A good game of footy

What constitutes a good game of footy? That is, how good a game a player plays. I’d rather grab a fistful of rain (W Zevon reference) than try to pull that one apart. But here goes.

For several years, as the Secretary of the local junior football club I was the bank where our best and fairest votes were stored. I wasn’t actually a bank. I just kept the votes, sealed as they were in Safeway envelopes, tattered and smudged from being written on in wet and cramped conditions, in a shoe box at the bottom of a cupboard. To think of the weight and excitement that lay in those numbers, deep in the dark recess of a cupboard, biding their time as the ebb and flow of a family life carried on around them.

At season’s end each coach would come to my place and over a cuppa and a laptop, with a well organised spreadsheet, we would conduct the official count. This is in its own small way a serious moment. There are many things to note of such a ritual but what captured my interest was how we actually determine a game well played.

In any team there are 6 outstanding players so a Best and Fairest isn’t really much of a representative story of the team. Only one of three or four players really stands a chance. What stood out through the count were players who collected 2 votes or 3 (out of a 5 vote system) in 6 or so games. What did they do, and how do they develop their best skills? Not to be a champion footy player but maybe to turn those skills into qualities that’ll help them beyond the white line.

On Sunday morning Mercedes was getting ready for a 10am game. Against Greensborough. At 8.30 she was still in a sleepy mood. She blamed us for keeping her the night before, watching a pretty ordinary Tina Fey movie. Point taken.

As the team readied for the contest, ten minutes before the first bounce, she told me she was so tired. You know, you know your own. I could tell she was barely focussed. I gave her some trite quasi-Lombardi go-get ‘em chant and she just sighed.

Then the team was away, running down the slippery embankment from the Falcons clubrooms to the damp spongy footy field that is AH Capp Reserve. The ground lies between the undulating curves of Merri Creek and the remnants of an old clay quarry cut into Silurian sedimentary rocks.

The Falcons are a cut above Greensborough and as the game wore on it showed. Mercedes is one of the Falcons more experienced players as well as one of their best. She is a utility player in the old language. Can play off the back flank is you need a walled defence, play in the midfield for the in and under grunt work (think Jordan Lewis) and spends time roving the forward line.
On Sunday she wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Just a beat off her usual rhythm. That’s not to say she turned in a bad game or telephoned it in (it’s not within her to do that). She got into the game but her handpass wasn’t clean and she wasn’t best positioned around clearances. At half time she said she was bloody stuffed.

In the Last the coach moved Mercedes into the forward line. The Falcons’ best players, Karly, Chloe and Karmen were carrying the load, holding the backline and running the ball forward. Others were doing their bit and best. At three quarter time the score was 4.12 to 0.2.

The Falcons scored 3.4 in the last quarter, Mercedes kicked 2.2 and was the direct goal assist (snap handpass outa the pack to a running player) for the third. She was on fire. The sleep had all but evaporated and in turn we saw the real deal. Running, tackling, getting first to the ball. Turning it on.

How does a player determine whether they’ve played a good game of footy? Mercedes wouldn’t count this game as one of her best. Yet she was directly responsible for thirty percent of the final score, as well as many other contributions she made. In another game that effort may have been the thing that won the game.

Effort is relative. A game is alive for four quarters. Each player has a job to do. Some players are much more skilled than others. So we expect more of them. But does the kid who had four tackles and three kicks go home knowing he played a ripper because up until that game he had hardly ever touched the ball. If a coach recognized that effort and praised it would we see dramatic improvement?

The game is a fine thread of many cogs (to smash a couple of metaphors together) turning, turning. While I watched Mercedes game intently someone else was watching their daughter as intently. They saw what I may have missed. They say their daughter apply a ripper shepherd as Karly bolted away. And thought, wow, my kid made that play happen.

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day


  1. Concerned Citizen says

    “While I watched Mercedes game intently someone else was watching their daughter as intently. They saw what I may have missed. They say their daughter apply a ripper shepherd as Karly bolted away. And thought, wow, my kid made that play happen.”

    I love that Rick. Makes me think what my Dad thought when he saw me hearing footsteps. I think it was ‘Wow, my boy has amazing hearing; bet his audiogram reading would spike off the scales!”

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