Almanac U18 NFL Grand Final: Want it … Maintain the pressure … Have fun

On Sunday I was cruising along Yan Yean Rd, this side of Yarrambat, making my way from Mernda to Doncaster. The sun was out, radiating an almost healthy dose of vitamin D and shine. The road meanders past Plenty Gorge Parklands, Yellow Gums providing a ramshackle veranda canopy across the brittle blue sky, peppered with clouds. Two young lovers picnicking are surely seeing delightful images in the cloud formations. Phenomenon, a song from M Ward’s new album was playing on shuffle. Lovely country waltz. Next up, Delirium by case/lang/veirs.

 

I had left Waterview Reserve in Mernda about twenty minutes before. I was smiling my head off. I had just seen the Darebin Falcons U18s Girls footy team defeat Montmorency Magpies in the Grand Final. Our daughter, Mercedes, has played for the Falcons since 2013. She has already played in several Grand Finals (one win, one loss) but this one was extra special.

 

It was a terrific win. But I couldn’t stay to be part of their celebrations. So I was enjoying my own low key revelry when the phone rang. It was Mercedes’ sister Madeline calling to inform me that Cyril Rioli had been at the game. What the! Turns out Cyril is related to one of Mercedes’ team-mates and he had come to enjoy the Grand Final. What a win he got to see.

 

If Cyril was told the story of the Falcons v Montmorency tensions it would surely have made this win even more enjoyable. These two teams played off in last year’s GF. Only, things were a little different then. The Magpies had a list of 32 players in 2015. The Falcons struggled through the year with barely 18. Still, they made it to the GF. On the day Monty had 14 on the bench, the Falcons didn’t have a bench. Monty were rolling 6 new players into the game every 5 minutes. The Falcons lost.

 

At half time the Falcons coach, Elise Casamento, looked at her dispirited team and gave one of the best speeches I have heard. She acknowledged the scoreboard and the odds. She acknowledge that the sky was falling down. Then she asked her team if they were having fun. What? She said, win or lose you at least have to enjoy your footy. That’s the bottom line. Get a kick, help your team-mates, have some fun. And that was that.

 

A big crowd was gathered at the very impressive Waterview Reserve, home of the Mernda Football/Netball Club (https://scoreboardpressure.com/2016/05/02/mernda-waterview-reserve-victoria/). The Grand Final is played at a neutral ground and this is a good choice. Someone tells me the ground is the exact size of the MCG, Mernda’s second oval is the size of Etihad. They take their footy serious up this way. There’s a coffee cart with a waiting line, barby is in full swing and there is a good-natured feeling in the air, aided by the sunny conditions and the bonhomie a Grand Final brings.

 

Inside the clubrooms the Falcons are getting ready. The individual warm ups are taking place. Players are stretching, using rolling tubes to strengthen muscles, some players are kicking the footy to themselves or handballing in pairs and there is, er hair-braiding. The music is pumping. Players have the team stripes across both cheeks, battle ready. There is a fit list of 23 players (that’s a first this year). You can sense their excitement.

 

Elise, the Falcons coach brings the group in for their last formal instruction. She has three points she delivers. 1: Want the footy, want the moment, want the prize – want everything about the day. 2: Pressure, in every aspect of the game across every part of the ground – through tackles, corralling, blocking and manning the mark. 3: Have fun!

 

On the ground and following the official proceeding and just before the siren gets this thing underway the two teams gather in one last huddle. A loud, aggressive chant rings out from Monty’s knot. The Falcons have lightness and laughter in their camp.

 

The game is fast and furious, tough and spirited from the get-go, with committed bodies throwing their all into this heated up contest. Nerves are exposed, raw. Karly, the Falcon’s captain (and a rising star) finds a break in the congestion, clears the ball into our half. There is hardly room to swing a pig-skin as the game moves from deep in our 50 to the centre. Karly is killing it but Monty’s backline sustains the pressure well – it is the difference. Out of thin air Monty find their way forward and register the only score for the quarter, a point.

 

Monty is winning the clearances. Falcon’s tackling is terrific. The game is bog tight. This is desperate footy. It is not about poor skills. Two hard teams refuse to concede ground. The contest has a pulse; the ball is the magnet pushing the teams at each other. The game is so tight that eucalyptus essential oil and a humidifier could not clear the congestion. We have the play but Monty’s defence, again and again stops Darebin attacks. The Falcons score … twice, both points. At half time the Falcons lead by a point. Falcons’ supporters are nervous, thinking, if we have had so much of the play and can’t break Monty what will it take. I wonder what Cyril is thinking.

 

As if to answer our worst imaginings Monty kick a goal in the first minute of the Third. The game starts to open up, thanks to a great quarter by Georgia. Her pressure work around the packs is worth studying. Karmen, one of the Falcon’s pillars of strength, is a fortress deep in defence. Xena forces the ball forward. Eloise takes a mark and quickly boots it deep into our 50. Nikita, our full-forward hold the mark. And goals. I sense the Falcons’ confidence is building. Karly, Georgia and Heidi are working the stoppages better than Monty. Karmen bends her body like plastic to get around a tackle then through an impossible gap.

 

There’s only one point in it but it feels like the Falcons have control of the game. The pace has picked up. Players like Mercedes and Grace, Cori and Bridgette are working much harder. Grace save one sure goal. Then Monty get a point. Scores are level. Karly takes the mark of the day, Karmen is just brilliant. Falcon’s pressure has been outstanding.

 

So this is it. A season reduced to one twenty minute quarter. The two best teams battling it out are level as we head into the Last. Literally, the last quarter of 2016. This game has mostly been a hard fought scrabble, with more tackles laid than disposals gathered. It has had all the intensity of a great game. Fans hearts are racing. On the field players nerves are intensified. Mercedes opponent (who played for South Morang against Darebin two years ago in one of Aussie Rules most gripping Grand Finals) can’t believe it.

 

For close to ten minutes the game continues its unyielding struggle (more “want it” and pressure than fun). Then super cool Karly breaks it open on the back flank. She puts three bowls of Wheaties into her kick and send the ball just shy of our 50. Eloise, on the run, pursued by three desperate Magpies, gathers the bouncing leather and goes for goal. She finds the big sticks and Falcons crowd are on our feet. This was the lifter.

 

Falcons are up and about. Chloe does a great smother. Heidi takes a strong mark. Karly is a ball magnet, working with our key forwards. When a ball centred from the forward pocket boundary (sorry, I didn’t record who made the great pass) is marked in a contest by Eloise the Falcons hold their breath. She puts it through and the team knows they are so close to victory. Monty needs at least three shots with only minutes remaining and the Falcons do not look tired at all. Bruised yes. Battered yes. Tired. Uh-uh.

 

Both teams have had it. In the dying minutes the ball is kicked out on the full four times. But it doesn’t matter. Monty can feel that awful feeling deep in the gut and the Falcons know the game is theirs. Players like Xena and Tia and Grace, who have rucked against their imposing opponents, take the foot off the pedal.

 

This win is extra special. Not because of retribution. The Falcons have been a top side in U18s for 6 or more years. When Mercedes and Grace started four years ago, aged thirteen, they were in awe of the bigger girls. The best of the Falcons. We all wondered what the team would be like when it lost its best players. Well, what happened was new players came on board. Mercedes and Grace and others grew and got better as well. They have watched as two groups of the best have cycled through this great team and club. They are now the seniors. This is their Premiership. Their young team-mates will build the team as well. And the Falcons will continue to be the best. Because they want it and they have fun.

 

Footnote: The Falcons gathered at their clubrooms on Sunday night to celebrate. They are just the best. A Falcons tradition is to take the Premiership Cup to the centre of the ground (AH Capp Reserve on the banks of Merri Creek) in the pitch dark and sing the team song at the top of their lungs, two or more times. Richard Dal Pos, ex-President and club stalwart says, as we watch proceedings from the balcony, the locals will complain about the noise but what the hell, they deserve this moment. Earlier, Mercedes had shown me a short clip Cyril sent his niece, Tia, wishing her and the team all the best on their great victory. She is beaming.

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

Comments

  1. Rick that was awesome!!! Thanks again for the fantastic, out of this world recount of the final!! So glad the girls smashed it! And that got my heart pounding this side of the globe too!
    Go FALCS!

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Excellent report Slim,
    Great stuff by Mercedes and the Falcons yet again. Congrats and well done !!

  3. Rick Kane says:

    No worries Mei. Your spirit was well and truly part of the team! Hope you’re enjoying old London town.

    Cheers

    Thanks Phil. It wasn’t quite the heart stopper of 2014 but it was a ripper. And the team is filled with such great character and skill.

  4. Julia Chiera says:

    Great article Rick! Wish our games hadn’t clashed so we could have been there. Go Falcons!

    – Julia

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