VWFL – St Kilda Sharks: a brave game and a magnificently brave act

On a lovely Sunday afternoon, the harbinger of spring, I was once again at the Peanut Farm Oval for women playing footy. I got there half-way through the seconds game, and I took my place along the fence. Keryn Ralph, the Sharks’ President and on-field defender, was playing. At half time, the visitors, Eastern Devils, were up 5 points. Around me girls were in moonboots, recovering from foot injuries. Others were in gear ready for the seniors game. There were babies in pushers and with family, dogs and people taking a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll.

The media, GPF (or Girls Play Footy), have a live stream being set up nearby. Peter Holden was putting up his banner to advertise the call. I will stand close by to hear the call again and get the names of the still unfamiliar people playing. Matthew Cole and Peter were the callers this afternoon, and in front of them they had a list of players for reference. They were also monitoring the Premier Division’s other game because today was D-Day. Melbourne University Mugars were playing Diamond Creek Creekers. Today would decide who were in the final top four. Both games would be close.

At the seconds’ half time, the Premier girls come out. I love the way the Premier girls line up at the gates so the teams run through them into the change rooms. It’s a lovely touch, a supportive environment. There is such feeling at this club, the St Kilda Sharks, and I am sure that it is shared at all the women’s and girls’ clubs throughout their league. They don’t have thousands of supporters; they have each other.

The Premier girls are kicking through the goals, getting some warmth and movement into their bodies. I used the time to walk twice around the outside of the ground, to move my own body a little. It is a pleasant day, but when the cloud covers the sunshine, it chilled down immediately. And I am on my feet all day, standing at the fence like I did when I was a kid at Moorabbin. Being close to the action.

Come the beginning of the third, I am back in my place, the girls run through their teammates, and it is game on again. The Premier girls are now going through their drills outside the fence, in the patches of free space either side of the Oval.

All the backs of the jumpers are white with only a splash of black on the opposition team, and different coloured shorts. As the game resumes, there is good, fierce, determined play by both teams. There are strapped knees and black armbands, and purple ribbons on the Sharks’ armbands.

As I enjoy the to and fro of the game, I also enjoy my surrounds, the gum trees and palm trees alternating around the fence line. The children who kick the ball back in when it goes through the goals or behinds. The brilliant, sunny afternoon is marked by calls between the girls, encouraging, calling for the ball or guiding each other. I move to stand behind the coaching area and watch those resting encouraging their teammates. I watch the runner take the coach’s message out. I watch them as they urge each other on, over and over. I hear the thumps of body on body and the thwack of the kick, boot to ball. I can see the looks of disappointment at missed marks. The umpire’s whistle blows when necessary.

Teammates and coaches are calling from the interchange. A player comes off and high-fives her friends and family standing to my right while she cools down and catches her breath. I love the informality. The community.

There is a goal by the Sharks, and we all cheer as one. The goal kicker is bent over, puffing, hands on knees, catching her breath. Then there is the disappointment when the opposition goals, and yet more encouragement for their own. Tamara Hyett gets the Sharks’ next goal, followed by Gina Donovan who gets her first-ever goal. There is excitement on the Sharks‘ bench, further instructions. I hear nicknames like “Nugget.” Carlee Portlock has one touched through for a point, and the coach is yelling “man up, man up, only one minute to go.” And then the siren blasts and the Sharks have won, 7.10.53 to Eastern Devils 5.2.32. It was a convincing victory.

The coach is calling, “get around the girls, be positive, lift them up.”

As the players file off, they form a guard of honour for the Premiers. Kids have entered the ground for kick to kick. I move around to the gates and take photos of both Eastern Devils and St Kilda Sharks lining up for the Premier girls to run through. But there is a sombre air about. I ask Ann Rulton, Founding Member and chief organiser, what was going on. She told me that one of the Sharks’ brother had died this week. There was to be a minute’s silence, and as his favourite colour was purple, the girls were wearing an extra purple armband on top of their black one.

When both Premier teams run out, they join arm in arm with their teammates, organisers, coaches, staff and umpires, and Keryn Ralph thanks everyone for joining in the minute’s silence for one of their people. Connected together, across from each other, this assembly of players/friends/family/teams bow their heads and have their private thoughts in this public way.

I am close to tears as the minute finishes and the Premiers go about warming up while the seconds go into the rooms and sing their song:

Oh when the Sharks

Go marching In

Oh when the Sharks go marching in

How I want to play for St Kilda

When the Sharks go marching in.

Moments later, the next game begins and I am right next to the commentary team. I have had my steamed dim sims, my extra hot drink, and have paper and pen ready to write up this game.

In the first quarter, the game starts fast with the ball getting to the Sharks’ forward line, and Brianna Davey scores a behind. Very quickly, the ball is up the other end and Kendra Heil goals for the Eastern Devils. There are several behinds scored for both teams before Heil kicks accurately to Sarah D’Arcy for the Devils’ second goal.

There is tough footy being played, great effort and fitness, and Moana Hope finally scores the Sharks’ first goal from a beautiful kick from outside the 50 metre line.

The Devils fight back with another from D’Arcy. Sharks get one back from Jess Gardner and then Davey again.

Next to me, Peter and Matthew call the game, and then all goes silent as they listen to the match report between Melbourne and Diamond Creek. The lead there is constantly changing, according to our callers, and so the live ladder keeps changing.

Meanwhile, Sophie Casey from the Devils scores another goal just on quarter time.

St Kilda Sharks 3.3.21

Eastern Devils 4.2.26

Four of the Sharks played in the Women’s AFL game two weeks ago, which I watched on TV for the first time. It rated its socks off, and I hope this is a sign of things to come. The Sharks’ Davey (a former Socceroo who narrowly missed out on selection for the World Cup tour this year) and Hope played for the Western Bulldogs, and teammates Brittany Bonnici and Jenna Bruton for the Melbourne team. They are all on the ground for this game, and all playing brilliantly.

Meg Hutchins and Hannah Scott, from the Eastern Devils, played in that game, too. Six women on field who have been chosen for the higher level. It shows the standard of talent out on the ground.

I chatted to Lisa, another ex-player and member of the Sharks’ committees and history. She remembers me from my last time here. Later, as I chat to her again, one of the Devils’ old players came to say hello and catch up. They’d played against each other in the past and were now both older and wiser, and heavier to boot. The Devils’ player said that now she knows better, that when she was younger, she thought she could do anything on the field and off. Now her body was telling her otherwise. She put it down to maturing at about 26 years old. Before that, she says, you are fearless.

Come second quarter, the Sharks come flying out. Hope is brilliant with the first goal, a really tough effort, and Davey follows up. Suddenly the Sharks lead by 7. Jessica Foster goals for the Devils after magnificent speed out of the middle of the ground. All around me hold their breath as Davey has hurt her ankle, and with help limps off the ground with assistance from the trainer and medico. As the commentators say, “She has a bit of a skip as she comes off. She’s a pivotal player.”

The play continued with the Devils’ Melissa Beadles getting a free kick and D’Arcy marking but only getting a behind. Scores are level before Heil gets her second, and Hannah Scott, the Bulldogs’ super-sub in the AFL game, gets the last one for the Devils before half time. Two goals each for the quarter with the Devils getting more behinds and leading the attacking for the quarter.

St Kilda Sharks 5.3.33

Eastern Devils 6.6.42

It was time for more stretching and warming myself, with another spin around the fence. This is a great ground, with many seats around the outer. People were either watching the game or watching their children play.

So come third quarter, we are all ready, stretched and refreshed. The weather was cooling and I was regretting having left my jacket in the car this morning. The walking between the quarters helped.

The Sharks came out attacking, but Gardner and Penny Cula-Reid got only behinds. Then Hope, their very good forward, smacked a great goal through the middle. The Devils got two points back. The pressure was on. Then Samantha McGeoch got a major for the Devils, and Hope shanked a point after hurting her hand. Jaimee Lambert goals, giving Eastern Devils a 14-point lead. The Sharks’ Tilly Lucas-Rodd then gives off a great pass to Hope, but she misses to the left. Gardner misses for the Sharks as well.

The Devils attack once again through Heil, and it begins to look a problem for the Sharks. Against great pressure, and against the flow of play, Davey, back on the ground, shows why she’s such a terrific forward and goals. Only 12 points the difference as the siren sounds.

St Kilda Sharks 7.8.50

Eastern Devils 9.8.62

I started talking to the family who have stood next to me for the whole game. Joe is Brittany Bonnici’s father, and Heather and Ron her proud grandparents. They told me that Brittany has been playing since she was 10, with the Wallan U14 boys’ team as captain, and then moved to St. Albans girls’ team. She has joined the Sharks only this year. Brittany has represented Victoria U18 for four years and captained the U18s last year as they won the national title. She was selected three times for the All Australian U18 Youth Girl team. They tell me footy is her life, she trains and eats properly, and reads everything footy related. She is studying sports as well. “All credit to her,” they tell me. “We are very proud.”

They also said she was very tough and had been to the hospital three times this year.

So I looked out for Brittany’s No. 9 for the rest of the game. Despite her sore ankle, Davey continued to play great football, getting the first goal of the quarter. Sophie Casey got a behind for the Devils, then Sarah Perkins goaled to put them 13 points ahead. Hope tried to attack the goals again and kicked it straight into the man on the mark. But Brittany Bonnici, to our delight, got a free and kicked a good goal from an angle, 25 metres from goal. Then she did it again. We were getting very excited on our spot on the fence. Hope goaled again, it was raining Shark goals. The attack was awesome, and the lead was now with the Sharks. When the Devils got a behind, there was three points the difference with 6 minutes remaining.

We knew about the 6 minutes because I asked the broadcasters and they asked the timekeepers and now the pressure was on to keep the lead. A long injury break in the other game meant it would finish later than this one. Results were pivotal in both.

When the ball was about to be taken out of the Sharks’ forward zone, Bonnici threw her whole body into the contest and stopped the ball getting out, but freaked us all out by not getting up. She was injured, and the game was stopped as she was treated right there and then. Her father Joe left our side and went to help, and was part of the group who stretchered her off the ground. She was moving and her knee was up, and moments later, when the game resumed, Mo Hope kicked a point. Brittany’s defence had held up the ball at the Sharks’ end, and moments later, when the siren went, it was St Kilda Sharks by 5 points, 11.9 to 10.10. They were playing in the finals.

Now we listened to the commentators pay attention to the results from the other game to see who would be playing against the Sharks next week. Keryn was hovering too, wanting to know, to tell her team and the Devils, who still had a chance of being in the top four if Melbourne Uni lost. Melbourne Uni had won by 1 point, meaning they were playing St Kilda Sharks in the first final, and Eastern Devils were out. The Devils were shattered.

I congratulated Lisa, and she generously invited me into the rooms. She actually asked me if I’d like to come in. I was almost in tears. I have never been invited into any rooms post games, and was so incredibly honoured to be there.

Brittany was on the injured bench being attended to as the players formed a circle around her (family and support group stood around the room). They kept waiting for the stragglers to come in. Some had their children or babies in their arms, one, two, three, four, and suddenly they were all there and the song rung out again, loud, proud, raucous, joyous and with as much spirit as the game that had just been played.

OH WHEN THE SHARKS

GO MARCHING IN

OH WHEN THE SHARKS GO MARCHING IN

HOW I WANT TO PLAY FOR ST KILDA

WHEN THE SHARKS GO MARCHING IN

Now I did choke up and had to bite back tears. On top of that, I had the honour of hearing the coach talk to the women postmatch. They sat on the tiered benches as Shannon McFerran told them that they had, for the first time, come back from behind and taken victory. They were persistent, they really wanted it and they got it. She turned to Brittany and said, “What a great effort from Brittany in the last quarter; it got us back in the game.” Everyone cheered their injured teammate. Everyone played well, said Shannon. She was very proud of her team.

I had been told by Lisa that this was Shannon’s first year as coach for this group. She knows her footy and has great experience and strength. She’s also a past player of this group and still plays for the Sharks’ other team.

The players and coaches and organisers all gathered on the benches for photos and then all raced to gather around Brittany for one with her lying in the centre. A magnificent end to the excitement. I was moved by the whole afternoon.

Their next game will be at noon this Sunday at Whitten Oval, the first of two semifinals to be played there.

I walked back to the St Kilda Botanical Garden, the park across from my grandparents’ old flat, the flat that I lived in for a few years. I walked around the garden for the next 40 minutes, taking in the last of the warmth of the day, getting a bit more exercise and coming down from two terrific matches by my other favourite team.

Go St Kilda Sharks. Onwards and upwards.

About Yvette Wroby

Yvette Wroby writes, cartoons, paints through life and gets most pleasure when it's about football, and more specifically the Saints. Believes in following dreams and having a go.

Comments

  1. Leesa Catto says:

    A fantastic article Yvette, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    sorry for misspelling your name Leesa. Good luck today with the game

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