Shop early, and avoid the rush; The importance of first quarters

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Joe Pignataro

This weekend in William Buck Premier marks the conclusion of the second-third of the 2023 VAFA season. 

As we move into the final third of the season, Collegians, and Old Scotch have put themselves in strong positions on the ladder. A slip up from University Blues and St Kevin’s have left them somewhat vulnerable with Old Xaverians and Old Brighton clipping at their heels. 

One of the reasons for Collegians and Old Scotch sitting in the top two on the table can be traced back to the way they’ve started games in 2023. 

While the focus at the Cardinals has been how well they finish off games, and run out the full 120 minutes. Only Collegians (9-2) have a better win-loss record in opening terms (Old Scotch 8-3 in first quarters). The ability to set up the game early in a contest, and take the game away from their opposition has been on show throughout the first 11 weeks. 

On the flipside, the Old Melburnians are yet to win an opening term in 2023. From the 11 opening quarters this year, on 4 occasions they’ve been held to 1 goal, compounding that, the last three weeks they haven’t been able to find a goal. Seven times from 11 first quarters, they’ve netted four goals. 

As they come into their contest with Old Haileybury this weekend, they cannot afford yet another slow start. The emotional energy of chasing the contest to make up the ground they’ve lost must be taxing on a team that’s also battling with players overseas, and a long injury list. 

Whilst the ladder will show four wins in the column, and for the moment two games clear of the Bloods in ninth spot. The formline of Old Haileybury in opening terms in the last month has been impressive, the upset victory over Old Scotch and pushing Old Brighton for everything they had gives Daniel Ward plenty to be confident about. 

Earlier this year, the sides competed in a shootout, the highest scoring contest of the season. Tom Baker (broken arm) kicked eight on that particular day. Buoyed by Big V selections, Josh Freezer and Ben Harding will be prominent for the OM’s. Brodie Steele at Old Haileybury is having a stellar season. 

Old Haileybury return to Elsternwick Park for the first time since the Premier B Grand Final, they know how to play the ground, and what it takes to win there. A victory here tightens up the relegation zone, the opening term is critical for both these sides. 

For the week of Round 11, University Blues sat in second spot on the table after six wins in a row. A trouncing at the hands of Collegians has seen them displaced and Old Scotch return back into the top two. 

The Cardinals outworked Old Melburnians last week, and responded professionally after their shock loss to Old Haileybury. James Tarrant returned to his best form in the forward line, Aiden Franetic franked his Big V form as did Brodie Easton. 

It’s clear for all to see that Old Scotch finish games strongly, Mark Gnatt doesn’t want to leave games in the balance at three quarter time and bank on that though. Hence the boldness in which they start games with. 

University Blues are a middle-of-the-table side when it comes to opening terms, having won five from 11 in 2023. The last three weeks they’ve been outscored by 51 points in the first quarter.

The experience in the side has seen them work their way into games, and use that to overpower the younger players on the park. While all sides are reliant on their top six players, the Blues might have received the biggest dent last weekend, Ed Ziebarth, Charlie Furphy and Jeremy Goddard all out of the midfield in one foul swoop. 

Two of the three losses for the Blues have been wallopings at the hands of Collegians (94 points) and Old Scotch (103 points) earlier this year. Old Scotch are on a 5-game winning streak against them, and relish the battle. 

If the Cardinals get the jump on the Blues this weekend, they’ll find themselves with a 1-game gap and a percentage gap of over 65% with six weeks to go. 

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The RSN Xtra Match of the Day is the next installment of Old Brighton and St Kevin’s. Last year’s Grand Finalists have been on different trajectories since the meeting in Round 6. 

Heading into that match, SKOB were 5-0 (and 5-0 in first quarters), the Tonners 4-1 (4-1 in first quarters). Since that game, Brighton have gone 1-4, St Kevin’s 2-3. Not the formlines anyone would have picked at the conclusion of Round 6. 

Harry Hill will feature in this game, he wasn’t there in the previous meeting. Ben Pryor could be joined by Will Lewis in the forward line to stretch the St Kevin’s defence, whilst Sam Critchley is out. This could be a Dan Donati coaching masterclass. 

St Kevin’s walked off the Melbourne Uni on Sunday disheartened in the scoreboard. Inaccuracy in front of goal, after dominating possession of the ball hurts significantly. 

Anthony Lynch is experiencing his own coaching challenges, three debutants from the Under 19’s on the weekend, injuries and travel. No one wants to be losing games of footy, but this last month has been a great teacher for the 2022 master coach and the challenges that have confronted the reigning premiers will hold them in good stead. 

There’s been much discussion this year about “the scheduler” for the radio game. History is on the side of broadcasters when it comes to Old Brighton vs. St Kevin’s at Brighton Beach Oval. 

The previous three matches have been decided by three points, three points and four points. More of the same please. 

It’s been some return to William Buck Premier for University Blacks. Like fellow promoted sides Old Haileybury they have put a print on the VAFA’s top-flight throughout the first 11 weeks. 

Rusted on Uni Blacks fans will argue they’ve been stiff to not have another couple of wins in the column. Yet they’ll equally applaud the way they’ve acquitted themselves in 2023. A terrific four quarter performance against Old Xaverians earlier this year was not a one-off given what they were able to produce against St Kevin’s. 

Withstanding the St Kevin’s onslaught, Blacks were able to stay composed with the ball in hand, led by Campbell Moorfield in defence, Louis Vescio in the midfield and Nick Hey in the forward line. Old Xaverians have got themselves a challenge to break through the Moorfield wall, along with Joel Ernest and Sam McKenzie ready to pick off the long-ball. 

What a battle the midfield promises to be, the wiley veteran of Bede Mahon against one of the top five in the competition, Marcus Stavrou. The red and black mafia will be hoping Campbell Lane is with them again this week after 55 touches on Saturday. 

Five of the Big V 28 are competing in this game, they’ll be enemies for four quarters, before turning teammates next weekend. There might be some frostiness around Tuesday night training if Blacks head out to Xavier College and cause chaos, not only on the scoreboard, but in the context of the ladder. 

Collegians are the #1 seed as it stands in 2023. The strongest opening quarter side. The most prolific overall scorers. Two wins by over 100 points, another last weekend by 94. 

And if that’s not enough for you, the defence is a brick wall; the past fortnight they’ve kept the opposition to 49 points. This is an incredible team profile for the side who’s gone 19-2 since Round 8 last year in home and away games. 

Individually, Sam Hibbins returned to his very best form last weekend. Sam Sofrinidis, Luke McCleary, Dave Mirra and King Kenny Ong have all been named in the Big V side. 

Caulfield will be hopeful of competing with the ladder leaders. Ignited by the return last weekend of captain Joe McClleland. They managed nine goals in the first half against the Lions in Round 6, however were held goalless in the second half. 

If the Fields are to have any chance, they’ll need to shop early, and avoid the rush. Then go again in the second quarter, the third quarter, and the final term. Despite the laconic, relaxed nature of Jared Rivers, the Lions are ruthless in 2023 and not prepared to just bank four points without inflicting footy pain on opposition. 

Opening quarters are always filled with excitement, verve and nervous energy. It sets up your day, and in the case of some clubs, has set up their season. While it’s only 30 of the 120 minutes, it plays a factor on the tone of the day. 

As every coach has said to their troops, whether conscious of it or not – Shop early and avoid the rush. 

If the ladder was first quarters only… Win-Loss-Drawn
Collegians 9-2
Old Scotch 8-3
Old Xaverians 7-4
Old Haileybury 6-4-1
Old Brighton 6-4-1
St Kevin’s 6-5
University Blacks 6-5
University Blues 5-6
Caulfield Grammarians 2-9
Old Melburnians 0-11