Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Football Chronicles: Part 4

Dalton Russell : Soon I'm gonna be sucking down pina coladas in a hot tub with six girls named Amber & Tiffany.
Keith Frazier: No, it's more like in the shower with Jamal & Jesus, and it wont be a pina colada that you'll be sucking.
"Inside Man"

Continued from previous post…

I remember reading the stat sheet from the first game...I had 7 kicks and 10 handballs for a handy 17 possessions in my first game, which isn't too bad. I actually had more possessions than the Child Prodigy (12 and 3), even if he had essentially won the game for us.

The following week was a terrible game, and I was left in doubt as if I would still be in the team next week. In truth, everyone had a bad day and I don't think they had any intention of dropping me after only two games. The next game was back out the South, and we won by 70+ points. For the only time of the season, my name crept into the best players at the footy club. The local paper had me in the best players 2 or 3 times for the season, but I seemed to struggle for votes when it came to the club voters. Weird how that happens some times.

Anyway, the season continued and we won all the games from then on. My life revolved around Saturday, and school during the week was boring me to no end. All I wanted to do was play footy on the Saturday, and feel mildly important once again.

Later in the year, the main coach was out of town for work for whatever reason, and the assistant took over for one game. They decided to "experiment" and I got moved from my customary forward line position to the back line. Even in all my junior footy, I had played in the back line on maybe 5% of the time – it was something I just wasn't used to. I liked to run around and have someone chase me, rather than the opposite. The decision was made to "see if I could handle it", but I had a feeling it was just because there wasn't room up forward for me this week and somebody had to change.

Just after half time, I took a heavy hit to my leg. I tried running around but soon found out it wasn't working properly. The runner was already out there seeing how I was, and made the obvious decision that I had to go to the bench. I put an ice pack on and sat there disappointed.

Later in the final quarter, I was feeling ok but I didn't get put back into the game, not that I was needed. I sat out basically the last half as we won again comfortably.

The following week's game was played in atrocious conditions. The local radio station that was broadcasting the game had to stop every five minutes as they could not see the players through the fog. The temperature was reported at 6 degrees Celsius (about 42F), raining constantly and obviously immense fog. Games like this are ugly, and you are normally just happy to get through it with the win – which we did. I did ok, again not starring but happy to be back in the forward line. Typically for the weather the game was low scoring, and I think 3 or 4 goals from us was enough for the win.

The training continued, and we were getting closer to finals time by now. We had two games to go in the season until finals, and one of the senior players was 2 games away from his 200 th. I was really looking forward to that and set it as my own personal goal. After that I would concentrate on the finals.

Late Thursday night after training, I got a phone call from the Colts coach. This was unusual. He said "I don't think you are getting picked in A's this week, so will you be there on Friday night?"

I said of course I would, but I was a little bit shocked. I thought I had done enough to earn my spot, and to keep it. I thought again about the words he used and after over-analysing them far too much, decided that he didn't say he was sure I wasn't getting picked this week, only he thinks I wasn't. Of course the fact that he is in the meeting where these decisions are made crept into my mind, and he called me about five minutes after said meeting would have ended. Deep down I knew it was fact, but I wanted something to hang on to.

Friday morning rolls around, and my name is missing from the selection sheet in the paper. I felt pretty crappy, as I said before I felt I was good enough to stay in the side and my performances were good. Although my last two games were very quiet, they were understandably so. I got injured in one and in the other nobody had a good game due to the weather. But alas, making all these excuses/reasons for my inclusion to myself did little to change the fact that I had not been picked. This decision is referred to being "dropped", and it felt like it.

To rub the salt in farther, due to a Friday night game being cancelled due to the weather a few weeks before (they never cancelled A's, but colts were a different story), the colts were a week behind in their scheduling. This meant that even though I played round 16 the week before in A's, it was only round 16 this week in colts. Due to some funny rules of the league, you are allowed to go up a grade during a round but you can't go down a grade. Since I had already played A's in round 16, I had to sit out a week very late in the season. Not only was I frustrated that I couldn't play footy that week at all, I also couldn't win my way back into the seniors side if I wasn't playing.

The following week would be the final game for the season before finals for the league team, and the 200th game for the senior player I mentioned before. I would be watching from the stands.

I decided that I would be doing everything I could to show I was still good enough in the colts, but I knew they would be very reluctant to make changes to the team going into the finals. Also, I didn't see any of the senior coaching staff in the stands for the Friday night colts games. It didn't matter that I was back to my dominating self in these games, there was nobody to see them.

The Child Prodigy had been selected in the Under 17 State team to compete at the national championships, and did two things at the competition. He played well enough to garner more interest from farming teams, and had severely broken his finger. He would be unable to play footy for a couple of months, which meant all of the finals. It was a big blow for the A's, and made no difference to my chances of getting back into the team.

The week before the grand final, the competition holds their awards night as part of the lead up to the big day on Saturday. They would announce the awards for the Reserves and Colts, and then count down the votes for the A's. I thought if I got 1 vote for the A's, I would have done well. I had no chance at the Best Junior award in A's, as the Child Prodigy was hands down the winner before the votes were even counted. In fact, they even said on the night the only surprise there was that he didn't win by more. I came forth in that voting, which was ok I guess since I only played 8 games.

I didn't attend the night as I didn't see much point. I had no chance to win any of the A's awards, and I only played half a season in Colts so I couldn't poll enough votes to win anything down there. Dad went to the night though, as he was President of the footy club at the time. I wasn't bothered, and didn't wait up for them to come home to find out who won the medal that year.

I was woken up some time that night by my drunken parents and a few others – including the coach of the reserves team. They had brought back some helium balloons from the night, and were in very high spirits. Mum tied the balloon to the radio sitting on my bedside table, and then they let me know I had in fact won something. I had polled enough votes in the 9 games (it is an 18 game season) that I played to be clear by 5 votes in the Colts for Best Player. It took a while for it to sink in, but as a junior year player I had played half a season and polled enough votes to win. I was a little shocked, yet felt a little justified. To win the award as a junior was one thing, but to do it in half a season was something else. Unlike MVP voting in the US, the votes here are given out after each game – 3 for the best player, 2 for second and 1 for third. I had polled votes in ever game I played, and I guess at least I got something out of the season.

I didn't get a vote in the A's, though this wasn't a major surprise. I thought I might have snuck in for one, but I didn't so not too worry. The grand final was this Saturday, so I focused on that.

All three grades – A's, reserves and colts – made the grand final. Colts play first and we lost for the first time in 7 years, against the same team that we had beaten in six of them. For some reason I wasn't overly upset by the loss, I guess I felt more concerned about the A's – even though I had played more games in the year for Colts. I would be watching the A's Grand Final in the stands, sitting next to the Child Prodigy who was still nursing his broken finger/s.

During half time of the A's grand final, both of us had a presentation in front of the crowd. Me for my Colts Best and Fairest, him for his A's Best Junior award. I guess at least I got a little glory on the day.

In the end, A's went down fighting (literally), and came off second best. For a town that takes footy so seriously, loosing a grand final is something that really hurts. The Child Prodigy and I went into the change rooms after the game, and the scene was something unbelievable. The disappointment and emotion was certainly let out by the players. Grown men, working hard all year now for naught, were brought to tears.

Later on while The Child Prodigy and I were walking home, we both hardly said a word. Winning that game was very important to both of us, even if we were in the stands and not playing.

Later on I learned the reasons behind me being dropped from the A's – although I would have appreciated them at the time I could understand why I had been overlooked. It was coming to finals times, and the coach had opted to go for seniority over young players. What had happened is that I was picked in the side originally in the hope that I would gain some experience while other guys were injured, and then drop back to colts after 2-3 games. I was good enough to delay that decision by a few weeks, but as the finals crept closer they looked for a reason to drop me back down. Would I have made the difference between winning and loosing for the A's? I highly doubt that, but I still think I deserved to play. I had a lot of friends in the other three teams, and all of them were pretty shocked when I was dropped. But that was the way life goes some times.

Later in the year, the club holds their own awards night. Even though I was judged the best player in the competition, the club voting was different. I was only good enough to come third, but took consolation in the fact that the formal presentation of my awards for the League was made that night.

In the next post, I will wrap up my small town footy career.

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