VAFA Premier C – Fitzroy v Peninsula: A Walk In the Park

 

VAFA Premier C – Fitzroy FC versus Peninsula Old Boys FC

 

2.00pm, Saturday 14 July 2018

Brunswick Street Oval, North Fitzroy

William Westerman

 

It was the perfect day for football, there was barely a cloud in the sky and the temperature was reasonable for a winter’s day in Melbourne. At the Brunswick Street Oval, in the lowly VAFA Premier C division, Fitzroy hosted Peninsula Old Boys. Fitzroy was in fine form this season, but ruing dropped games earlier in the season that place them second rather than first; Peninsula was struggling to stay in the third division and watched a perilous gap open up above them. Spectators drifted in at the start of the game to the point where therer was healthy crowd watching on.

 

It was a family occasion at the Brunswick Street Oval. My wife, my mother and I brought my three-month-old son to attend his first game of Australian rules football. We bought him a handmade Fitzroy beanie and positioned ourselves on the hill to the east of the main stand. After our late lunch of Kranskys and sausages, I settled in to watch the game while the others kept my son entertained and/or pacified.

 

The first quarter was somewhat scrappy, even for a game at this level. Neither side could find a fluent rhythm to the way they played. Peninsula was able to get the ball forward, but Fitzroy absorbed the pressure and rebounded well. The Roys made several good switches of play from one side of the oval to the other. However, once they got the ball into their forward fifty, they wasted their shots on goal.

 

The first goal came from Peninsula, with a shot deep in their pocket. The reply was immediate, a swift break from the centre bounce moved the ball into Fitzroy’s forward line and finally they were able to convert. While Fitzroy had not dominated the game, they had the better chances, with several marks inside the forward fifty. Yet a turnover while attempting a switch late in the quarter proved costly for the Roys, as Peninsula capitalised swiftly to score their second. A similar turnover right before quarter time could have had the same result, but the kick after the siren was off-line. Nevertheless, Peninsula took a narrow and unlikely lead into the quarter-time break.

 

At the start of the second quarter Fitzroy was more assertive and more positive. Peninsula was playing with an extra man in defence and at times it seemed there were an extra two defenders back in support. Yet the Roys got the first goal of the quarter with a great roving effort, followed by some classy movement from a somewhat scruffy looking Lachlan Henderson.

 

The Fitzroy players started to find their rhythm. A good passage of play down the grandstand side turned defence into attack at the drop of a hat, and it was only due to inaccurate finishing that it was not one of the best movements of the first half.

 

As with the first quarter, the Roys were able to absorb Peninsula’s forays forward, blunting their attacks at the half-back line, using quick, accurate handpasses to bring the ball out of congestion and then kicking long to runners in space to break the play open through the wings. This allowed the ball to move quickly from defence to attack, but, as with the first quarter, Fitzroy were unable to capitalise on having the ball in the forward half, with wayward shots keeping the margin respectable for Peninsula.

 

A great mark from Bill Clayton in the forward line was not converted, and the Roys were keeping Peninsula in the game. Fortunately for Fitzroy they were able to lock the ball in their forward half well, not allowing Peninsula to have an easy path out.

 

Finally, towards the end of the second quarter the Roys’ hard work was rewarded, with a good chain of handballs out of defence and fast movement down the stand side wing culminating in an excellent crumbing goal. Soon after, a glorious run through the middle of the ground from deep in Peninsula’s defence was thwarted, first by a fumble from Rory Angiolella and then by the halftime siren. It would have been a useful goal, potentially giving the Roys the lead their dominance deserved. As it was, Fitzroy went in with a three goal advantage.

 

Curiously, the halftime break was punctuated by the sound of Kate Bush’s 1978 song ‘Wuthering Heights’ drifting across the Edinburgh Gardens from an event dubbed ‘The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever’. The gathering, held in many other parts of the world as well, brought Kate Bush fans together in North Fitzroy to wear red, dance Bush’s lithe routine together and raise money for the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre and the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. It provided amusing halftime entertainment for anyone who wanted to wander over to watch.

 

The third quarter began as a tussle around the centre of the ground, until a well-executed switch brought about a goal. A second for the quarter came from an accurate set shot (a rarity for the Roys up until that point) and soon the margin started to reflect the dominance of general play. A third and a fourth followed, with a great long-range goal from Donovan Toohey getting the crowd going. At that stage the Roys were flying.

 

Fitzroy were using the width of the Brunswick Street Oval excellently, moving the ball laterally to enter the forward fifty from several different angles to play to the advantage of their forwards. Peninsula was stunned, and their players struggled to get their hands on the football and use it to any effect. They did make a rare thrust forward and try a shot practically from the boundary. The ball defied the laws of physics to get as close to the goal as it did, but it cruelly bounced the wrong way, with Fitzroy defenders mopping up. Peninsula needed that to bounce through, they were still scoreless in the third quarter. Fitzroy soon had the ball down the other end and Bill Clayton got another goal from close range.

 

The Roys had addressed their accuracy issues, spectacularly so. Until deep into the quarter, every scoring shot was a goal. They kicked eight unanswered goals for the term before the first errant shot was recorded. As with the second quarter, Fitzroy was winning the ball in tight and then moving quickly with hands before kicking to open territory, catching the runners in space for them to kick into the forward line. It worked to near perfection in the third quarter and Fitzroy blew the margin out to 74 points by three-quarter time.

 

As the final quarter got underway the shadows were lengthening and the temperature was starting to turn shoulders in and knees together. Fitzroy’s first goal came before their supporters had finished ensconcing themselves behind the goal. One brilliant move from the centre bounce typified the Roys’ control of the game. A strong punch from Gaite fell to a rover, who kicked it deep into the forward fifty, where Rory Angiolella got on the end of it a converted with ease. The whole passage took no more than ten seconds. Fitzroy’s dominance was complete; the remarkably tall Matthew Gaite was winning a lot of ball in the ruck, to the benefit of the on-ballers around him. Defensively, Fitzroy was able to lock the ball up in their forward half with great tackling pressure.

 

The umpires had a light touch on the game, which generally flowed well. There were a few spot-fires towards the end of the match, but nothing sufficiently serious to warrant extra-judicious intervention. The standard of play was reasonable for the third division of the VAFA; but there was clearly a gulf in class between the two teams. Even with their dominance, Fitzroy fumbled and missed targets. One poor turnover on the half-back line gifted Peninsula its only goal of the second half. Until then, they had not troubled the scorer for some time.

 

By the final minutes, however, the ball was perpetually in Fitzroy’s forward half and the goals kept coming. Matthew Gaite, playing forward, got two quick goals after strong contested marks, a reward for his good work in the ruck. Rory Angiolella almost kicked a classy goal, shrugging off an opponent with swift footwork, only to spray his shot wide. Nathan Jumeau kicked a great snap from about 40 metres out on an angle, one of his six goals for the match. With the home crowd revelling in every goal, it fell to Thomas O’Donnell to have the final shot on goal for the game. He took a strong mark just inside the fifty reasonably close to the boundary. As he was running in the final siren sounded, but unperturbed, he calmly slotted the goal, much to the jubilation of his fellow players and Fitzroy’s fans alike. That goal brought the final margin to 132 points.

 

Fitzroy’s turnaround from halftime had been monumental, built on clean ball movement in close and good running to create targets in space. While they were not as clean as they could have been, hard running into space meant most fumbles or slight miss kicks did not prove too costly. Defensive pressure was excellent, particularly in the forward half, and it allowed Fitzroy to regain the ball time and time again when it looked like Peninsula would surge out of their defensive fifty.

 

Suffice it to say I had an enjoyable afternoon. I’m not sure what my son made of it; he alternated between periods of sleep, agitation and contentment. Walking around the ground with him, he receives plenty of favourable comments about his level of cuteness. One person said that they hoped it would be his first visit of many. With wins like that, it’s certainly an attractive place to be on a Saturday afternoon in Melbourne.

 

 

Fitzroy FC                                      1.5       4.10     13.12   23.19   (157)

Peninsula Old Boys FC            2.3       2.4       2.4       3.7       (25)

About William Westerman

Canberra based military historian and sporting enthusiast.

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