When the intangibles of the Big V become visible

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Matthew Handley

It was fair to say that post match on Saturday no one could put their finger on how Old Xaverians got away with a win. Our opposition moved the ball much more effectively than we did, and the scoreboard showed their dominance of scoring shots. There were certainly individual moments of brilliance that helped us get the result we were after, but it was something else that kept us in the game even when it seemed too far-gone. Something that made the whole 24 want to keep their head over the ball, chase, tackle and harass right to the final siren. Something that lifted each individual to go when it was their turn. That’s the intangible of the Big V.

As amateur footballers we already have a strong love of the game that bonds us. We play for clubs that develop us as people and not just footballers. We strive for success because we know what it means to the footballing communities that we represent not to supplement our personal incomes. It is for these reasons that our representative teams seem to bond so quickly and play with such a strong sense of pride and commitment.

This campaign was not dissimilar to previous ones in its structure. One obvious change of course was the coaching panel. Coaches Cam and Matt were very clear on their expectations of the group and how they wanted us to play. Stay true to the highly skilled, fast and disciplined brand of football that the VAFA is known for, with a heavy focus on winning the contested ball on the inside and out pressuring the opposition. From the first training session it was clear that everyone was fully committed to the representative program. We trained strongly, with strong voice and good skills. Looking around at the talent in the squad, despite there being some noticeable absentees, it was evident that we were going to put a strong team on the park.

Match week always brings extra energy to the group. For me, it was made extra special with Cam and Matt selecting me as captain of the team. It was a massive honour to be asked to lead a representative side and will certainly be a highlight of my career when I look back in years to come. With experienced players, many of which are club leaders, and such a dominant player in Brendan Iezzi as Vice Captain, I felt very well supported in my role and hugely confident in the team.

Even on game day, when it seemed we were being out gunned and playing nowhere near to our best, I had confidence in the group. I think we just had confidence in each other that somehow we would get the job done. There’s a lot to be said about having a winning culture, and that seems to be what the VAFA have at the moment. Quality people selecting quality footballers who are willing to work hard and who know how to win.

It is fair to say the first term was a little bit of a shock for us, but as Cam stressed at the quarter time huddle, we really had only been at about 30% output. At half time the mood was good in the rooms, we had edged our way back into the contest. We had slowly began to wrestle the game back and play it on our terms with some quality run off the back line. Whilst Northern probably had the ascendency in the third, and we were very much hanging on, every time they missed a goal it gave us more confidence that we just had to grind out that tough period.

At three quarter time all the backs, mids and forwards shared their thoughts on where we could improve. That was the key message, we still had a long way to improve and we were only two goals (13 points) down. Our mids had matched our opposition in intensity around the ball and most importantly our disposal efficiency had picked up.

The final message was that we should all trust that we’d finish with legs as they’d given us everything they had early and still hadn’t put us away. This proved to be the case in the last, as with about 10 minutes to go they seem to stop rushing forward and spent a couple of minutes chipping it around. Either way if they were defending a lead or tired it was a positive sign for us.

Pitty’s goal to put us in front for the first time gave the team a huge lift. We knew they would come again which they did but again, their inaccuracy cost them a chance to take the lead back. The feeling at the final siren was both relief and pride. We were all proud to have been part of such a win playing with a great group of guys that never gave up.

Thank you to the VAFA and the board for resourcing representative football so well and giving players a chance to further develop our football. Thank you to Cam Roberts and Matt Kempton for their direction and professionalism as coaches. Thank you to Mick Overman and all the support staff whose organisational skills make game day and training run so smoothly.

For any player lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be part of a Big V squad, I implore you to make every effort be part of it. It’s a terrific experience and a great chance to meet other good VAFA people. Supporting rep footy as players is the only way to keep the VAFA as the premier suburban football league in the land.

– Matt Handley (Big V Captain, 2015 v Northern FL)