Melbourne Uni Blacks Win VAFA Premier Division Title for First Time in 40 Years

 

Grand Final Day nerves can strike anyone. Whether you’re starting at the centre bounce, or merely pretending to take notes for the match report, everyone has to do their bit and that thought can be overpowering. I’m not sure how the Blacks players were feeling on Saturday morning, but my nerves were unexpectedly cured by a long distance call from my uncle, Michael McHack, who was commiserating the Scottish ‘No’ vote with a bottle or two of his country’s finest. I could’ve sworn that the Glenfiddich fumes were wafting down the line from Glasgow as I felt much more optimistic about the Blacks chances than I did before I picked up the phone.

With my nerves settled, I hopped on my fixie and headed to The ‘Wick.

Despite the previous finals being played in still conditions, Elsternwick turned on a typically windy afternoon for the Premier Division Grand Final. The first win for the day was to go to The Blacks in the form of the coin toss and before you could say ‘Trent Cotchin’, the Uni had scored their first goal after a long Tyson Kruse missile landed in the hands of Jessie Laurie, who put the Blacks ahead after only two minutes.

Unfortunately, this was a rare example of the Blacks using the wind to their advantage in the first term. The only other goal came from the boot of Harrie Lahy, who had come straight into the side after a five week study trip to France. Clearly, he didn’t spend that time eating croissants, as he often made his opponents look as slow as the snails he was probably too polite to refuse.

The first half was certainly ‘one for the purists’, in the same way that a tight spell of medium-paced bowling on a slow pitch can be described as ‘engrossing’. Thankfully, the majority of the crowd appreciated the contest as Collegians applied a huge amount of pressure around the ball and complimented that with a desire to play on at all costs.

This dare and application allowed the Lions to utilise the wind well in the second quarter and smother the Blacks to the extent that they only scored one behind for the term. When our lads had the ball, the breeze seemed as stiff as my Scottish uncle’s drink and Collegians as powerful as his pending hangover. In fact, things could’ve been really interesting had the siren not sounded a few seconds before the ball landed in Nick Corp’s hands deep in the Lions’ den. Mind you, had it not been for Adam ‘The Wall’ Pitt, a lot more of the Collegians entries could’ve landed in purple hands. Pitto was simply magnificent as he repeatedly zoned off to swallow the sherrin like he did cold ones in his college days.

Now I’m not saying that our fans were a tad nervous at half-time, but I’m pretty sure I heard at least one person saying, ‘I knew we should’ve played The Foz’. Unsurprisingly, this quote came from the man himself, Jordan Foster, who was standing behind me. I quickly turned to see that he was using his Reserves premiership medal1 as a bookmark in his ‘Best Bets’ racebook.

Despite the scrappy first half, I was well aware that the Blacks had produced many powerful third quarters in 2014. With this in mind, I moved to a new vantage point behind the goals at the Glenhuntly Rd end. Gathered around me were not only Blacks greats from years gone by, but also honourary Blacker, Bob Murphy. Although our conversation had to be brief, it was clear that he had no time for the ground’s ‘No Dogs Allowed’ policy. He said it was ‘as sad as a Springsteen song’…or something like that anyway.

The 30 or so minutes that followed will live long in Blacks folklore. Unlike the first quarter, our lads used the wind to their advantage and slammed on ten goals to one. As usual, the goals came from a variety of sources and, though I have a habit of reading into such things, each major seemed to sum up the respective player’s strengths or even their career at the Blacks. For Pattison and Blake, it was from towering marks in front of goal; for Weekley and Napier, it was from reading a Blacks forward entry like they’ve done so many times before; for Locke and Robbins, it was a burst of goals that had everyone asking ‘are you sure these guys are that young?’; for Kruse it was a left foot bomb from Sandringham and for the Blacks number 5, it was a cool set shot that could only belong on the bright lights of Lacey Boulevard.

By the time the siren rang and everyone had a chance to gather their thoughts, the Blacks were 53 points ahead and, on reflection, pretty much over the line. I say ‘on reflection’, because the wind was quite strong and Collegians had shown that they could move the ball quickly, plus no-one could guess how a 40-year hoodoo might weigh on the minds of the players.

Thankfully, it seems that no doubts had entered the Blacks players minds. Whether that was because they were so focused or because half the team are ‘Gen Y’ and didn’t have their Samsung Galaxys on them to Google why they should be nervous is unclear, but they held firm. Despite Collegians kicking 3 goals in the first 12 minutes, the Blacks fans could watch the minutes disappear with comfort. With Lahy capping off his return from France with another goal, the siren soon followed and the Blacks fans stormed the barricades to celebrate with their heroes. This was clearly the best of times.

As the players and coaches embraced out on the ground, the families, friends and supporters gathered around to enjoy the scene. Those who had contributed so much were so pleased and the respectful distance they kept from the celebrations belied the vision and passion which they shared on this journey. With the club sitting in E Grade at the turn of the millennium, it would have been a brave person to predict this day.

One man who drove this ambition more than most was former premiership captain, chairman and life member, Ray Wilson, who may or may not have had a tear in his eye as the celebrations commenced. In the emotion of the moment, I’m sure I heard him say that he ‘never believed it would happen’. When pressed about this later in the evening, he denied all knowledge of this statement and followed it up with ‘We went B Grade/A Grade back to back in 64/65. These guys had a year in between. Something to ponder there, Hack’.

But time waits for no man, and this match was about our 22 heroes. Where Jack Batten2 was once our last A Grade captain, it’s now Bede Mahon, who was also awarded the Jock Nelson medal for his barnstorming performance in the midfield. As much as the goals in that third quarter were spread around, Mahon was the key thread amongst them, given he was involved in almost every passage of play to set them up.

The final word of the night’s celebrations fittingly went to coach Cameron Roberts, who told the Saturday night crowd that the win was, at its core, a simple reward for the players’ hard work. This was also true for Roberts, who took on the weight of expectation and delivered in his first season in charge. To mould a group of new recruits with a sprinkling of dynamic young talent and have the side playing such team-orientated football from round 1 is a remarkable effort. The club is thrilled for Cameron that all of his planning has paid off.

As the celebrations wound down and moved to another venue, your narrator found himself sitting next to 52-year servant, Andy Smith. As we polished off the remnants of the last bottle of sav blanc, we mused over the journey that had just ended and were hopeful that another had just begun. When I suggested I put him in a cab, he brushed me off and said he’d be walking. He didn’t care how long that would take. He just wanted the night, and this feeling, to last for as long as possible.

Spot on Andy, spot on.

 

1st 2nd 3rd Final
Uni Blacks 2.3.15 2.4.16 12.9.81 13.12.90
Collegians 0.1.1 3.1.19 4.2.26 7.4.46

 

Goal Kickers

 

Blake 2, Robbins 2, Lahy 2, Lacey, Laurie, Kruse, Pattison, Locke, Napier, Weekley

 

Best Players

 

Mahon, Lahy, Pitt, Weekley, Pattison, Thomas

 

1 Twos match report to come on Wednesday. The Foz will feature prominently.

 

2 And with his son Nick Batten playing, Jack doesn’t even have the ‘Last A Grade flag Winner’ title at the dinner table anymore. Mind you, he claims he didn’t have much cred anyway – “I’m just a bloody ATM” he claimed late on Saturday evening.

About The Black Hack

Loves scoops. Hates deadlines

Comments

  1. Fantastic result lads!

    The good guys prevail at long last.

    After a long time out of Premier League and the brief promotion a few years back, this win’s a testament to the dedication required to finally get to the top.

    The Adelaide Uni Blacks will be keen to take a leaf out of your book.

    All crib notes will be returned prior to exams.

  2. Magnificent win Blackers! Great write up Hack.

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