This was a game for the ages. There was a lot of talk of forfeiting the final game of the season. Players pulling-out one-by-one with injuries. 14 sort-of-fit men to start the game, plus a couple of injured blokes willing to fill a hole on the ground didn’t make for a promising game – especially when we were missing all the blokes capable of actually running.
Shark was bemused we were even bothering. If I could summarise his pre-game speech, it was more or less … “we’re #**#”. But as the boys warmed-up and saw brave Clangers going through his paces, willing to risk knee surgery just to help the boys, we all got a bit of lift. And then when Cocker fresh from having surgery to his massive biceps said, “bugger it, I’m in”, we were truly inspired and knew this was a dead rubber worth fighting for.
For most of the game the forward line contained five blokes seriously injured – Seddo with his ribs, Coathy hampered by a calf, one-legged Clangers, one-armed Cocker and one-armed SR (plus Burnsy who was required to carry the other five). The backline was playing one short and the midfield was filled throughout the day by Jay, Belch and Carbone, who usually play in the backline, with yankee Ryan in the ruck and Swooper and Mailman on the wings. A lot rested on Lorenzini (Lorra), back-to-back dual competition B&F winner.
The midfield did a sterling job all day to be competitive and breakeven against seasoned midfielders. Jay Donato, the ever-smiling heart and soul of the team worked tirelessly onball in the trenches. Brett Maylin showed his class and composure on the wing, using the ball well and being the go-to man for our backline. Lorra threatened early but then hurt his ankle and was temporarily subdued, joining the over-crowded injured group in the forward line.
But this was really a day where the backline deserve to have their praises sung, because the ball spent two thirds of the game there and the boys were immense in holding them out, despite playing with only five defenders. Steve Kilby was Jeremy McGovern-like in taking about 20 intercept marks and thwarting so many attacks on the goal line. Whatever Killa didn’t mark, Heater spoiled and then cleaned-up. Newcomer Daniel Chapman was extremely reliable at CHB and Ryan Hendy played his part in clearing the ball under pressure. It was a stoic effort from the group.
At half time the Panthers were only 11 points down and proud of their efforts to hang-in the game. Shark had a crack at SR at half time, imploring him to get involved. “If you could just get a possession!” SR was more interested in avoiding possessions.
The third quarter saw an arm wrestle but Lorra had returned to the midfield and was having some anger-management issues as the opposition targeted him. Lorra burst out of the middle and kicked a long bomb that was just touched on the line. Then he burst out of the middle again and tried to fend-off three tacklers. When the sixth tackler piled on top of him he decided it was a good time to handball to a teammate. SR was the beneficiary and swung the ball on to his right foot and was as surprised as anybody to see it sail through from 40 metres out, with the help of a gust of wind.
At the next contest, Lorra was besieged by two Boronians, anxious to slow him down with a couple of sneaky rib-ticklers while he lay on the ground. The umpire cautioned Lorra for being targeted so often, observing that “it’s always you in scuffles”. More testosterone flowed between Boronian players and Lorra off the ball and steam was coming from Lorra’s ears. At the following ball-up, Burnsy deftly tapped it and Lorra burst through a throng of players with power to crumb the ball and snap it through the goals from a tight angle. The resulting high-five between Lorra and SR was so charged that SR nearly lost his good arm. The Panthers grabbed the lead for the first time in the match and went into three-quarter time with a slender five point lead.
The final quarter saw the ball in Eltham’s backline for most of the time and again Killa and Heater reigned supreme. After another arm wrestle, the Panthers worked the ball forward and Clangers found himself with the ball on the 40 meter arc running towards goal. A dinky little pass (we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt Clangers) found SR seven metres further forward but was called play-on, causing SR to swing around on to his left foot for another goal – two measly kicks, but two goals. When captain Seddo snapped a ripper five minutes later, the lead had crept out to beyond two goals and the midfield and backline were able to hold out for the rest of the game.
It was truly a remarkable, proud last-round victory by a wounded, undermanned Panther side against the odds: 7-6-48 to 4-12-36.
It would be remiss not to thank a few important people for their efforts this season. Firstly, Shark for providing the humour throughout, sticking with us despite constantly struggling to field a team and providing the footy smarts with his coaching nous. Secondly, Johnny Zito – what a legend. Johnny is the Team Manager who cooks the bbq at training (snags, prawns, chicken, chips, dimmys …a very high standard), stirs the boys with his fb posts, does all the paperwork, updates the scores, and finds people to do the other jobs that need doing. Thirdly, Helen and Timmy Smith, for providing the rub-downs, tape and other medic duties each week. Fourthly, Matty Weisheit, for committing to goal umpire responsibilities and keeping his focus most of the time despite necking a few tinnies throughout each game. Young Killa (Nathan) for running boundary, plus other various kids for running water. And last but not least, Cocker and Jay for organising the year. See you on the footy trip boys!!!!