Almanac Life (and training): It’s 10.30pm



It’s 10.30pm and raining. There’s an owl on the gatepost. I pass within a foot of it, but it’s used to me by now, watching. It’s been a huge day at work. I can’t be bothered running up to the ridge. It’s a 3km solid climb along a winding dirt track, then back down. And two more even higher when I do the 10kms.


Instead I tackle the first 250 metres of our drive, which is still uphill, but gradual. Up and back and again and again for 5.5kms. The owl never once gets sick of me.


I’m pulling about 45 hilly kms per week, and I bloody hate running! And doing about 150 push ups a day, even though I loath push ups! And static squats, and sit ups. Hate them all. But the virus left us locked down in the Otway Ranges. And I’m competing for points against the boys from the club that is dearer to my heart than any – Otway Districts.


That club is everything to me. It taught me just about all my life lessons. My values. It is community, it is no bullshit, it never, ever has tears of players, no cliques. It has kids running around, families, generations. It is loyalty, it is tough, it is bush footy!


I’m running and doing push ups and beach sprints, and deep sand running because, even at 52, I’m competitive. Here’s the gauntlet! Go for it! I want to win.


But, more so, I don’t really want to win, I want to push this generation. I want to come middling to bottom. You put on that jumper, the mighty Demons, I love you. It’s that simple. I want them to have that hunger for competition. I want them to think like footballers! To climb off the lower rungs and into the finals.


To have that strut about them regular finals players have. That confidence that spreads to all levels of their lives. We have no money at this club, there are no big recruits from bigger towns and cities. For as long as I can remember, we hang on, and provide a centre point to an entire ranges. A home to its people. I’d like to say we deserve success, but nobody does. Ever.


You earn it.


Up and back down, I keep passing the owl. The rain keeps coming.


My mind drifts to a coach I had in the Amateurs. We’d gone up a Division, yet lost many players. We were losing week in, week out, often badly. Our skills were woeful. Our fitness pathetic.


The coach decided that, as we were losing by so much, to only train us for 20 minutes each night. He and I argued. He told me, “Their confidence is down. I don’t want to make it worse!’


What could be worse than treating them like babies! I tried to explain to him that football is about character!



winning. That is a bi-product. It’s about always wanting to be better than you already are. No matter how good you are. If you’re the best in the team, be better. It’s about working on your weaknesses. It’s about making your teammates into better players. It’s about playing the game in a team way. It’s about not accepting defeat! Even when you’re losing by 20.


I tried to tell him; “We aren’t getting pride on the field. At least train our guts out, treat us like men. Give us pride on the track. Let us feel like footballers!”


He assumed I was plotting a coup. That I wanted my border-line spot in the Ones back. That wasn’t true. I just gave a shit about my teammates.




Life is built around it. Success is built around it. Most of life’s luxuries are paid for by it. Give good, get good, as my mate Danny Young tells me.


I want to do 10kms. My legs have it in them, but I have another hard labouring day ahead, followed by Dad time with my little girl, dinner, etc… And work on my writing. Sometimes I don’t get out for my runs until midnight. Five hours sleep is normal.


Writing and football. I simply couldn’t achieve all I do with my books, and a day job, and be a good, energetic dad, without the fitness of football.


The owl’s usually there, fascinated or laughing.


Due to a quirk in our points system, we get 5 for a 5km run, 10 for a 10km run. Yet 3 for 25 push-ups. A lot of the boys are smashing out the push-ups, and good on them. I love the competitiveness! But that’s not thinking like footballers. I bet every finals team throughout the country are putting run into their legs. Each one! Because they think like finals players. Because they know it takes work. And legs are the cornerstone.


Every Otway player is golden! Every! You don’t know them, but you do. Just the most ripper fellas. Good footballers, better people. The same goes for the coaches. I could never thank them enough for being my teammates. The young bloke who is winning this comp is a c.h.a.m.p.i.o.n!


I want them all to have the hunger like he does. To realise the pride that goes into wearing that jumper.


But, also, to think like footballers.


Get some run into ya boys! Kick the footy at the goals, then sprint for it, kick it out and sprint again. Do that for 5kms. And then do some push-ups.


Now, there’s a footballer!!


Kick out from fullback, run, gather, kick, run gather kick until you’re having a shot at the other end, no time to breathe, repeat back down the other end, and again! Just five of them will give you football running, ball handling. Will give you fitness!


Everyone can run faster, can run longer. Can work harder to make game day seem easier. You’ll be improving yourselves as footballers. As people. And refusing to accept your great club’s current station. You have no idea how lucky you are to be young and fit and alive in this great, safe country, at this great club, playing this game from Heaven!


To ALL the blokes out there, from all the clubs, go for a run, you wakers! Bring a footy!


I say goodnight to the owl on the last run back down the drive. The rain has eased. I take the phone out of its plastic bag, checking my time, almost angry with myself I didn’t do the 10kms.




You can read more of Matt ‘Old Dog’ Zurbo’s stories by clicking here.


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  1. Brilliant, Old Dog.
    It is great to see the fire is still burning!

  2. Rulebook says

    Old dog as always,LOVE the passion you bloody lunatic ( and that is a compliment)

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Haha, thanks legends!

  4. E.regnans says

    Love the philosophy and your action, M Zurbo.
    I reckon Albert Camus would advocate for an absurd life of doing.
    Love it.
    Play on.

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    You sure know some obscure books Mt Wilson. I’ll look it up!

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