With a team freshly bursting with exciting debutante talent, expectations were high despite the Unicorns going up against traditional league benchmark side Hawthorn. Like their AFL namesakes, for quite a while the brown and gold have been a tough one to beat thanks to their strong recruitment.
Continually attracting players who could easily play up several levels but choose instead to waste their talents in the lowest grade possible, Hawthorn have been the premier side in the competition for efficient ball use and this was certainly on show in the first half at the High.
Talking of players who could easily play up several grades but choose to waste their time playing with aging hacks, it was messrs Ben Southham and Stuart Grigg that gave the High a fighting chance with some exciting play that soon had their teammates’ attention. Also attracting attention early on was our club-supplied field umpire Adam Granger who, upon a Hawthorn player being hunted down in a tackle, appealed to the umpire with a chorus of “BALLL!!!!!” before realising that HE was in fact the umpire.
But we proved rusty in our first game back. Turnovers and poor defensive running were hurting us. There were some exceptions, Josh Vellin was his usual smooth operator self, while Captain Morgan racked up quite a few disposals against the flow of play. The backs were kept busy, Troy Diedrich doing well to stem the flow on the last line. After a couple of poor kickouts from Jamie Anderson, it was Southam who took over kickout duties, the only disappointment being that he did not have Southam as a target to kick out to. He soon rectified this by playing on to himself from the kickouts, his pace and lengthy kicking thankfully finding Grigg on a number of occasions.
But it was Hawthorn who came in ahead at quarter time having posted 4 sausage rolls, our solitary major for the quarter coming at the end of the term after the siren, James Hansford sailing one arguably over the top of the left hand goal post, however with a bit of influential cheering it seemed to the goal umpire that it might have been worthy of six points.
The second quarter was not one to write home about, Hawthorn adding 6.3 to our 1.2, our backline under a Bastogne-like siege from a Hawthorn team with time and space to compose their kicks and hit their targets up forward. Stu Grigg kept us in the game with a goal for the quarter amongst some outstanding efforts, but with a deficit of over 8 goals at half time, the odds were as grim.
In his first outing as 2018 MHSOBFC coach, Rhys J tried to rally the troops at half time, asking the team to go back to a man on man style of play. This had an impact in the third quarter, with a more discipline High playing more accountable football, limiting Hawthorn to just 3 goals, however inaccuracy in front of our own big sticks cost us. Our lone goal for the quarter came from Damian Grantham after he butted out a smoke and blasted out of the goalsquare to take a contested mark in between 3 Hawthorn players, fifteen metres out from goal, directly in front. With the composure of Lockett, Dunstall or Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Damo lifted our hearts as he slotted the goal with ease.
Some of our stronger bodied midfielders began to have an impact in the third, with Chris Full Birch and James Hansford both applying the heat and Arran Bouten giving our onballers advantage in the ruck as well as providing a target up forward. Demi Pinxt, Jim McGuinness and Carlo Dellora were all kept busy down back, while Ayeed Ahsan was forced to use his pace and evasive skills to get past strong tackling Hawthorn opponents. We saw too some run and pace from newbies Jules Hero and Hénry Paye, both of whom showed some potential and pace across the midfield and up forward. Nonetheless, despite an improved quarter from the High, Hawthorn stretched the lead out further to lead 3.9 to 13.10. A comical highlight for the quarter was Stu Grigg’s attempted handball to a running receiver being intercepted by the back of Chris Miller’s head. Some would argue that after a B&F, weekly praise describing him as perpetually “very good” and a Tigers premiership last year, Chris’ head might be a sizeable target, but we won’t suggest anything that might lead him to shrink his bonce via a Dusty-inspired haircut ever again.
The last quarter saw us fight it out, but Hawthorn’s precision kicking and lowering of the eyes left us with little chance as they kicked 4 goals for the quarter to our 1. Having kicked our final major, big Tom Phillips proved solid in his first game for the ‘corns, having also had a “welcome back to footy” moment with a nice face-meets-gate moment that Hulk Hogan and the Iron Shiekh would have been proud to have been a part of. Unfortunately for Tom he was more on the Iron Shiekh side of the equation copping the pain instead of administering it, but we look forward to his camel clutch on a Hawthorn opponent in the return match.
With the game petering out, there was some excitement late in the quarter when it looked like Thijs “Double Dutch” de Jong might kick a major from the boundary, however the Dutchman couldn’t quite rudder the ball in the right direction to get us an extra goal.
Ben Southam and Stu Grigg shared the player’s player votes for the day and were clearly the outstanding players for the High, but there was plenty to remind us we won’t be able to rely on our new dynamic duo alone this season to get the wins on the board – we’ve seen the benchmark and now will all need to step up if we want to be a contender.
Thank you once again to our helpers, not least of whom were Brendan Reidy, Adam Granger and Lance Meyer.
Melbourne High School Old Boys: 1.3-9 2.5-17 3.9-27 4.10-34
Hawthorn AFC: 4.4-28 10.7-67 13.10-88 17.16-118
Goal Kickers: T. Phillips, J. Hansford, D. Grantham, S. Grigg
Best Players: B. Southam, J. Anderson, A. Bouten, S. Grigg, J. Vellin