Northern Football Netball League – Division 1 Grand Final: Three-quarter time huddle

Three-quarter time huddle – Northern Football Netball League Division 1 Grand Final


Preston City Oval


Saturday 21 September


Three-quarter time in the West Preston-Lakeside huddle, the team divides into three: defenders, forwards and on-ballers. The groups stand at points of an imaginary triangle.


Robbie Maiorana, senior coach, stands in the middle, an assistant whispering in his ear. They’re shifting magnets around the whiteboard. Robbie’s brow is furrowed in concentration, but his shoulders and stance are relaxed. Noise and excitement boil around him; he’s cocooned in the moment.


A gathering of about fifty supporters rings the scene, shouting support. A much larger crowd gathers protectively around the Greensborough players, further up the grandstand wing.


A gentle September sun slowly heads west, suspended like a spotlight.


The defensive coach has his players in a small circle. One is face down on the ground having his hamstrings rubbed.


‘Fucking beautiful! That was fucking beautiful!’ the defensive coach yells as he slaps his prone player on the bum with his clipboard. ‘See fellas, that’s what we need!’ he pleads to the rest of the group who yell agreement.


The ruckman who guided the club to last year’s premiership and has been out all season with a knee injury, is talking to the on-ballers, reading quietly from his notepad. About half-time, he took over from Anthony Rocca, now at the MCG in his role as Collingwood assistant coach.


Robbie calls the team in and the three groups fold around him. Supporters move closer to hear the coach speak and to be a part of it, to feel the intimacy.


Well-groomed, fresh haircut, designer stubble, Robbie glances quickly at the ground – a final ordering of his thoughts. This is the last time he will speak with his team.


The players link arms or place hands on the shoulders of the team-mate in front. Twenty-two young men joined together like a bunch of boulders. They draw strength from the closeness.


Smaller than most of his players, Robbie cranes his neck to make eye contact with as many as he can. All eyes are on him.


‘How fucking good is this,’ he says. ‘How good is it!’ again, louder, for emphasis.


Players and supporters roar.


This game is back on the Roosters’ terms.


In a lacklustre opening, West Preston lacked intensity, perhaps tired or even satisfied in making the Grand Final.


Over summer, they had lost a handful of premiership players and while a new team was still being cobbled together, dropped the first six games. Injuries to key players compounded problems and survival in Division 1 was the priority.


They picked up a few, including McDonagh, who straightened them up with his long kicking, and won ten from the last twelve to finish fourth.


Victories in three knockout finals brought the Rooters to another Grand Final. With only a six day break since the prelim, maybe they had had enough. No one would blame them.


Greensborough lost only one home and away game – a close one against Heidelberg in the wet – in winning the minor premiership, seven games clear of their Grand Final opponent. After a week off, they defeated North Heidelberg by 98 points in the semi-final, followed by another week’s rest.


Today, standing in line for the national anthem, they were big, fit, muscled, ready to win.


In the first quarter, Greensborough ran in waves and brushed aside their opponents.


Rocca pointed the finger at his on-ballers at quarter-time.


‘Make your tackles stick.’


Against the spring northerly, kicking to the Preston Market end, the Roosters respond and dig in, stopping Greensborough’s outside run.


Greensborough lead by two goals at half-time.


The third quarter is classic West Preston: tight, close, scrappy. Led by on-baller Federico, they win stoppages all over the ground. Greensborough meet their ferocity, but show signs of wilting towards the end of the quarter.


Scores level.


In the huddle, a sense of confidence settles over the Roosters. They’ve been here before. Underdog is their natural state.


As coaches do before sending their teams back out, Robbie pulls his players in closer for his final words. He speaks quietly, eyes bulging, head nodding. He’s not pleading, he doesn’t need to.


Supporters lean in closer. Everyone here is engaged, involved.


‘One more effort, West!”


The young, female physio, usually reserved, self-conscious, stands directly behind Robbie. In this moment, her natural reticence falls away, her face is alive. ‘Come on!’ she screams.


This is honest passion, real connection. No sanitisation here, no security guards ringing the fence.


This is not about empire building. This is grass roots. Community.


Robbie’s address builds to a climax. One last drop of effort from him; one final exaltation.


His players are practically on top of him now. He pulls one in for a hug before sending the team out.


The Roosters keep momentum going their way and kick three goals into the wind. Doggie Lirosi kicks his third – an effort that wins him the medal for best on ground. Greensborough are brave, led by Tom Bell, former Carlton and Brisbane Lions, however eventually succumb to the manic pressure.


Final siren – players from both teams collapse.


West Preston- Lakeside have gone back to back for the first time in their history.


Greensborough                                        4.1 25                   5.2 32                   5.4 34                   6.5 41


West Preston-Lakeside                         2.1 13                   3.2 20                   5.4 34                   8.5 53


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  1. Andrew love grass roots footy it’s real passion for the jumper ! Thank you

  2. Chris Bracher says

    I attended that match Andrew. You captured the mood well. Poor old Greensborough; having also lost the Reserves GF after not losing a game all season!
    (as a former Player for arch-rival Montmorency,
    I concede that my tears are of the crocodile variety!)

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    The passion and emotion of a three quarter time huddle. Love it!
    Well written Andrew, you’ve captured the mood of the day beautifully.

  4. You just cannot beat local footy, Starkers.
    That is pretty much my domain these days, as I attend AFL matches less and less often.

    Curious: is West Preston-Lakeside the result of a merger some time back?

  5. Paul Daffey says

    Hi Stark,

    Glorious. What a premiership.

    I like the physio who shed her reticence at the breaking up of the huddle.

    Great detail. Very visible.

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