Never say die
There was a palpable sense of excitement around lunchtime at Acron Oval on Sunday as the Canada Bay U13/2s prepared themselves for an Elimination Final against St Ives. The sun was shining but the chilly, gusty wind was cold and added to an uneasy tension. It was at this very venue in Round 1 that the Cannons had fought back from a six goal quarter time deficit to hit the lead at ¾ time, only to lose the game in the final minute. The hurt of that loss magnified only a few weeks later when the Cannons again fell agonisingly one goal short in the return game. Three times these two teams had played; three times St Ives had worn the spoils of victory. This game would be different, however, because unlike the previous encounters, for the loser of this game, there would be no next week!
Football is played on the field but coaches knows that an equally important game is played in the mind. When nothing separates the skills and the fitness, it is the attitude and self belief that make the difference. As the Cannons charged onto the field their burning desire to win shone through like fire in their eyes.
The opening bounce saw Daniel’s perfect tap to Coops, who handballed to Damo sending the Cannons into attack. JB’s outstretched fingers brought the ball to ground and in the frantic congestion it was the intense tackling from JA and the cunning shepherding and crumbing from Jack and Matt B that saw a hurried kick to the square before Woody toed it off the ground for the opening goal. First blood to the Cannons!
From the restart though it was St Ives with the fast counter attack immediately testing Jayden at centre half back and subjecting Mattie G to a ferocious tackle. Ethan and Matt B were solid on the last line before Stewy and Dallas combined with pace to send the ball back into attack. St Ives withstood plenty of pressure with the Cannons missing some gettable shots before a swift counter punch from St Ives gave the home team some momentum. The Cannons worked the ball into the forward line and camped it there but couldn’t translate it into scoreboard pressure. When St Ives relieved the pressure they did it quickly and banged on quick goals. Despite dominating the possession the Cannons trailed at the quarter time break.
The wind was with the Cannons in the second quarter but St Ives was dominant with better use of the ball and the benefit of some lucky bounces! The wind was gusty, the ground hard and the pressure unrelenting. Jye and Lachie did their best to shut down their hard running opponents but by half time St Ives had extended its lead!
The third quarter is always referred to as the “Premiership Quarter” and it was then that the Cannons started to gain the ascendancy. Fraser presented as the mobile tall target up forward and the constant pressure from the midfield locked the ball into the forward half. It was only a matter of time before the goals came, with none more impressive than the Husky’s “Nick Davis like rove the pack and goal”! It was intense forward pressure but St Ives was never going to give up and a late goal just before the break kept them right in the contest.
Just like Round 1, this game was poised to go down to the wire and be decided in the final quarter! The Cannons started well and used the wind to advantage but St Ives seemed to have more of the run. The Cannons were courageous with Jayden playing on with an injured shoulder and Max bravely resisting bench time even after being flattened in the goal square. The legs were weary but the sight of Killa limping from the bench to the interchange, insisting he could go back on, typified the Cannons courage. Out of nothing St Ives capitalised from a ball up in the forward pocket and then belted a long range goal to get within one straight kick with only a minute to go! Moving quickly from the restart St Ives were able to again send the ball inside 50 where a St Ives player shoved Ethan out of the contest and marked. Filled with confidence and at precisely the time the wind shifted the St Ives player leant back and kicked truly for an unlikely goal. All square with 20 seconds remaining on the clock!
St Ives raced back to the centre square for the reset as the colour drained from the Cannons coaches’ faces and mutterings of “surely not again!” could be heard. There was some consulting of the rule book to see what happens in the event of a draw but it soon became clear that the next bounce would effectively decide who played the following week.
Even the closest eyes probably didn’t detect the brief exchange between Coops and Daniel just before the tap. Nobody knew what was said, but everyone clearly saw Daniel belt the ball forward and directly into the path of Cooper who at full speed gathered the bouncing ball and kicked it exactly like the whole season depended on it! The ball clears all but the finger tips of the pack players in front before it rolls end over end across the goal line.
10 seconds remain and the Cannons are a point in front!
As coaches we always want players to be switched on and the St Ives coaches would be proud of their team as one of their players, clearly understanding the urgency of the situation, grabbed the ball and kicked in before any more precious seconds eroded away. His kick however landed safely and fittingly into Stewy’s safe hands who hugged and protected that ball like a mother holds her crying baby. Above the howling wind and the even louder spectators’ roar the barely audible siren declared that the Cannons would finally win the contest! It was a win that none of the 20 players will ever forget and one that typified the Cannons ‘never say die’ spirit.
(Final Score 58-60 with a point kicked after the siren).