PREMIER – AMATEUR FOOTBALLER

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Round 5 – DEATH, TAXES AND OLD XAVS
There are statements and there are statements. Anyone who thought there might have been a spot available in the four this year at the expense of Old Xaverians can take stock as the red and black outfit are back in contention. Although the coaching panel will suggest there are still areas of improvement, Xavs were close to their best in the dismantling of Old Scotch last week. The other finals staple of recent years Collegians, also made some noise, albeit it took until the final quarter to do so against at determined St Bernard’s. Whilst Greg McLoughlin’s De La Salle can no longer avoid the lights courtesy of their win over Beaumaris at Banksia Reserve. 
The record shows that Old Scotch were my tip last Saturday but again the selection table forced a match day change of heart. However the significant outs can’t hide the way Old Scotch were beaten by rivals Old Xaverians. The tactic was simple. Old Xavs pushed all their numbers in the back half of the ground to lock up the space for the Cardinals, then once they won the ball it was a footrace forward with Brendan Goss (7 goals) and Jake Williams (6) the beneficiaries of this springboard attack. When the pressure was on – Xavs slowed down the contest and kicked backwards to re-set, it was like watching a soccer team build its attack from the back. Chris Waller was dynamic and Tim Dynon courageous and unbeatable in defence. The lead hovered around the five goal mark for most of the match – until the late barrage of goals and bruising tackles from Matt Handley – but it never felt like the Cardinals were in it. Neaves was probably the better ruckman and Passador took every chance he got – but unfortunately individual winners were too few for the home side. 
The match of the round was at Beaumaris’ aquarium where the two undefeated sides locked horns and were never separated by more than a couple of goals. The Sharks were good but De La Salle were just that little bit better. It ended up a game of defences, although 15 of 21 goals were kicked to the pavilion end of the ground, meaning the supporters didn’t have to stray too far from the fire. Sam Pickett was again important for De La Salle and kicked his now regular four goals, while Luke McNichols managed four for the Sharks. Ultimately De La Salle kicked goals at important times of the quarter to maintain a lead they didn’t relinquish from the second term onwards. Beaumaris had the balled locked in the forward half for the final 10 minutes of the match but only managed one goal via the boot of Tom Buckley for their effort. Alas the fairytale start for the Sharks takes a breather for the week. De La Salle assumes the mantle of only undefeated side in the section. With that comes wicked witches and ugly sisters trying to ruin any Dairy Bell fairytales in 2013. 
You should never write off a side in amateur footballer because all clubs know the pitfalls of the ski season and European summer that drag key players away from the football for a couple of weeks. Old Carey will be hoping none of their players have holiday’s booked because they will need all hands on deck to start the recovery from a winless start. Uni Blues weathered the storm, earned a lead and managed to hold on despite the late comeback from the Panthers to secure back-to-back wins and level their season at 2-2. Ross Young is a star and again it showed on the Carey playing fields as he delighted in winning the ball and offloading it to a teammate in a brilliant display of decision-making and skill execution. Matt Laidlaw – a defender so far this season – was swung forward and delivered four goals for Old Carey and Ryan Carafa was again amongst the Panther’s most industrious. Jack Watts was reported and will miss the next fortnight but Nick Smith kicked four to demonstrate what a great recruit he will be for Blues this year. 
Uni Blacks have started their return to Premier in the best possible way save for a blip against neighbours Blues. However their second quarters haven’t been great, trailing at half time in each of the first three rounds. This week there was a change. Matt Kempton must have reminded the Blacks that he is sick of addressing a half time deficit. The players complied, booting 6.4 to 0.1 for the term as they flexed their muscle against the visiting St Bedes/Mentone Tigers. The Blacks wasted opportunities to put this to bed in the third but added five goals to three in the last to snuff out any faint hopes the Tigers may have had. It was a great way to celebrate 150 Blacks games for Andrew Torney who managed a splendid goal as the sealer to an important win. 
Collegians avoided three losses in a row for the first time in a long while, as they first held off St Bernard’s and then turned on the afterburners in the final quarter. The Lions piled on 10 goals to none to make the game look an easier win than it was. St Bernard’s played aggressive football and you gun Jack Solomon (this week’s rising star) was amongst it finishing with six goals. St Bernard’s led by 15 points at the final change and given the nature of the contest to that point, probably weren’t expecting what happened next. Collegians had nine goalkickers but more importantly six of these players managed multiple goals, Nick Corp with a haul of seven the best. What ever statement Old Xavs were making at Camberwell, perhaps there was some mysterious communications informing Collegians it was about time they stepped it up – they did and it was game over. 
This week, the game of the round is the Premier B Grand Final rematch at Beaumaris. Both Blacks and the Sharks are 3-1 and loss here puts them back in the pack. Beaumaris to win at home. De La Salle will beat Old Scotch to remain undefeated and Collegians to shade St Bedes/Mentone Tigers (Live broadcast on 96.5FM). St Bernard’s will win and continue Old Carey’s unhappy start, whilst Old Xaverians will stop Uni Blues win streak at two at University Oval. 
Round 3 – Counting Chickens
The last time Old Xaverians started a season 0-2 was in 1996, in fact they lost their first four that year. The end result in 1996 though was the second Premiership in a run of six for the red and blacks. The coach at the time was Nick Bourke, who is one of the co-coaches in 2013, so with 16 rounds to hatch, no one should be counting chickens just yet. Rather than dissect losses, let’s marvel at the fact that both promoted Premier B sides are 100% after two and both conquered the Premier Grand Finalists last week to leave us pondering how long has it been since we have seen a promoted pair as good as Beaumaris and Uni Blacks?
If you were watching the football from your car last week you could be excused for thinking that conditions were perfect. However you would have been cursing your team’s profligacy, wondering if they ever practice the skill that continues to befall so many – kicking the ball between the two big sticks 6.4m. This curse hurt a number of sides last week. 
Old Carey commenced with nine straight behinds before managing to thread one through the big ones against St Bedes/Mentone Tigers at Brindisi St. The home side weren’t much better, they finished the day at 28% scoring accuracy to be worse than the Panther’s 33%. Wind or no wind, there is poor kicking and wasted opportunities amongst those numbers. Pat Kean has commenced this year where he left off last and for the second week in a row, Old Carey’s recruit Ryan Carafa was important, but when your best players are defenders it makes it difficult to win. The Tigers will be happy to be on the board, for Old Carey it’s worrying signs. 
Another game demonstrating bad kicking as bad football was played at University Oval. The poor conversion rate of Old Xavs early in the match against Uni Blacks was enough to keep the Blacks interested. Xavs had 3.9 on the scoreboard at half time in low scoring game. The problem with low scoring games is that you are only ever a couple of kicks form the lead. That was all the Blacks needed. With a point the difference late in the game, a kick forward saw Jandre Slabbert take an overhead mark, go back and kick truly. It was enough in a low scoring game with goals hard to come by. Uni Blacks came from behind for the second week in a row and secure another win by less than 10 points.
At quarter time of the Collegians-Beaumaris clash the Sharks held a two point lead and former Uni Blues premiership coach John Kanis declared that the Sharks were home. It was a brave call but it was based on the style of football being presented by Jason Mifsud’s side and the way they were making Collegians uncomfortable. That the final margin was the same at the end of the game was not as predictable considering Beauy had stretched the margin to beyond four goals and were headed a couple of times by the men in purple. Collegians came home strong, but Beaumaris steadied and consigned the Lions to their first loss in 12 matches. The Sharks now look down from their perch atop Premier for another week. 
Chris Tankard prepared his troops well. Short precise kicking out of defence before launching effective attacks from the middle section of the ground. It served a purpose and St Bernard’s were in control for most of the day. Despite Old Scotch’s third term resurgence, St Bernard’s looked hungrier, tackled harder and ultimately converted enough of their many chances allowing them to secure their first four points of the year. Co-captain Adam Bentick looked a cut above and Simon Caven and Jack Solomon provided four goals each in a solid away win. 
In their first home game of the year against Uni Blues, De La Salle did everything they needed to do to collect the four points. Kicking five, four and five goals in each of the first three quarters, extending their lead over Blues each change. The foot came off the gas a little in final quarter but Uni Blues could still only kick one goal for the term. If Pete Summers, Jack Watts and Ross Young aren’t in the best players as they were last week then you would wonder what the score might have been. De La Salle are a quality outfit though and when your skipper is finding the ball and kicking goals from midfield as David Lowe did on the weekend then there is plenty to smile about. 
If you weren’t excited about the first two rounds then today is the day that should wake you from your slumber. A University derby that packs an incredible amount of punch. The Black half of Melbourne University are on a high with the Blue half struggling to leave the ground.  It has been 31 years (or only 4 games) since Blacks last defeated Blues 16.11.107 to 8.21.69 in 1982. I don’t expect the margin to be big, the Blues need a win, but the Blacks are in better form. 
Not quite playing for sheep stations at Toorak Park but the winless Old Xaverians take on premiers Collegians in the grand final rematch. If Xavs win then both teams will be 1-2. If they don’t it’s a 0-3 start for the Premier heavyweights. I am tipping the home side just. In a VAFA web poll we asked how far can Beauy go this year, at the time of publishing, 25% of respondents thought the Sharks would play finals. If they beat St Bernard’s today I might be enquiring as how to secure a spot on the bandwagon? It’s hard to look past them, but St Bernard’s showed why they are a team on the move last week and should win at home. Old Carey will be in more trouble after this week’s away trip to De La Salle and in the ANZAC Day clash on Thursday, the Tigers will beat the Cardinals. 
Lest we forget.