Local Footy: Vermont forwards show the value of keeping your mind on the game

By Paul Daffey

Five minutes after the siren went at Vermont to signal a comfortable, eight-goal win for the home team over Eastern Football League rival Blackburn on Saturday, I cut my son from the herd of kids swarming across the playground and told him we were going to the dressing-rooms to say hello to one of the players. Paul Bunn is a mate of a mutual friend who played with him at the Perth footy club in the WAFL. Bunny’s from Bright. He played with the Northern Bullants and he played in Myrtleford’s ill-starred grand final teams of a few years ago before heading west. My mate says he’s one of the best blokes you’ll ever meet. I liked the way Bunny had gone about his game on Vermont forward Ash Froud. He’s a broad-shouldered defender of limited panache but loads of eyes-on-the-road dedication. He has a solidity about him. I decided to introduce myself and pass on the regards of our mutual mate.

During the 1990s, a stream of Vermont players went to Blackburn to take on assistant coaching roles and play out their careers in division two. Sometimes the traffic went the other way, with gun Burners players trying to make the grade with the Eagles. Now that the two clubs vie with each other in the upper reaches of division one, there’s a rivalry. The Burners have aspirations of matching their purple and gold neighbours. Early in the season, Blackburn were up the top and Vermont were down the bottom, but since the long weekend in June the Eagles have taken flight. This loss hurt Blackburn. By the look on the faces of players and officials after the match, they sensed just how far they had to go before they could challenge for a division-one flag. It was amid this scene of players picking at their stops and gazing at discarded bandages on the floor that Bunny chanced past.

I stopped him and introduced myself. Bunny nodded but he looked awkward. Maybe this wasn’t the time to chat. I led off with some small talk.

“What’s it like to play on him?”

“Um, pretty tough,” he said.

Pause.

“I thought you did all right.”

“I couldn’t go with him over the first ten.”

“He would have only kicked a couple, surely?”

Bunny paused again.

“Six, I think.”

I felt like a complete dill. No backman wants some unknown bloke dagging off him after he’s had six kicked on him, especially if it sounds like the bloke’s been at another game. I bade my farewell. We left Bunny alone.

During the week I’d been looking forward to this game, in part because of the growing rivalry between Vermont and Blackburn, bust mostly because I wanted to see the Vermont forward duo Matt Greig and Ash Froud. Greig, the stringbean son of Keith, is renowned for launching himself on to the shoulders of defenders and kicking buckets of goals. My appetite to see Froud was whetted when he kicked six for the Eastern league combined team against the Amateurs during the bushfire benefit match at Ringwood on the eve of the season. Amateurs people raved about the half-forward who was deadly from anywhere on the fifty-metre arc. I love watching a natural forward. To my mind, goalkicking is the most underrated skill in footy. Players are natural goalkickers or they’re not. Froud sounded to me as instinctive a forward as plays local footy. I was keen to see him.

The day started at the Vermont lunch. I was there at the invitation of Dean Matthews (still a handy local footballer himself with Bulleen-Temp) from Lion-Nathan; he was hosting a sponsor’s day. I had a guilty chuckle at host Tony Jones (he based his early speech on Sam the Koala) and I enjoyed meeting Andrew Lamprill, the former Melbourne player who coached Vermont to flags in 1998 and 2001. Lamps is now back in Hobart, bringing up four kids. At Vermont he was happy to see old faces. It’s a rare footy person who dislikes going back to a club where he’s had success.

Halfway through the first quarter I was still chatting to officials inside the social rooms. I find it hard to chat and watch intently, so I went outside and stood in front of an old garage on the wing. My son sat on the roof of the garage behind me. Craig Gislingham, a Vermont legend, joined me for the second quarter. Several old players around us were tucking into the sponsor’s product but Craig had a cup of white tea in a plastic cup. He played in a record ten premierships with the Eagles then went to Lilydale and Wandin as playing-coach. I saw him play in a Yarra Valley league premiership with Wandin in his last year of footy.

If ever a leader dragged his team towards a flag like a bullock drags a stump, this was it. Craig had a nose for the footy like a weatherman has a radar for rain. Time and again he mustered the ball and drove his team into attack — up the middle, around the boundary, relentlessly forward with low drop punts. Andy Goodwin, Gislingham’s teammate at Richmond for a brief time in the ’80s, took four marks at half-forward to keep the ball trapped in Wandin’s attack. Goodwin won the medal for best on ground, but I thought Gislingham’s performance in relentlessly driving his team forward was one of the best performances by a leader I’d seen. It was a pleasure to meet him on the wing at Vermont.

We got to talking about Froud, which you must when you’re at a match at Vermont. Gislingham said the blond forward was from Bairnsdale. When he was a teenager with AFL aspirations, the Gippsland Power coaches told him he had to choose between footy and cricket. He chose to leave the Gippsland Power and play both. He arrived at Vermont through a cricket mate. Vermont people count their lucky stars.

Froud has dyed blond hair but he looks unprepossessing. Maybe it’s his low centre of gravity and splayed feet. His duck-like walk does nothing to suggest swift movement. His permanent cheeky smile suggests a recent stint in a hammock. Yet by circling the area in front of the goalsquare he has the air of being dangerous. I saw him do little early in the match but I was unsure whether that was because I was talking too much.

I saw Greig do even less. Then, just in front of the garage, he had a set shot from 45 metres out on a 45-degree angle. He hunched his reed-thin body over the ball. He placed the ball on his left boot just so, like he was putting a cuppa on the table and he was wary of spilling it. The ball curled perfectly through the goals. Supporters cheered and players jogged in to give high-fives. Greig’s first goal of the match enabled him to break Garry Oakman’s club record of 581 goals. The milestone was significant but the reception was subdued, even with a crowd of more than 2000. The game was yet to reach any heights.

I spent half-time in the Vermont trophy room at the officials’ function. Just as I was about to return outside, George Gislingham, Craig’s 80-year-old father, pulled me up. I met George at a Vermont function a decade ago. He’s one of those blokes who never forgets anyone. He said Peter Turner, a ruckman from South Australia, was the best player he’d seen at the club.

I arrived back in front of the garage just in time to see Froud and Bunny jostle at half-forward. Froud spun around his opponent, marked the ball while running with the flight and then speared a 50-metre drop punt through the goals. His series of actions in moving from a standing start to accelerating towards goal had to be seen to be believed. Vermont fans clapped and shook their heads in a knowing way. I imagined an upturned hammock. I also sensed I’d missed something. The gist of the out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth comments around me was that the goal was another one in a series of gems since half-time. I resolved to find out more about Peter Turner.

That was it, really, for the Froud Show. He kicked a routine goal in the last quarter and a behind that should have been a goal. Greig had the more lively finish. He marked out wide on the right side for a left-footer but pushed the ball across the goals. Late in the quarter he rounded a defender, then stepped in front of him and leapt into a chest mark. After landing, he pushed away another defender with an exaggerated shove. After again curling the ball perfectly through the sticks, he turned to the crowd and traced the path of an uppercut. He left his fist poised in the air in celebration. The siren went with the Eagles 49 points ahead.

That night I looked on the internet and discovered that Froud had kicked seven and Greig five. Before the game I would have killed for such tallies as they would signal joyous, unbridled goalkicking. Instead I felt dudded. Froud had begun his tally before I got out of the social rooms and then booted two beauties while I was chatting to George in the trophy room. I missed others as well. It was all there but I was paying too little attention.

So, apologies to Paul Bunn for my gaucheness and ignorance; I hope you can quell the Bairnsdale Bandit the next time you play on him. As for my quest to see Froud and Greig on fire, I’ll just have to go to another Vermont game and shut my trap.

Comments

  1. Damian Watson says:

    Good stuff Paul,
    It must have been an awkward moment with Bunny!
    I have been inside the rooms of a couple of EFL clubs after a loss and the mood is just as solemn as the atmosphere surrounding an AFL club after a loss. The players are motionless.

    Good to see Tony Jones at an EFL function (with Channel 9 sponsoring the league)
    I think he is an avid supporter of the Balwyn Senior Teamas he has mentioned the club a few times on the Sunday Footy Show when he hosted it, he was also good friends with Mick McGuane who coached the team a couple of years ago.

    Good to see Vermont continuing their form, they certainly have an impressive forward line.

    How about Knox causing that boilover with Noble Park, prevailing by just one point!
    Despite the loss to Scoresby last week I think we have done enough to stay outside the bottom two.

    Looking forward to your radio show tonight.

    Damo

  2. Awkward much?
    i wonder what i would have got out of him if i did an interview.

    Me: ‘so Bunny, tell me do you think you were as pretty as your opponent?

    Lol :)
    Danni

  3. pauldaffey says:

    Danielle,

    Bunny’s a good-looking man. You might like him. But I must admit I didn’t get on to that line of questioning.

    Damo,

    I think Noble Park lost by two points and one point in successive weeks. Makes you wonder whether sacking the coach was the right move after all.

    I hope for your sake that Knox stay up. It sounds like they deserve to.

    Vermont have won their last 10 and appear to be on track for another grand final appearance, although it’s not guaranteed. It’s not as if the clubs above them have fallen away.

    Yes, Tony Jones is a Balwyn man. He made several references to it during the lunch.

    Mickey McGuane is now at Keilor. I never understood why he left Balwyn.

  4. pauldaffey says:

    PS. Damo, I actually emailed Bunny the piece before I put it up on the site. He had no problems with it going up. He was just disappointed for me that I didn’t see Froud in full flight.

    Even Froud’s opponents admit he’s an amazing player.

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