When you’re in the groove by KB Hill

My sporting week-end starts with a flourish.


I tune in to the Headingly Test on Friday night, and can hardly believe the carnage that’s unfolding. Hazelwood, Cummins and Pattinson perpetrate Jimmy Anderson-like deeds, and make the Duke ball talk, as the Poms capitulate for 67.


Surely the surprising 100-plus lead the Aussies have garnered will be the foundation for a match ( and indeed, Ashes-winning ) second innings total.


I hit the sack just after midnight, content that, even though they’re making hard work of it, the boys are inching towards victory. Every wicket-less over that passes limits the possibility of the Poms extracting themselves out of this one.


The day dawns brightly for the clash at the Findlay Oval…… It’s sixth versus seventh……Hardly a promoter’s dream you’d say. But both Yarra and the Rovers are holding onto a 100/1 chance of being finals-bound – that’s if fifth-placed Raiders unexpectedly fall over. Whatever, it’s crucial to finish the season off in a positive vein.


Hard to tip either way, I reckon. The Pigeons have shown a bit lately, but the Hawks have been the season’s big improvers. Perhaps it’ll depend on who takes the early initiative…… which side has come to play.


Goals are at a premium. The Rovers are racked with indecision and continually turn the pill over. At half-time they’re ushered into the Coach’s Room for a ‘heart-to-hearter’. Maybe that will do the trick.


One thing in their favour is that Yarra haven’t hurt them too much on the score-board. But, ominously, the Pigeons begin to take control in the third-quarter. Their coach-in-waiting, Mark Whiley, despite being injury-affected, has moved forward and is creating opportunities.


Will-o-the-wisp Jack Gerrish provides a rare highlight for the home side. He grabs the ball on the defensive side of centre and off he goes. Dodging and weaving around flailing Pigeons, he manages a shaky bounce here and there and slots it through for a team-lifting major. This could be the spark that lifts his team-mates.




But it’s the Hawks’ only goal for the quarter, and at lemon-time they’ve scored a paltry 3.10 to yield a 22-point lead to Yarra. It will require a massive turn-around to resuscitate their hopes.


Again the intense ‘Crezza’ pleads, cajoles, shuffles names on his magic board, and, probably, privately prays for a miracle.


Within minutes his salutations have been answered . There’s been a massive boost in work-rate. Suddenly his charges are in the ‘Groove’, as most of the play is focused on the Rovers forward-line.


And they’re rewarded with a goal to Stuart Booth. The pendulum has swung markedly in their favour, as they tackle with renewed ferocity and hit targets with precision. The packed populace on the balcony roar their approval, spellbound by the shift in momentum.


Then Tommy McCaffrey swings onto his left boot and nails successive goals. After the second he rotates, arms upraised like a choir-master, inciting the crowd to join in the chorus of approval. Suddenly there’s just a kick in it.


And there’s more…..Youngster Sam Allen lets fly from well out and another one sails through the big sticks. The goal ump is none too sure, dubious as to whether it has been touched. Many in the crowd concur. But after a moment’s consultation he answers in the affirmative and raises two flags.


The revival is complete when Cody Schutt kicks a ripper to top off his terrific final term. I couldn’t help thinking that the gods have finally shone on this youthful warrior, who has endured seasons of injury setbacks. When Booth slots another, the Hawks have had ten shots to three, booted six goals on the trot, and clinched a most unlikely victory.


Among the heroes is Nathan Cooper, who has been swung upfield after holding sway all day at full back. It was a master-stroke by his coach, who looked to him to provide the inspiration for the turn-around.


‘Coops’ is just 21; reliable, strong and athletic. At 195cm he has cast a giant shadow over pesky opposition forwards all season. His well-placed fist has foiled many a marking attempt. But he has a few other strings to his bow…..like a strong pair of hands, fine judgement and coolness under pressure.


His has been a most unorthodox journey to Ovens and Murray football.


He was a Rugby League fan as a whippersnapper, before he began to show a modicum of interest in Aussie Rules. At 15 his week-ends would be occupied by playing League with Parramatta Eels Under 16’s on Saturdays, and Rules with a local junior club, Westbrook, on Sundays.


His ascension to senior ranks was meteoric. Moving to S.F.L club Pennant Hills, he starred in their Under 19’s, became a member of the Sydney Swans Academy, represented the NSW-ACT Rams, then broke into the Pennant Hills senior side, aged 17.


The following year he figured in the Swans Reserves 3-point loss to GWS in the 2016 NEAFL Grand Final, playing up forward alongside present-day AFL regulars such as Nic Newman, Toby Nankervis and Zac Jones.


His next move, to rival club Sydney University, saw ‘Coops’ play 29 games in key position roles over two seasons, and earn a spot in the NEAFL’s Team of the Year. He twice earned a NEAFL Rising Star nomination.


That’s when he came to the attention of new Rovers coach Daryn Cresswell’s recruiting network.


The proposition put to him was that a good season alongside the crafty ‘Crezza’ might bring him under the microscope of AFL talent scouts.


It was a big decision, as he’s in the midst of his combined Civil Engineering and Project Management Degree at Sydney University and spends his spare time working as a window-cleaner on the city’s Sky-scrapers. And it meant a heavy travel schedule each week-end.


“It’s worked out pretty well, really,” he says. “I finish Uni on Fridays and head straight to the Airport, where I catch a flight to Albury.”


“There’ve only been a couple of hiccups, when the weather was looking pretty bleak, and there was some doubt about whether the flights might get delayed. But it’s been an unreal experience, and I’ve loved every minute of my time with the Rovers……Better than I could have imagined.”


He admits he was a touch toey about making the move. But he’s become a favourite of Hawk fans. Many seasoned judges rate him – in just 17 games, mind you – up there with the best full backs to have played for the club.


Among the highlights of the Cooper season was his display down back in the O & M’s Inter-League clash against Mornington Peninsula. He kept boom forward Keegan Downie goalless, and earned the AFL Victoria Medal as the O & M’s best player.




His subsequent inclusion at full back for the VCFL’s representative encounter with the VAFA earned more plaudits from the good judges. VCFL coach Danny Frawley urged AFL scouts to give consideration to drafting him.


So there have been accolades aplenty for the big fellah. But I wonder whether there may be one more in the offing.


Mick Nolan is the only player to have won a Rovers Best and Fairest wearing the Number 13 Brown and Gold guernsey. Maybe  ‘Coops’ could become the second ?


He’s heading upstairs to the Clubrooms for the preliminary rounds of the vote-count on Sunday, just as I’m about to depart.


I’ve got things on my mind……The Bulldogs’ scintillating form in the last part of the season has brought them to within a whisker of a finals berth. The equation is simple….They have to knock over Adelaide this arvo to cement their spot.


The ‘Dogs have burnt old fans like me numerous times in the past, but at this point they’re positively on fire. The improvement in youngsters like English, Dunkley, Lipinski, Dale and Naughton, has provided the impetus for the rise up the ladder.


‘The Bont’ is also in potential Brownlow form, but nevertheless, us old cronies can’t help but be pessimistic. No worries. They’re ‘in the groove’, hardly giving Adelaide a sniff, as they race out to an early 40-point lead.


It’s a cake-walk. They bury the Crows and book a finals berth against GWS. By gee, this reminds me of 2016.


I just need to nail the final leg of the Trifecta, and ride the Aussies home tonight. Things didn’t pan out all that well last night. Root and Denley are proving obstinate and I’ve got a funny feeling about this game. But I’m sure the boys, with a night’s rest, will rip through the Poms.


‘Gazza’ Lyon grabs the prized Root wicket. We’re on our way.


The game’s fluctuating wildly and it seems to be getting away from us. Then the long-awaited clatter of wickets comes. There’s no way, with Jack Leach walking to the wicket, that the Poms can win.


The bloke can’t bat, and they still need 73. Stokes isn’t playing any shots, either. But thoughts of Botham’s heroics of 1981  must be flashing through his mind.


Suddenly he’s away….cutting loose, with Lady Luck is on his side. He couldn’t do it could he….. ?


Alas, the Aussies lose the unloseable. That’s what can happen when you strike a bloke who’s ‘in the groove’.





This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.


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  1. A great read, KB Hill, despite the pain of Ben Stokes’ match-winning innings still lingering for this passionate cricket fan who supports Australia and whoever plays against England.
    The only thing I will dispute (albeit slightly) is you saying “the bloke (Jack Leach) can’t bat”.
    A look at his record below suggests you’re correct, but Leach was obviously in the groove when he made a second-innings 92 as a nightwatchman against Ireland at Lord’s, England having crumbled for 85 in the first innings.

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