson

Almost two weeks on from my old club’s stunning grand final victory, it is only now that the hairs on the back of my neck have begun to settle down.

Having been comprehensively defeated by D1-section rivals Peninsula Old Boys in the second semi, Willy CYs had fought back through the preliminary final to earn another shot at the Pirates. The grand final was a see-sawing affair. An arm-wrestle between the experienced bigger bodies of Peninsula and the youthful running types from Williamstown. At three-quarter time, the game was up for grabs.

The odds were stacked against the Williamstown boys. Only eighteen fit men. Only thirteen points up and kicking into a stiff breeze in the last quarter. Backs well and truly against the wall. This could be a day when heroes were made: Coops had dislocated his shoulder in the first half, but returned to the field to kick an inspiring goal before suffering a second dislocation; Chickenhead could hardly run at training on Friday, had nonetheless declared himself fit, but was now stopped to a walk; young Fin’s ankle had blown up, but he too had returned to the field; and Jules’s groin was severely curtailing his run. We were in trouble.

Alan “Oopy” Elliott is a club legend: former comp best-and-fairest winner and premiership captain (both in 1984), team of the century captain, club life member. Upon sensing that the club needed an experienced hand to develop a talented crop of youngsters before the 2008 season, Oopy had again put his hand up to coach the club, this time in D2-section. He and club were rewarded with the club’s first flag in 24 years. The premiership went some way towards  healing the pain of Oopy’s three grand final losses as coach in the ’90s. Before last year’s grand final, the CYs were raging favourites. This year we were very much the underdog.

The many supporters who bustled out onto Waverley’s Central Reserve for the coach’s address at the final change wore faces of concern. Looks that said it had been a gallant effort, but at the very least we would be promoted to D1 as runners-up. Enter Oopy Elliott. His first request was for the players to gather close, sit and rest. His second request was for the throng of supporters to move in closer. He was no longer the hot-gospeller who flogged us on the track after losses, as happened in my playing days, but he could still strip the paint off the changing-room walls if he thought the players needed a rev-up. It would be interesting to see which direction he took at this juncture.

He began quietly and thoughtfully. Rather than address the players, he spoke to the group as a whole: players, assistants, trainers, relatives, past players, supporters … everyone. Not denying the reality of the situation and the effort required, but emphasising it. He reflected on the year’s journey, and the destination at which we now found ourselves. He said we were all in it together. He asked us all to gather in even closer.

I began to feel as if I were again playing. I was ready to take the field. These people will bring us home, he said, pointing to us supporters. Could we do it? Yes, I heard myself yell. Yes we can. Leaving the oval as the siren blared, I was confident. I was empowered. I was ready to scream myself hoarse for one final quarter. And those aforementioned neck hairs were bristling.

In the season’s final stanza, there were many acts of courage from both teams which were befitting of a tough grand final. But the Willy boys (and their supporters) hung on, in no small part inspired by an ingenious oration. It truly was a win for the ages.

While enjoying a quiet beer in the Stag’s Head last Friday night, one of the regulars ambled past and said, “What about that three-quarter time speech, hey?” Like a couple of old salts talking of our days at sea, we reminisced about an event that was not even a week old! Suddenly, I had visions of similar conversations taking place at other pubs around Williamstown; and the hairs on the back of my neck began standing to attention all over again.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Loretta Murphy says:

    Darren, I’m guessing that is the Darren Dawson I went to school with at St. Mary’s! Was just doing some research on the Willy CYMS as dad was given an award as part of the team of the century – Tom Murphy. You probably didn’t make the connection! Such a long time ago now. Often wondered what happened to all my St Mary’s buddies!!

  2. Have we become an old-flames hook-up site?

    All part of the service …

  3. Loretta, you assume correctly.
    32 years is a long time. Check out the Cys’ website for any info you may need.
    Cheers
    DD.

  4. Greg Leitch says:

    Darren, great read, well written. You should have takena different path in life mate and been a writer or journo.

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