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Sadly those heady Indian-Summer Saturdays appear to be over; an artic slipstream reminded us last week just how cold suburban footy can be. A good-sized crowd rugged up at Gary Smorgon Oval to see a top-of-the-table clash that didn’t disappoint: Undefeated sides Old Trinity and AJAX went head to head in a battle of wits between old friends Adam Andrews and former assistant Leigh McQuillen (now AJAX chief cocker). As frosty onlookers jumped from foot to foot, a loud thwack was audible each time body thumped body in a fierce tackling game between two superbly skilled sides. AJAX was missing Poyas and Caplan, but Jankie and Ludski were outstanding around the packs and goal-meister David Fayman (3) conjured some of his classic best in his 100th game, along with defender and fellow 100-gamer Rubin Winograd. Old Trinity’s Jack Hunt was in sharp form while Ed Weatherson (5) was a clear target up forward, filling the void left by the injured Andrew Ramsden who left the field early. The streaming Old Trinity midfielders surged the ball forward and looked to have an early edge, but the AJAX backline stood tall led by livewire Jason Ritterman in a semi-quarterback role. OT went into the sheds down five points and a couple of men, but came out reinvigorated, controlling most of the third while the Jackas dropped concentration. The final term was riveting end-to-end footy as both sides refused to give in, trading inspirational goals in an exciting display of skill and intensity. Weatherson sealed the match with a long kick from one of his trademark reaching grabs, the Ts saluting by 4 points to sit clearly atop the ladder four-zip. 
The other two top sides met at South Road where Old Haileybury proved the adage ‘a week is a long time in football.’ Thrashed by SKOB the week prior (goalless for three quarters in fact), the Bloods hit back with full vengeance against Old Brighton despite missing six key players. Co-captain Hamish McLauchlan returned from overseas and Luke Pinot resumed his stunning form after a week out with concussion. The Bloods played physical footy, their tackles sticking while onballers Gleadhill and Rafferty gave plenty of drive. The ‘Tonners also had players missing, but their disposal was poor and tackles were few and far between. Marston and Jakobi showed effort in defence, the five goal margin could have been greater in a surprisingly undisciplined performance otherwise. 
The flipside to the Bloods’ turnaround was St Kevin’s loss to Parkdale as their topsy-turvey season continues. The methodical Vultures outplayed their opponents, Robbins was unstoppable and Grant hit brilliant form in his second game, yet SKOB trailed by just two goals at half time. Edgar tried hard all day and Keely limited Lewis on the wing but Parkdale were superior around the ground and St Kevin’s costly turnovers in the third gave away easy goals.  Chad Ryan took advantage booting seven and Parky displayed the game style that has won them consecutive flags, bringing home a satisfying seven goal win.
Old Melburnians had a solid, confidence-boosting win at Soldiers Reserve over Werribee Districts who continue to struggle through a development phase as their club regenerates. Patterson and Dean gave their best efforts, but were unable to retard the Dark Blues’ forwards Hywood and Armstrong kicking six goals apiece, while Thomas Paule and James Beaumont played precision football. 
Caulfield Grammarians broke their drought with a satisfying first win since taking out the 2011 Premier B flag. It was a heart-stopper though. They got the early jump on the undermanned Roys, but errant kicking in the first term (4.9) was nearly their undoing. Fitzroy mounted a credible comeback in the last, trailing by just five points with ten minutes to go, Michael Cussen (3) a standout. The Fields forced multiple stoppages to eat away the dying seconds, kicking a couple of behinds to hang on by seven points. Fallu was their best, while old time favourite Mark Liddell booted four goals in his return to the seniors.  
As form continues to vacillate, today’s matchups could throw a few more surprises into the mix. Werribee has an opportunity at home against the erratic Caulfield Grammarians, while the Roys will look to pounce on the re-jigged St Kevin’s lineup still missing the strength and consistency of last year. Old Trinity exposed an Achilles heel last week and will be mindful that skill alone may not overcome the Vulture’s determination. Meanwhile the Redlegs host Old Brighton at the Junction Oval and although the ‘Tonners were well below par last week OMs have yet to prove themselves against a quality side. But perhaps the real grudge match (and certainly Match of the Day) will be Old Haileybury hosting AJAX at their new home ground, Princes Park – the salubrious new digs much coveted by the Jackas themselves. The Bloods will need to repeat last week’s spark to push the Jackas – who will have plenty of motivation in another tough, physical contest.

As the ladder starts to take shape there’s a danger the competition could cleave wide open into two. It’s early days but we’ve seen the same sides dominating, and a number capitulating. Old Trinity has dealt out shellackings, while Werribee has struggled to score some quarters. But it’s only round four and as a wise Old Brightonian observed last week, fortunes can turn quickly. The Tonners were expected to notch a regulation win over Fitzroy, but with a change in personnel and a bucket-load of self-belief the Roys pushed the bayside boys right to the dying seconds. Michael Malthouse said recently, “It’s not about win-loss, it’s about process.” His theory being that with patience and buy-in of a game plan, particularly a new one, success will come. Don’t panic, don’t relent to the pressure of a poor start and a tough draw. Just have faith in the process. So don’t worry about winning or losing? Yeah right. Said no park footballer ever.

The Vultures registered their first win in Premier B in emphatic style, outmuscling Caulfield Grammarians by 10 goals at the Nest. Mitch Grant and Matt Boland (5) had an impact in their season debut, but the ‘Fields matched up well in the first half, midfielder Max Slonim continuing his shining form along with Luke Price in defence. Into the sheds just nine points apart, both sides had a tantalising first win there for the taking: stirring words from coaches and supporters implored both teams to grab the opportunity. With superior tackling and intensity, it was Parky that burst out in the third kicking six unanswered goals. With their running game in full swing, the Vultures looked fitter and sealed the deal kicking seven to three in the fourth. 

An attacking Old Trinity side disposed of Werribee Districts by eighteen goals in windy conditions at the Playing Fields. Rambo kicked seven, four of those in the first ten minutes with the breeze at his back. The ‘Bees didn’t bother the scorers in the first term but dug deep to find avenues to goal in the second despite the T’s relentless drive led by Hamilton out of defence and Macasker through the middle. Werribee stalwarts Andrew Taylor and Matt Dean toiled hard, but Old Trinity had winners all over the ground, including under 19 call-up, Alex Hasiotis on the wing. 

Steve Salopek made his debut for St Kevins against Old Haileybury in gale force winds at Elsternwick Park. The Bloods kicked with the wind to the scoreboard end but the tri-colours locked up the footy in their attacking half; capitalising on the advantage when it was their turn for a 28-point lead at the half. In a game they’d rather put behind them, the re-jigged Haileyburians were flat, showing little evidence of their early form aside from Alex Woltering who continues to impress. Conversely, SKOB flashed glimpses of their 2012 form, running the ball out of the middle with exacting teamwork. Nick Wood on the wing and Zac Ginies up forward led their team-mates to a cruising fifteen goal win. 

Steaming along steadily, AJAX has quietly accounted for each opponent thus far and their local derby against Old Melburnians was no different as they put together a solid four-quarter effort. In a day for wingmen in the breezy conditions, Matt Nissen was very handy in his first senior game of the year, while the flamboyant Dave Fayman kicked six goals in a trot. Charlie Cumbrae-Stewart and Tom Hywood (3) were solid for the redlegs who were otherwise outclassed, going down by 44 points.

A desperate scrap in windy conditions at Brunswick Street was utterly dominated by both backlines in a tight, low scoring battle. Fitzroy had a real crack, subduing Old Brighton’s form players whose only clear winner was captain Jon Perrett while their forward line was rattled by the loss of Dan Anthony in the first ten minutes. McCarthy and Cussen were best for the Roys, with Matt Brown kicking three. In a heart-stopping final term, scores were level with just three minutes left on the clock before the ‘Tonners threw Nick Marston forward, where he and youngster Niall Collins kicked two late goals to pinch the game by 11 points.

Old Brighton and Old Haileybury will each look to reassert the composure that eluded them last week. Both had an off day but the Tonners conjured something through their versatile line-up, and this should see them overcome the Bloods. Unbeaten AJAX and Old Trinity go head to head at Gary Smorgon Oval; both have creative forward lines and impressive running midfields, OT’s bigger bodies have dominated while the AJAX defence is a fortress. But has it truly been tested? Coach Leigh McQuillen may have the inside guff on his former club but in a physical game I’m tipping the Ts. A confident St Kevins will just get over the line at Gerry Green, but expect the Vultures to claw to the death; meanwhile Old Melburnians will be back on the winner’s list with a tough away assignment at Werribee. Caulfield Grammarians and Fitzroy are without a win; the Fields at Glenhuntly would be favourites but these two have history and I’ve seen the Roys win the un-winnable and the Fields lose the un-losable here. Forget process, the visitors in a tight one.  

Round two combatants Fitzroy and Old Trinity enjoyed a pre-game lunch at the Brunswick Street clubrooms, attended by a number of Old Trinity dads with strong Fitzroy ties. Mike Andrews (father of coach Adam) played 80 games for Fitzroy (1966-72), and Tony Gale (father of ruckman Jack) is the son of Alan ‘Butch’ Gale who played for the Roys between 1948-61 and is named in Fitzroy’s Team of the Century. Dyson Hore-Lacy, a former president of both clubs (and father of Old Trinity players Tom and Andrew) was there too, tucking into the lamb chops. Guest speaker, Brisbane Lions CEO Malcolm Holmes enjoyed the bonhomie, flashing his current FFC membership card in a show of solidarity. Malcolm, a New Zealander, stayed on for the half time ANZAC ceremony at the club’s War Memorial Arbour. Before the names of fallen players were read, President Joan Eddy recounted a moving letter dated 12th June, 1916 from Jack Cooper, writing from the trenches to his mate Bob, the Fitzroy timekeeper: 
“Many thanks for your great letter… it was like breathing fresh air for a change. Letters sometimes take up to three months to get here… but it’s great when they arrive. Glad to hear we might have a good year. I suppose it is hard to get any number of new players and losing so many old ones won’t help… Come what may I don’t think I will ever smile again until I see that maroon and blue flag flying in front of those grandstands. Please keep writing, as your letters are a God send. Pray for me, as I’ll be praying for you and the Roys. Your old friend, Jack Cooper.” 
Jack Cooper was killed in France in 1917. He played 135 games for Fitzroy between 1907-15.    
Old Trinity out-muscled Fitzroy early, their bigger bodies dominating while their smaller on-ballers settled into an easy rhythm. Ned and Jack Hunt were amongst OT’s best, familiar with the ground from their days as Fitzroy juniors. The Roys failed to score a major until after half time, but their tenacity saw them match the Ts in the third term, led by Luke Ablett kicking three of his five goals, one from a classic high mark at CHF. At the other end Ramsden also booted five for the match with Osborn adding four in a stellar performance as Old Trinity ran out easy 64 point victors. 
Old Haileybury christened their new home at Princes Park with a nine-goal win over Parkdale despite a sluggish start that saw the Vultures within four points at the main break. No slouch however is the Blood’s own ‘Dorian Gray,’ 45-year-old Mark Seccull showing no sign of slowing down, just as young gun Alex Woltering showcased his emerging talents. Parkdale struggled to cork the Bloods’ trident forward line of Meehan, Ridgway and Nicolopoulos, but found their own avenue to goal via Tim Boland (3). 
In another slow-to-start game, Old Melburnians reversed a poor first half to out-steam Caulfield Grammarians by 65 points at the Junction oval. The Fields benefitted from the likes of Wood and Nixon, ruckman Reilly had another solid game, but they lacked a go-to in the forward line and the redlegs reclaimed the game in the third kicking seven goals to one against the breeze. Power forward Tom Seccull snagged five goals on return to the senior side, while Lachie Bennett added five of his own and Tom Paule continues last year’s good form. 
AJAX and Werribee Districts have had some epic battles in recent years, but this wasn’t one of them. The Jackas had the wind advantage early and their backline led by Shafer and Sacks was virtually impenetrable. However, the Tigers picked up in the second half outscoring their opponents in the third term but if not for the Jacka’s inaccuracy the 50-point margin would have been much worse. Wayne Pelar was best afield for Werribee.
A bigger, stronger Old Brighton continues to impress with a huge win over St Kevins at South Road. Efficient use of the ball and fierce tackling are key traits of this year’s side, along with a more accountable backline – Jakobi and Austen clamped down and set up numerous forward entries. As was the trend this round, the result was determined in the early stages, but SKOBs rallied in the second half with Ben Dowd at his ever-reliable best and first year player Cal Matheson notable through the middle and up forward kicking three.
The Roys at home will struggle against the ‘Tonners, in-form Old Trinity should hand Werribee Districts a third loss, but the other three games should deliver closer battles. The Dark Blues and Jackas are hard to tip in their local derby, but with their strong spine (and if they kick straight) I’ll stick with the Jacka’s winning form. The Vultures and Caulfield Grammarians will be fighting tooth and nail for a first win, the Fields for mine but not by much. St Kevins don’t play a home game on their lush new surface until round six, in the meantime they match up against Old Haileybury at headquarters in what should be a great contest, Bloods getting up in a willing one.