Best Players: S. Strickland, A. Burns, M. Seadon, T. Fitzgerald, B. Maylin, S. Devine
The Panther Vets are a unique bunch of footy tragics. 20 minutes before play, just 15 blokes had arrived and Coathy forgot his boots – we’re not a professional outfit. One-by-one blokes withdrew on the eve of the match for an assortment of reasons (sore toenails, child minding duties, commitments to junior footy), leaving just 18 to start the match. When reigning dual comp B&F Lozza pulled his hammy in the opening minutes, the motley crew quickly resembled a bunch of artists from Montsalvat.
The backline was in disarray early, torn between covering their direct opponent and trying to cover emboldened opposition wingmen, and choosing somewhere in between. Ferntree Gully got the jump and quickly amassed 3 goals.
The Panther midfield of Burnsy, Brett Maylin, Riddles and the indefatigable Stricko, had to carry the entire running load. Apart from Swoopa and Fitzy, these blokes had little running support and had to carry responsibility for four quarters transitioning the ball from a tired backline to an immobile forward line. And they did an incredible job.
Stricko was sensational, buzzing around relentlessly to all pockets of the ground. The self-proclaimed an aptly named Show-Stopper also converted a brilliant set shot from 45m late in the third quarter to keep the Panthers in the hunt.
Eltham had 5 or 6 unfit blokes in the forward line who could barely move, although only two of them were injured. Coathy, playing with a groin niggle asserted that he couldn’t lead, although Shark gave him a dubious look; everyone knows Coathy’s preference is a good armchair by an open fire. So Coathy stayed in the goal square surrounded by other goal square residents and took three strong marks, kicking three important goals to three quarter time.
The backline, led well by captain Seado, held tight after quarter time. Ryan Hendley, a newcomer to the team, has settled in well in the back pocket and been a welcome addition. He looks a bit like Van Diesel out of Fast & Furious … although he’s neither fast, or furious. But he’s got a composed footy brain, sure hands and knows how to use his body.
At half time SR implored the coach to lift and earn his money. Shark responded by pulling the move of the match, shifting an underutilised winning defender Seado from the backline to CHF. Shark also moved Clangers from the wing to the backline in a shutdown role on a dangerous forward. Clangers sacrificed his game and set about getting inside the bloke’s head, playing him tight and talking to him endlessly. He did an excellent job, keeping him to only one more touch for the rest of the match.
Despite circumstances being up against these Vets, one thing each player has in common is character – that will to compete and not give up. It was an ugly game (sorry spectators) but everyone hung-in and gave their all, never losing belief. In the last quarter, Lozza somehow conjured a goal off one leg in the goal square and the Panther’s edged closer.
With less than a kick in it, Clangers was very stiff to be penalised for an allegedly illegal handball. An exasperated Clangers offered a difference of opinion and tried to persuade the umpire to change his mind, but – unsurprisingly – the umpire instead awarded a 25 metre penalty and Ferntree Gully duly converted.
Undaunted, despite time running out and every muscle aching in every player, the Panther Vets held their nerve and kept pressing. Seado was giving a great captain’s effort up forward and took two crucial marks. Each time he composed himself and slotted the opportunity, hitting the lead for the first time in the match with less than two minutes to go. The midfielders quickly helped clog-up the backline to help hold the opposition out for the remainder of the match. We’re a mighty team at Eltham.