Under 12 Footy: St Kilda City Red v South Melbourne

St Kilda City Under 12 Red v South Melbourne

Sunday March 23, 2014

Practice Match

JL Murphy Reserve, Port Melbourne

By Edward Harken

“The winter is long in the city. And that’s the way I like it.” – Ben Lee

And away we go. The weather won’t usually come to the party on these practice match days. We normally play these things on days more befitting a Boxing Day Test than a game of footy. But today is comfortably cool and sweetly drizzly. We’re right in our own backyard geographically, but footy-wise we’re a little out of our comfort zone. We generally pitch our tent among the Norwegian backpackers at Elwood Beach and then drift southward down the coast, but today we are travelling north. Let’s hope that we learn a few life lessons from the experience, like Julia Blake and old Leo McKern in the movie of the same name.

Our opponent today is formidable. This South Melbourne side is a bona fide, board-certified Division 1 crew. They are in the top grade and they are in no way fringe dwellers. They are ensconced. Last year they were right in the thick of premiership contention. What we hope is that, as well as giving us a hard physical hit out, they’ll teach us a thing or two about what it takes to be a serious team in under 12s footy.

We’re a new look outfit. Last year we were numbers-heavy. We had half a dozen on the bench, which meant that all of our players got a nice rest throughout the game, and we had plenty of padding for absences and injuries. This year we’re doing it 1978-style – a 20 man, bare-bones squad. Players will need to be prepared to dig deep and run out the full 4 quarters. We will miss the boys that we’ve lost. Some had been with us a year or two, some longer. One of them was a 80-odd-games-played foundation member of the group, going back to the dim, dark days of 2009. Footy-wise, they all brought different things to the table. Some were extroverted flair merchants, others were quiet achievers. All of them were our good friends and they all contributed to the great spirit that has been built up within the group. We have one newcomer, in the shape of Joe Nossal. Joe has a couple of mates in the team already and our hope and expectation is that, by the end of the season, he will have many more. Welcome, Joe.

We open on an interior, visitors dressing room. The boys are sitting in tight rows on 2 adjacent rub-down tables, facing each other. Each kid that comes through the door is greeted with affection and respect. It’s a nice scene to be a fly-on-the-wall witness to. Welcoming, comradely. A group of humans at ease with one another. A little of bit of horseplay and idle chiacking to pass the time until the coach comes in to call them to arms. The array of new footy boots is always interesting to those of us brought up in an era when personal self-expression was a lower priority issue in footy. Black is infra dig for the young moderns – white is the new black and garish colour is the new white. The white Tiempo with the black swoosh, a la Lance Franklin, is this year’s modish moccasin – half a dozen boys are sporting this make. Other boys crank it up a notch with reds and yellows and blues. Luke McIntyre and Henry-Joe Nankervis throw their hats in the ring with eye-assaulting bright green numbers. Then Roman Anastasios saunters in and trumps the lot of them with a pair of bone and orange swagwagons such as Kanye West or Flo Rida might sport, in the unlikely event that either of those gentlemen ever decided to take up Australian Rules football.

Coach Marcus lobs and calls for a bit of shush. Coach Brian is away, so it falls to him to deliver the oration. Today is a practice game, and so the purpose of the exercise is to practice. So we’re not here to win or to lose. We’re here to knock the rust off our skills, to build our fitness, and to put into practice the things that we are working on at training. We are playing a side that is in a higher grade than ourselves, so we may not be a realistic winning chance. What we can do in this game is practice applying pressure, pressure and more pressure so that the classy South Melbourne ball players don’t have room to move and time to execute. We don’t want to be like the Melbourne defence last night, giving James Gwilt time and space to run, balance up and kick an unpressured long goal. We want to get in their faces and on their cases, and give nothing away.

Adding to his impressively burgeoning portfolio of leadership roles, Elijah McMeekin has been named as today’s captain.

First Quarter

Inauspicious start. We get our hands on the coconut at the opening clearance, but we don’t really get it clear for too long. South Melbourne arrests our progress and rebounds smartly into attack. Stout-hearted veteran Xavier Field does his utmost to stem the tide, taking on all comers on a half-back flank, but he’s outnumbered and overwhelmed. The Bloods push on, push through and goal and we’re a major down in less than a minute. So much for pressure. The South Melbourne midfielders have handed us a lesson in desire and endeavour, converging on the ball in big numbers and driving it forward through sheer force of will and hard work.

And that’s the tale of the tape for the first term. Most of it we spend camped, back on our heels, deep in our defensive half. Henry-Joe Nankervis is getting some good elevation at the stoppages, but what ball he can bring to ground is getting snaffled by the ravenous South Melbourne on-ballers. Roman Anastasios is splendid in defence, chasing down his midfield opponents and dragging them to the deck with committed tackling.
As always, Roman is a study in mobility. One moment he’s smothering a kick a few metres south of centre, seconds later he’s bundling a South Melbourne forward into touch in the back pocket. Jack Pougher is Roman’s right-hand-man in the defensive effort. He has a brilliant term deep in the backline. When it is on the deck, he throws himself in. When it’s in the air he hits the pack with gusto. He takes a couple of superb, sure-handed grabs on the last line. Jake Austin is a bloke who thrives on a defensive challenge, and he puffs the chest out and meets his foes head on, wrapping his arms around them and grappling them to the carpet. Ryder Logan is gutsy and mettlesome also, digging deep, chasing hard and executing a couple of timely, effective tackles. Jimmy Glenfield and Alex Goldman, the 2 smallest players on the park, are busy and courageous at ground level. Unfortunately for us, the boys who are heart-and-souling it in defence have too few mates. A couple of our experienced defenders (no name, no pack drill) are playing far too loose. Possibly they’re looking at the club cricket grand final that’s going on next door, and daydreaming of what might have been, instead of living in the here and now. Whatever the reason, they are lax, and the South Melbourne tall forwards are getting clear and taking uncontested grabs. Our kick-outs from fullback are being marked, under no pressure, by South Melbourne. All in all, too much is being done by too few. Barring one short-lived foray forward by us, South Melbourne spends the entirety of the term peppering the sticks, bagging 3 or 4 goals and a fistful of points.

Quarter Time St Kilda Red Donuts South Melbourne A plenitude
Short and middling-sweet from coach Marcus at quarter time. Plenty of courage shown by Xavier Field, Ryder

Logan and Jimmy Glenfield. More pressure required in the second stanza.

Second Quarter

First act of the second quarter is the lanky South Melbourne ruckman roving his own tap and cantering through the guts unchallenged. So, not ideal. The Blood-Stained Angels carry the pigskin deep into attack without much pressure and the first of many opposition attacking movements for the quarter ends with our fullback Elijah McMeekin coolly rushing a point. Elijah kicks out from the box, South Melbourne roam the fall of the ball and get their hands back on it again. Coach Marcus’s words about pressure may have fallen on deaf ears.

So we’re on the back foot again, but Henry Manallack is flying the flag on a half-back flank. He attacks the footy, throwing his willowy infrastructure into the fray and copping a gang tackle for his trouble. He gets up and dusts himself off and chucks himself back in again. Will Conolly is in the same line of work as Manalla. No one can accuse Will of playing bruise-free footy, as he pinballs around the scrimmages, winning ball and laying tackles. Ty Glennon rounds out a troika of tough nuts across halfback, getting his melon over the pomegranate and winning the hard quince. But the individual heroics of three backline bravehearts can never be enough to hold back a ball-hungry red-and-white 8-or-9-man wolf pack, and we spend the better part of the quarter camped rearward. Elijah McMeekin provides great value at fullback, sweeping across the goal face and punching the in-coming ball with trenchancy, but his clearing kicks are not met with sufficient vigour by his compadres, and they mostly bounce straight back to him, or (worse) back over his head. A measure of how well we are travelling with respect to numbers at the ball is our total non-attendance at a couple of set piece contests in the middle of the term – a boundary throw in and a kick in from our own fullback. The Bloods come away from both of these ersatz contests without a hand being laid on their persons. NGE, no matter what division you play in.

Things sway our way a fraction in the last third or so of the cuarto. Alex Goldman, Jake Austin and Roman Anastasios have all been hella workative in the middle of the ground, trying to hold the ball up and shut down the South Melbourne go-forward, and their labour starts to bear fruit. Perhaps we have become more accustomed to the pace of the game, perhaps we are gelling better together after a long lay-off and not a lot of training under our belt – who knows? Whatever the reason, we start to look better and South Melbourne begin to look human and, if not exactly beatable, then possibly matchable. Working together as ruckman and ruck rover respectively, Luke McIntyre and Roman Anastasios start to piece together a system for breaking even with, and occasionally beating, the formidably large and skillful South Melbourne ruck division. Rather than try to out-jump taller opponents, Luke invades their personal space at the ball-ups, nullifying their leap and evening out the contest height-wise. Roman stands close off his shoulder and snatches the pill as soon as it clears the hands of the ruckmen, and we actually start to rack up a pretty decent clearance percentage. Thinking football. For the first time in the game, the South Melbourne mids have to become accountable in defence and worry about how to stop us. Our speed merchants and ball players have something to work with, and they start to cut loose. Alex Goldman and Ryder Logan put the hammer down at the edge of the ruck and start to trouble their adversaries with their toe. Roman Anastasios roves a ruck tap at pace, and cuts a swathe through the top of the square, bouncing the ball a time or two, thrilling the assembled throng and roosting long into attack. Luke McIntyre rolls off his man and makes himself into a handy conduit between defence and attack, clunking a couple of tidy grabs and linking up out wide by foot. By no means do we go on a spree, in fact the scorer remains carefree and untroubled, but it looks like we’ve got something to build on in the zweiten Ha?lfte.

Half Time St Kilda Reds Tony Broke South Melbourne Ivor Lott

Some technical advice from coach Marcus at the huddle – if you are trying to spoil in the marking contest, you’ve got to punch. And you’ve got to punch like you mean it. South Melbourne are getting numbers to the contest, so meeting the in-coming ball with an open palm will play straight into their hands, by dropping the ball at their feet. You’ve got to clear the area. Bouquets for Elijah McMeekin at fullback. The wind has come up during the course of the game, we’ve got it at our back in the next quarter. We’re starting to get our hands on the agate, so let’s go long, shake ‘em up, put some pressure on the South Melbourne backline.

Third Quarter

Nice start. Jake Austin and Roman Anastasios crack in hard at the first bounce and earn possession. We keep it in our hands and we work it down the ground by degrees. Some clear air is obtained, the ball is plonked forward and Nick Tu steams on to it and takes a cracking grab. Good signs.

We’re up and about in the middle. In contrast to the first term-and-a-half, when the Bloods get their hands on it in the guts now, they have trouble getting it out. Our boys are beginning to hunt in numbers and tackle in pairs, tourniqueting the flow of possession and forcing ball-ups and giving us a chance to get numbers to ground zero. We’ve got our speedy guys (Jake Austin, Ryder Logan) chasing hard and going low and holding up the Bloods runners, and then our talls (Luke McIntyre, Roman Anastasios) are coming over the top and pinning the ball, and it is very effective. And we’re not just slowing the Bloods down. We’re getting our hands on it ourselves, and starting to make some inroads. Luke is putting his body on the line and winning some ball in the ruck, and Roman starts to hit the stoppages at speed, bursting through the top of the square and launching the tombola into our forward line. This is easily our most competitive period in the game.

For the first time in the contest, a fair proportion of the play is occurring at our attacking end, and there are some nifty passages of play for our supporters to enjoy. Roman Anastasios – maybe the most mobile under 12 player going around – is sliding forward after helping us to secure possession in the middle, and he’s making things happen. He takes a tidy grab at half-forward, has a ping at the goals and registers a point. Shortly thereafter, Ryder Logan, dynamic all day, roves a pack in the left forward pocket, snaffles the cherry and snaps a well-deserved major. Luke McIntyre takes a routine follower’s mark off the back of the square, goes long with a thumping drop punt and hits full-forward Henry-Joe Nankervis lace-out on the lead in the right forward pocket. Savoury footy from both boys. Good attacking footy requires committed forward pressure, and Will Conolly is the man for the job. He tackles with ferocity and attacks the ball with vehemence, charging out of the goal square and attacking the pack. Some nice one-percenters from Henry Manallack and Nick Tu and Jimmy Glenfield help our cause – tackling, shepherding and clearing space. Nick is also a providing a very useful marking target, getting on the end of a couple of nice passes from Roman at the centre clearances. One of Nick’s shepherds makes room for Roman, who cracks the South Melbourne defence open and bangs the durian forward. It gets shuffled through hands and on to the lively Henry-Joe, who puts our second major on the board. Henry-Joe is adding a real spark to the forward line, jinking and jiving and injecting some zest and animation around the goal square. He does a lovely quick-hands dish-off to Alex Goldman late on which is one of the real highlights of the term.

Further back down the ground, some brave and skilful young men are playing some massive footy. Jack Pougher is killing them at halfback, providing a great target for clearing kicks out of the last line. He’s got height, he’s got strength, he’s got courage and he’s winning a heap of aerial ball with his reach and his strong dukes. Elijah McMeekin has been very solid all day, and he continues to exhibit coolness under pressure at fullback. He’s forming a great combination with Jack, finding him time and again with his long kick-outs.

3/4 Time St Kilda Red Aspirational South Melbourne Old Money

Coach Marcus is loving the tackling. Will Conolly, Jack Pougher and Nick Tu are all tackling with serious intent. We’re getting the ball in our hands and we’re demonstrating that we are a very good side when we put it all together. We will need to lift another notch into the wind.

Fourth Quarter

Early doors, the last term is a bit like the third, but without the added bonus of what has by now become a pretty stiff breeze. Roman Anastasios is still getting plenty of it, and he’s added a new string to his bow – outright thievery. Twice, he wrests the ball from his Bloods opponents with a combination of strength and sheer, brazen effrontery. The ball is down in our back half, and so is Nick Tu, and he is meeting it in the air with confidence. Midway through the term he lays a stonking tackle that must be the clubhouse leader for tackle of the year. Alex Goldman and Will Conolly save a goal with pressure and harassment. Henry-Joe Nankervis has been swung around to fullback, and he attacks the incoming ball, marks and clears in one fluid movement. Frank Lyon is working into the game, going up to contest the incoming ball, then hitting the deck and roving the pack.

We have one or two promising moments in attack. Roman Anastasios and Luke McIntyre are still doing well at the ball-ups and Roman is able to run and carry from time to time, but as the quarter wears on, South Melbourne asserts its dominance and we start to drop out of the contest. Perhaps they have a superior fitness base to us, or perhaps their class has worn us down, or perhaps both. As the term wears on, we begin to make a few errors, and the Bloods get away from us again. We fail to punch in the aerial contest a time or two, we give our men too much space, we don’t follow them forward – these few lapses add up, and the South Melbourne forwards make us pay in the dying minutes with some pretty cheap late goals. Final siren and I went ahead and ordered some for the table.

Some final words from coach Marcus. Second half was stronger than the first. Great defensive work all day long from Jack Pougher. Whole-hearted effort Nick Tu. Let’s not forget that we played a first division side here today. If we play like we did in the second half today, we will be in division 2 right up to our ears.

Fulltime St Kilda Red Old Kent Road South Melbourne Park Lane Goals

Ryder Logan Henry-Joe Nankervis

The Takeaway

It was a tough day at the office, but it should do wonders for our match fitness, being asked to dig deep and run hard against a good side like that. We took a bit of a buffeting physically and on the scoreboard (or we would have, had we had a scoreboard) but hopefully we learned a thing or two about ourselves and what we need to do to get where we want to go. Like Diamond Dave says – you’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.

When the ball went long, South Melbourne got numbers to the fall of it on almost every occasion. We did it only sporadically. Every time the cherry did a Skylab and fell to earth in an uninhabited expanse, 5 or 6 South Melbourne players converged – we showed up in ones and twos. For some of us the penny seems not to have quite dropped in this respect. Too many times our blokes were one-out at a contest, surrounded by opposition players. It shouldn’t be a question of waiting and watching and weighing things up and asking yourself whether you are likely to get the ball or wondering what use you will be at a particular contest. By the time you’ve gone through that process, the caravan has moved on. If the contest is reachable, you just need to front up and figure it out when you get there. Footy is an improvisational medium. If you present at the contest, there’ll be something for you to do, either major or minor. As the saying goes, 80 percent of success is showing up.

We still have a few blokes who can’t deliver a foolproof, solid, quick drop punt to a target. We’re at under 12 level now, we’re going to have less congestion in our games and more run and spread, and if we have players who can’t hit targets, it will hurt us. A lot of you will have been taught your footy by prominent local sporting and arts identity Dino Marnika. You would have heard Dino telling his boys and girls that if they’re going to be good footballers, they need to get the Sherrin in their hands for half an hour every day. These are words to live by. At this stage of the caper, this is no longer a matter for Thursday night training, but is something that needs to be addressed by individuals in their own time. Take your footy into the backyard, ping it at the clothesline. Get your old man or your mum or your mates down to the park and work, work, work until you can hit your target with confidence.

The Role Models

Nick Tu, Will Conolly, Ryder Logan, Jack Pougher – we bung these boys together under the same umbrella, because they have one thing in common. They are all improving footballers, and they all seem to have reported back this season ready to take their games to a new level. We are used to seeing Nick as a whole-hearted defensive player, fighting his corner when the ball is on the deck. Today we saw him out on the lead, taking strong marks with strong hands in the front half. Nick looks like he will add a new dimension to the side in attack. In most ways, Will played today like he always plays, only more so and more often. He has always shown courage, but today we saw him present himself to so many contests and exhibit real leadership. It looks like he is ready to step up and be a genuine leader in the group. We are used to Ryder being mercurial, and taking a match by the scruff of the neck for short periods of time, but today he had his head in the game all day long and put in a lovely sustained effort. He looks like he will add another dimension in the middle of the ground, where we have tended to be overly reliant on a handful of players to get the job done. Jack’s footy was already on the improve in the second half of 2013, but now he’s taken it to a whole nother level. Jack seems to have grown about 6 inches over summer – he looks like an extra from Dawson’s Creek – and with his height, long reach and willingness to mix it up, he is now a serious physical presence on the football field. He was a bona fide general in our backline today, getting to every contest, directing traffic, clunking grabs.

We all know we’ve gone up a grade this season. We all know that we’ve lost some good players. If we’re going to enjoy a degree of success this year, we’re all going to need to be better footballers – harder working, more skillful, fitter, better organised. Here are four dudes who are well on their way.

Author’s note: Apologies for the scores not being represented numerically. There was no scoreboard at the ground, and the author forgot to ask the South Melbourne goal umpy for the scores. 


  1. Luke Smith says

    Great summary Edward.
    Anyway, numerical scoreboards are over-rated … it’s the “vibe”.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done Edward love your passion for your club and the kids !

  3. Very comprehensive match report Edward and very well written. Good luck for season 2014.

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