Grand Final virgin turned into nail biter veteran

A sharp breath. Rub the sleep out of the eyes before your mind kicks into gear and realises the situation. Get up son, it’s Grand Final day.

Sadly enough, the illness isn’t gone. I still feel the dry and razor sharp feeling at the back of my throat. After enduring the illness in a blockbuster semi final last week, the virus has kicked back in after training on Thursday. Oh well, Nurofen and Panadol can be my best mates, because I need to feel right for this afternoon.

Never having been through the experience before, I quickly sit up and check the time, before realising I have achieved a solid sleep, but still have just under five hours until my date with destiny. That destiny being the Under 15’s Division 5 Grand Final against Parade/ St Damians.

Although the hour is only just past 10 and the game is scheduled to start at 2:45PM, I can’t help but get up and wander around, with the quivers of excitement laced with minuscule amounts of nerves pumping enough adrenaline around for a couple of minutes until I feel it. The virus has hit me like a truck. A truck that is carrying roughly ten tonnes of heavy goods that crash into me. I promptly reach for painkillers to quell the gruff feeling that my throat is enduring.

So far Grand Final day 2015 is everything and more, as the sun is shining and the weather is staying mild for now. Yet again, none of this matters until later afternoon, when I shall combat my first footy Grand Final; a dream I have always been hoping to encounter.

This season has been incredible; from the realisation of not having a team to the merge with Bundoora Football Club, Banyule/ Bundoora has been a united team rebelling against all kinds of adversities, culminating in a nail biting one point win last week to book our spot in the Grand Final.

In the final, we come up against Parade St Damians, who we will be playing for a mighty sixth time this season. Our record against them is 2-3, as they have improved steadily throughout the year before reaching their peak around finals time, with the league Best and Fairest winner being their star midfielder.

The fact that we are underdogs quells my nerves, as the fear of losing is overridden by the joy and optimism of playing in front of a bumper crowd with great parade-like atmosphere. Little do I know how much fun this game shall turn out to be.

After the long hours of waiting around and planning is complete, all of my drinks to negate my annoying cramping problem have been packed and all of the appropriate painkillers have been taken; all that is left to do is to depart.

The destination is Gillon Oval, Brunswick. It has a lovely and decadent grandstand that makes the whole ground look important and powerful. When we arrive, the sun has come out again after a brief break behind the clouds, as many supporters are already watching the early matches.

We are the last scheduled match of the day; a Grand Final to wrap up the carnival-like action that has embraced many grounds around north eastern Melbourne. The change rooms are decked in not just the maroon and blue colours of Banyule, but the navy and white colours of Bundoora, with all of my teammates feeling a mixture of nerves and pride over what they shall experience over the next few hours.

A quick kick on the ground to warm up is great fun, before we head back in and get everything ready. For me, that means a whole range of exotic drinks, including the much hated pickle juice, to quell my cramping that I have experienced all season, as well as a decent dab of Deep Heat, before we get the final coaches address and break out through the banner onto the ground.

That feeling of coming up from the change rooms through the banner shall never be lost on me; the sunshine and general noise (which included miscellaneous horns and even a few vuvuzelas) colliding with the feeling that I was six foot tall to give me an exhilarating experience.

As we go through our warm up we start a chant; a war cry to get all of the players ready for the exciting match. Our co-captains in Matt and Rohan trot off to the middle to do the toss, before we find out we are kicking against the wind.

While we stride out to our positions, we are brought in to go through a low quality yet nerve tingling rendition of the Australian anthem over a Bluetooth speaker, an aspect of the day that nobody knew was going to occur. Either way, the thrills of excitement peak as we shake hands with opponents in the middle before hearing the siren and the accompanying yell.

From then on, all eyes turn to the brand new Sherrin lodged in the umpire’s hand. It gets tossed up, and from then on, everything just gets more thrilling.

The game starts off with some tight battles, as their Best and Fairest winner in number ten is quelled by his tagger Matty, who has been given the ominous job on the league’s biggest day. We get the ball forward and attempt to lock it in, but their speedy wingers ensure a quick end-to-end tug-of-war occurs. Numerous behinds are racked up, as I manage to break free and go on a couple of quick early runs to soothe the jitters.

After around ten minutes of contested play, the ball goes into their forward line off a fast break and a large man-child on their team breaks free and snaps a long booming goal from 40m out. Cue pom poms, horns, yells and numerous other colourful celebrations.

Before the entire pom poms can fall back into place, they bomb it back in and snag another quick goal. All of a sudden, they have gotten the quick start.

But, considering they have the helpful wind, they can’t quite put up a good lead at quarter time, as the siren goes and heavy breaths are drawn; this physical Grand Final has been played at a breakneck and intense pace. At quarter time, for all of our wasted opportunities, we only sit 2.1.13 to 0.4.4 behind. Hope remains.

Number 10 has so far had a shocker by his lofty standards, as we look to press the advantage and snatch the momentum in the second stanza. The start isn’t ideal, as they snag a quick one to put them three goals up.
For Rohan and Kade on our team, they have come down from Division 1 to play for us this season, meaning that they carry on the tradition of playing in their third consecutive Grand Final. Unfortunately for them, they have lost both of them, and are more on edge than most today to secure a flag for Banyule.

Halfway through the term and for all of our hard work, we are still behind. We need a goal to settle our nerves.
Thankfully, our play picks up and we run the ball out of defence better. I switch from the midfield to playing spare man back, before realising I can push up and be loose around half forward. I try the move and find myself free 40m out from goal, where I take a mark and stroll back.

Amidst all of the calls to pass, I see no leads, just stagnant forwards waving their arms above their heads like they need a surf lifesaver to pull them out of a harsh tide. I decide to go back and trust myself; we need a goal desperately, and I need to deliver.

The wind aids my kick as I belt it with everything I’ve got, and I see it stay straight and fly through. Suddenly I’m up and we are all pumped; I’m in shock at how I managed to get enough carry on the kick and keep it straight at the same time.

I stay behind the ball and push up; suddenly we are winning clearances and I can open up attacking options. I find myself free again and I take the mark, before finding Kade 35m out from goal on a 45 degree angle. He’s a quality player, and a booming kick, as he goes back and slots it to cut the lead back to under a goal.

I move into the midfield, feeling the intensity and loving the contest. They panic and rush too many into the middle, free kick to us. I spread out wide and receive the ball at half forward, before finding our ruckman Fin in the middle. I sprint back into the middle as co-captain Matt gets the ball 40m out. Knowing he can’t make the distance, he looks for a short pass. I sprint 20m in front of him and receive the chip pass, holding on to the overhead mark.

In a matter of five minutes, I can kick for the lead. From desperate trouble and no goals to flowing overlap of run and play to a chance to shock the top team and snatch the lead. I judge the wind and hang it on the right goal post. It bends back perfectly and we are in front with only a minute or two left until half time. Cue disbelief and excitement.

We go back to the middle and win another clearance, as Rohan dribbles the ball out to half forward. I sprint for it, as a defender for Parade St Damians grabs it and tries to duck back past me. Somehow, in an out of body experience, I guess correctly and wrap him up in a tackle, dumping him to the ground and winning the free kick. That’s where the half ends, as I stop and blink, feeling like I’ve been in a dream throughout that quarter. It’s hard to describe, but all I can say now is that it felt like an out of body experience, especially when it came to the second goal.

We go back in at half time with momentum and exhilaration. Can we do the job? Can we surprise the favourites?

Up the race we go again and back onto the ground, which is bathing in glorious sunshine. If we can hold Parade St Damians defensively for this quarter, they will panic knowing that they need to kick goals with the wind. Matty has been awesome on number ten so far, restricting him to barely any touches. But, the small and tough midfielder sneaks forward and takes a strong contested mark, before going back and giving his team the lead again.

The quarter, and the match, then goes goal for goal, as we continue moving the ball well and challenging their midfield. We head in to the last change of the year only eight points behind, knowing that if we stay tough and play as well as we have all day, then we can win a surprise Premiership.

The final stanza of the year starts off perfectly, with a goal inside the first minute to Connor levelling the scores. But, we go goal for goal and can’t snatch the lead for the majority of the quarter. That is, until roughly about 17 minutes into a 23 minute quarter, where a quick clearance ties up the match, as co-captain Matt dribbles through a cheeky goal, before we rush the ball forward again and Mitch, with a broken thumb, snaps a goal off the ground to give us the lead.

We attempt to orchestrate a few spare men, as I stay in the middle to attempt to win the clearances and keep the ball forward. Unfortunately, their half back line is too strong, and runs it down into their forward line.

Many crazy stoppages start, as the dwindling sunshine bathes onto a tight finish, where Parade St Damians manage to sneak the lead after a crazy bounce over the top to a forward pocket waiting in the goal square.

The noise is crazy; it has been all day. Number 10 has lifted his game, but Matty has tried his heart out all day and has done brilliantly.

We have one more shot with only minutes left, but yet again their half back line is too strong and they hold on. Siren. A massive roar and a slump of shoulders. Three points. We’ve lost by three points.

After five minutes of rabid celebration by Parade St Damians and heart ache by Banyule Bundoora, we go back into the middle for the presentation. Runners up and Premiership medals are handed out, with the umpires arriving out of the heavy thong of people for one last award; the best on ground medal.

Banyule Bundoora. Number 18. What the heck, that’s me!

A spanner has been thrown in the works, as I now hold mixed emotions towards the day. I feel empty after losing by such a narrow margin (53-50) but proud of how I performed on Grand Final day.

All in all, Grand Final day was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my adolescent life so far. I can never forget Sunday the 30th of August, 2015.

PARADE ST DAMIANS-   2.1.13   3.1.19   6.4.40   8.5.53
BANYULE BUNDOORA-  0.4.4    3.6.24  4.8.32   7.8.50

Comments

  1. Jamie Simmons says:

    Well played Sean. I hope you didn’t tear that medal off ala Nathan Buckley after the 2002 grannie.

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