It was a dark-but-pleasant Friday evening at Panther Place and a couple of blokes were no doubt querying their decision to commit the previous week on video to debuting for the Vets. Mick Smith, President of the Senior Club, was looking resplendent in his player’s outfit, oiled-up and ready to go.  Paul King, Coach of the Senior Club, was looking more circumspect, probably contemplating the fact he was obligated to set an example and play the way he demands of his own players.

Also debuting for the Panthers fresh from the Magoos to the delight of their new teammates, was the relatively young saplings Skittles and Crackers.  They both had a smile from ear-to-ear, keen as mustard to continue their fabled local careers in the relaxed (but still competitive) environment that is Veterans football. Two more debutants new to the club, Jason Plant (ex Heidleberg) and Jason Corbett (an Irish mate of Paddy’s who thought it would be good crack to try a foreign sport), gave the squad some depth.

And if that weren’t enough, Patrick “Nobby” Hassler and Aaron Moloney were back, after 1 week injuries that turned into 1 year. Everyone gave up on trying to learn teammates names.

As the lads went through their pre-game warm-up routine (which wasn’t a routine for most of them) someone got a bit adventurous and decided the group should graduate from a gentle stretch to a couple of stride-throughs and then a bit of lane-kicking, just to get a feel for the ball.  And that was it for President Mick – looking a million dollars until his first warm-up kick, when his quadricep muscle went twang.

It was an ominous start for the group; but President Mick is connected and brought with him his own professional medico who quickly cleared the rub-down-table for numero uno.  Before the boys had taken the field, Mick was showered, dressed and looking every bit the President again.

Kingy made a great start to the match, boring-in hard, repeat efforts, vocal, knocking the ball forward at every scrimmage, winning contested footy – he was the additional inside midfielder this team has been desperately needing for years.  And he left nothing in the tank. In fact, his tank looked like it ran empty about 5 minutes before the end of each quarter. (Just taking the piss, Kingy!)

North Ringwood, our arch-nemesis, got the jump on Eltham but it was a close fought game with only one point separating the sides at three quarter time.  Gia backed-up his impressive Round 2 debut with another strong performance and Belch did an outstanding shut-down role on an opponent that had caused early trouble.  Nobby reminded teammates he was a strong presence in the air and provided great service up forward early, then down back late.  Skittles was clean, evasive and looked a few seconds too quick for his opponents and for his teammates, but I’m sure he’ll learn to adapt to the slower movement soon.  Other blokes to play well included Lorra (3 goals), Chappy (solid down back) and Heater – who fought through an accidental bloodied nose with the aid of just a Panadol.

In the end, North Ringwood’s experience and depth of playing ability across the field won out for them and the last quarter was a convincing statement from the former 3-peat side.  But nonetheless, it was a great effort by a bunch of good blokes who barely knew each other before the game and whose playing chemistry will grow each match.  After the game, after socialising at the rooms for a while with their opponents, half the side defied their wearied bodies and kicked-on as one united team at the local Kraft Bar. Well done lads!