100% For 100 Minutes

The mood of a losing Grand Final team is very hard to describe. The first word that comes to mind is desolation. While each member of a team is one of a group of 22, the feeling of each is one of loneliness and emptiness. So it was on the grass of Robertson Oval, Wagga following the Farrer League Grand Final last Saturday. As the players and supporters of The Rock-Yerong Creek (TRYC) sang and cheered, having won their second flag in five years, their counterparts from East Wagga-Kooringal (EWK) lay sprawled on the turf, mostly in silence. There was the odd consolatory pat on the back from senior Coach, Gavin McMahon, some comfort from loved ones, but most stared into the distance, tears welling.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. EWK went through the home and away season undefeated. Looking back on the season, though, TRYC was always a danger team for the Hawks. The only two of their 16 wins that they even looked troubled came against the Magpies. In the first match-up EWK came through for a 17 point win, the second one was by only five points. Then there was the Second Semi. Despite finishing some five games behind EWK on the ladder, it was TRYC that ran out winners by four goals.

Grand Finals are not won by what went before, though. They are won on the day, and on this day it was The Rock that had the rub of the green. McMahon’s message to his players was to give “100% for 100 minutes” and no one could suggest they did anything other than that. Unfortunately, even though they threw everything they had at it, they never quite did enough to keep TRYC out of the game.

The first quarter was one way traffic for the Hawks. It took almost eight minutes to register their first goal, the first of three to Christian Kelly, but they totally dominated general play. East Wagga looked fitter and hungrier, and they hit the contest harder than The Rock. Setting the standard was Nathan Scott in the middle, while Brocke Argus on the wing gathered plenty of touches. For all their dominance, though, missed opportunities meant that they didn’t give themselves the lead they should have. At quarter time it was EWK 3.4.22 to TRYC 0.0.0.

McMahon repeated to his players that they need to give 100% for 100 minutes at the quarter time huddle, and that at that stage they had given 100% for 25 minutes. He lauded the great work of the Hawks’ backline. Veteran Chris Jackson, playing his last game, at fullback, alongside Blake Aichinger and Trent Garner had indeed been superb. It was time, McMahon said, to harness their emotion and intensity and keep it going for the next three quarters.

The second quarter was a different tale to the first. While EWK scored the first goal, a brilliant snap shot by Kelly while being flung to the ground, from about the halfway point of the quarter The Rock started to lift. After the Magpies had kicked their first two goals, the Hawks’ intensity started to drop. Momentum was shifting. From there it was a shootout until The Rock found themselves only three points in arrears, thanks largely to full-forward, Andy Carey, starting to get on top of Jackson. It was only two goals in time-on that gave EWK a bit of breathing space at the half time break.

The mood in the East Wagga rooms at the long break was positive. They got what they expected from a quality opposition. It was never going to be a walkover against a solid team such as TRYC. McMahon was sure to remind his men that it was important not to panic, that “It’s between our ears where the result will come from now.” Veteran players such as Kassidy Argus and Brenton Roberts were in full voice, encouraging and inspiring their teammates.

There was talk during the week of expectation and pressure on EWK. The pressure of having lost to The Rock two weeks earlier. The pressure of having lost the Grand Final to Temora a year earlier. The expectation from having gone through the season without a loss. According to Marc Geppert, who kicked 100 goals for the Hawks in 2015, Grand Finals are a “clean slate,” and that “there’s not expectation but there’s a bit of hope from the East Wagga-Kooringal community. They haven’t won one since ’82 and it’d be nice to win one, especially after we went out in pretty ordinary fashion last year.”

That hope of the EWK community was in stark evidence among the crowd. It’s worth noting that among the side on Saturday there were names such as Argus, Cuthbert and Absolum – all names that have had multiple generations involved in the club. Seated on the hill between the interchange benches were members of the Lamprey family whose matriarch, Martha, was involved in the birth of the club some 60 years ago. She could be heard, as always, offering her coaching tips such as “kick the bloody thing!” and “get over and help him.”

Also peppered throughout the crowd were the victorious Reserve Grade players, still in the brown and gold guernseys and enjoying celebratory cans. They had won their game against The Rock earlier in the day, making it back-to-back flags for the twos.

These sights and sounds made the second half even harder to watch. It started well enough. EWK maintained the pressure from the first half, Nick Baggio was winning his contest with TRYC captain-coach, David Pieper, and Nick Hull was totally dominating the ruck. It was a wonderful bit of tap work by Hull that set up the Hawks’ first goal, another one to Christian Kelly, to put the lead out to 20 points. Fast forward a few minutes and it was all the Magpies. They kicked the next five goals, the last four coming in the space of five minutes, taking the lead and extending it to 11 points.

EWK managed to wrestle back the momentum late in the quarter and Geppert, through another assist from Hull, kicked his third goal to finish the quarter. TRYC went into three quarter time with a four point lead, 10.4.64 to 9.6.60.

“This is where you wanna be, don’t ya?,” McMahon asked his players at the huddle, “If you told yourself in February that you’d be line ball at three quarter time in a GF, would you take it? F**kin oath you would!” The game was set up for a classic finish. Both teams had given their 100%, both had had their share of momentum swings. They were playing in front of the biggest Grand Final crowd in Farrer League history. Whichever team could handle the pressure in the last quarter was going to be premiers.

Now was the time for getting the basics right. As McMahon said in his last statement to his players for 2015, “You bloody keep your feet, you do all those Under 12 things right now. All those things we’ve been harping on all through pre-season, all through the year. You concentrate, you’re clean below you knees, you move the footy quick, you get it into our weapons, and you’re gonna win yourselves a f**kin flag!!”

The rev-up worked. The Hawks came out with fire in the belly and an intensity possibly even greater than earlier in the day. The result was a goal inside the first minute to Geppert to put his team back in front by two points. EWK continued with a ferocity of a group of men that had only one thing on their mind, and that was to win a flag. Unfortunately, for all their hard work the last quarter of the 2015 decider was filled with lost opportunities. Following the Geppert goal, EWK had another three shots that all resulted in behinds.

At the halfway mark of the final quarter, the Hawks were a goal up and the Magpies looked to be out on their feet. A victory felt so close you could touch it. At the 13 minute mark, Carey had a shot for The Rock that didn’t even make the distance, and was cleared immediately by James Hodges. Things were going the Hawks’ way. The bench was getting excited. McMahon warned them against getting ahead of themselves, “Be objective. We don’t need cheering.”

Then it happened. Aiden Ridley had been good all day for TRYC. Two minutes from time-on he found a gap through the middle of the ground and slotted a goal from 50 metres out. It was the whole game in a microcosm – while East Wagga had given 100% for 100 minutes, they just couldn’t make it count. Meanwhile, The Rock capitalised on every opportunity, and got a result. Ridley’s goal levelled the scores. EWK 10.10.70 to TRYC 11.4.70.

The next few minutes were as frenetic and frantic as you would expect. Once again it was The Rock that found an avenue to goal, through Carey again. His fourth put his side six points in front and was to be the last of the day. The siren sounded three minutes later.

McMahon had told his players more than once on the day that he wanted “100% for 100 minutes.” He got that and, if possible, more. The looks on the players’ distraught faces said that much. That moment must have seemed hopeless. They’d given everything and just come up short. What more could they do?

The men that took the field for East Wagga-Kooringal on that beautiful Spring day may not have premiership medals, but they most certainly have the respect of their supporters, their club, their coach and their opposition. The Hawks will be back in 2016 and it will take an almighty effort from their fellow Farrer League clubs to beat them.

 

About Josh Pinn

Blogger and Podcaster for footygospel.com

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Josh, it’s not often that I’m following the Farrer League scores on-line, but last Saturday I was.

    Your disappointment comes through loud and clear, but this is a great account of the day. Perhaps it will be used for motivation in 2016.

    Go (EWK) Hawks!!!

  2. That was great Josh. I felt that I didnt miss anything by not being able to attend. Well done again

  3. Good read. Only thing though is a couple of facts aren’t correct… Andy Carey went off for the rock due to Injury and dale Hugo was moved to full forward and kicked the winning goal for the rock… Other than that it was good… UP THE PIES!!

  4. Yes, Karla, you’re quite right. As they say, though, never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

  5. As a country footy follower I found this a great read. The trouble with Grand Finals is the pain is instant if you lose. (it took me 35 years playing sport to win one – lawn bowls! )

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