By Michael Sholly – @vafaceo
It is ideal that during the depths of winter and university holidays most are able to have a week off official duties and catch their breath before the all-important run home to the finals. Also, it is not often that our Under 19’s are the sole focus of the competition and last Sunday they ventured to Mernda in Melbourne’s northern suburbs to take on AFL Victoria Country.
The Under 19’s is generally played as a curtain raiser to our senior team and doesn’t receive the single focus of the Association, but last weekend provided a great opportunity to shine a light on our juniors. As Coach David Gately stated in his post-match address to the players, it is not the score that counts but how each of the players represented themselves, their family, their clubs and the Association. It may seem minor compensation when you go down by 44 points, but the effort and courage displayed by our players could not be questioned.
Each of the 22 who wore the Big V jumper did so with honour and those who have preceded them would have been proud of each and every player. Without making excuses, we know when we play the Country at this level the odds are stacked against us. All of the opposition played in the TAC Cup the previous year and if they don’t get drafted they head back to their home club in the country. The TAC Under 18 competition provides for the country players as there are regional teams who compete in that competition.
The bulk of our players who participate in the TAC Cup have an option; if they don’t get drafted then they have the choice of playing for their VAFA club or go to one of the 14-based VFL teams in metropolitan Melbourne. I am not trying to make excuses but that is a reality. At Under 19 level we compete with the VFL, while the Country players only have Nth Ballarat who plays in the VFL. Many of our players were unavailable due to VFL commitments. This in turn provides opportunities for our players who grasped it. It didn’t matter whether we were playing at the MCG or Mernda, each of our boys were ready to play.
Of the 22 players who took to the field, there was an even spread across the three Premier Sections – eight from Premier and seven each from Premier B and C. The captain, Christian Carnovale plays his football at Hampton Rovers and the vice captains, Ben Dance and Luke Gogis from St Bedes Mentone Tigers and Ormond respectively. It was particularly pleasing to see so many of our clubs’ leaders make the journey out to Mernda to support their young talent and I am sure this meant a lot to the players.
Whilst most of the coaching panel are removed from the week-to-week commitment of club football, the support staff – all of whom volunteer their time – all work for their clubs. They too could have enjoyed the week off but chose to support the representative program. They have all done a great job and I thank them for their commitment. I would like to pay particular thanks to Kylie de Fonte from MHSOB. Kylie has been a trainer with the VAFA rep squad for 11 years and given splendid service. Kylie not only completed the duties for the Under 19’s but on the Queen’s Birthday weekend did the same for the senior rep team. She doubles up each year without asking for anything in return. A truly great VAFA and club volunteer.
Our representative program has concluded this year with two matches played and two losses. Next year the VAFA is 125 years old and our Seniors, Premier B – Division 4 and Under 19’s will all be playing AFL Vic Country. I would encourage all those involved in the VAFA to get behind the Big V program next year – whether it be as a player, umpire, volunteer or general supporter – and restore our mantle as the number one competition in the country.