Pre-season had more blokes dropping-in for a frothy after training than actually training. Numbers were grim. Doubting Thomas’s were everywhere. But Steve “Cocker” Cordina was having none of it. Adopting Kevin Costner’s approach of “Build it and they will come”, Cocker continued to pump-out the message that we were all systems go and the numbers were fantastic, whilst censoring those who actually attended training from revealing the real plight. And unbelievably, like Jesus conjuring fish, Cocker conjured players.
Four new faces were welcomed to the Round 1 line-up, Troy, Adam, John and Finn. They were a motley looking bunch of recruits – which meant they fitted-in perfectly. We also had the surprising return of former Vet’s gun, the great BG. Straight into the middle for you son!
Trap Daw was the celebrity Acting coach and wasted no time in benching Clangers. (Believe it or not, despite fielding 17 blokes for most of last season, somehow we had 3 interchange players for Round 1.)
The first quarter saw South Belgrave well on top in the ruck and midfield, continuously pumping the ball into their forwards. In contrast, our own forwards were spectators, arms crossed on their chests, waiting for that moment when the ball might venture past the centre square. Our backline did a tremendous job under pressure in this early period, led by Jay Donato, who was playing like Luke Hodge in his glory days. South Belgrave scored a couple of goals but then in the last 5 or 6 minutes, Eltham managed to turn the tide and get the ball into our forward 50, eventually scoring a number of points and injecting a bit of self-confidence.
A bit of technical ruck-craft advice from Trap Daw to our American ruckman, had instant success (which impressed me, because I have never known Trap Daw to play in the ruck). Ryan, to his credit, immediately reversed our hitout fortunes to our advantage and was a major presence for the remaining three quarters. Brett Maylin shifted into the middle and also made his physical presence felt, which had the benefit of allowing BG to find a bit of space and use his skills.
Swoopa started to get a million kicks up-and-down the wing and new player, Troy McDonald, marked four opposition kicks in the second quarter, strangely without opposition – he just had a knack for being in the right spot. John and Finn both started to get involved and right on the half time siren, our fourth new player, Adam Podlewski, calmly scored Eltham’s first goal with a 40 meter set-shot, providing a bit of relief to the slightly underwhelming team performance at that point.
Trap Daw offered the boys some encouragement at half-time, reflecting that we were starting to wear the opposition down and predicting we would overrun South Belgrave in the end. He proved correct. Matt Carbone had been toiling away in the midfield in his normal understated manner, gradually oiling out the rust and soon shifted into top gear, becoming clear BOG showing surprising endurance, turn of speed at times, excellent disposal and clutch ability in key moments. Swoopa continued to menace on the wing and Lorra started to shake-off his pesky tagger (who hung on to him the whole game long, like an annoying younger sibling).
Our captain Seddo was durable and commendable at CHF. In the first half he got clobbered in the back, neck and head several times as he led and attempted to mark his teammates kicks that sailed over his head. But he persisted and continued to motor up and down the ground, always presenting a target, always wheeling back into play to deliver another pass upfield. As the game opened-up in the second half and Eltham’s field kicking improved, Seddo became a major influence in Eltham’s attack.
Curiously, two of Eltham’s characters who are loved by their teammates, had quiet games. Clangers could be seen fully bandaged on the bench, despite not being injured and Coathy reported a swollen finger, despite nobody recalling him touching the ball.
In the final quarter Simon Devine reminded teammates that he was playing, bobbing-up for two excellent marks close to goal, which he duly converted. Then Matt Carbone fittingly slotted the match-winner on the run, allowing Eltham to hit the front for the first time in the match a few minutes before the end.
It was a great way to start the season, with a spirited team performance so typical of this group, eventually overcoming a valiant opponent. Well done boys!