Footy at high school was all the things junior footy wasn’t. It was physical, uneven and sometimes downright intimidating…..
The game that sticks with me the most is one against Daylesford High when I was in year 10.
The game was played in Daylesford at the town’s main oval. It was a half hour drive from Castlemaine and our coach Mr O used the time to wander up and down the aisle of our bus talking tactics.
We took a bit of it in, something about using our running players to carry the ball, break the lines and kick into space where our pace would win out, but truth be told most of us were too busy fearing the physical and mental battering we were about to endure.
Daylesford was always brutally tough and we were irrevocably mismatched for that type of encounter; our entire team was year 10 whilst theirs had mainly year 11’s and 12’s.
That day the elements conspired against us too. The closer to Daylesford we went the worse the weather got and by the time we passed Mount Franklin the rain and sleet had reduced visibility to a couple of metres and the bus’ heater was working overtime. The mood was not buoyant.
When we ran out of the dressing sheds the weather was beyond appalling. Think of the coldest and wettest you’ve ever been then double it. We really were that cold and wet. As the siren sounded to start the game the persistent rain and sleet had turned to snow. Yes, snow.
By the 5 minute mark we were officially gone. It was Armageddon out there; boys against men. Not only had Daylesford played in these sort of conditions before but it was clear they reveled in them.
Disparities in size and ability played out at every contest and their physical supremacy had a cumulative effect that rendered most of our team hurt or scared or both by well before quarter time.
As they piled on goal after goal the cold and wet started to take its toll. My toes, fingers, ears, nose and cheeks went from numb to burning pain as circulation deserted them. In vain I ran around to try to shake it but it was no use, the rot had set in.
At one stage I’d run up the ground so far that momentarily I was where the ball was and actually touched it. This was not a good move, as devoid of feeling in my hands, the already waterlogged and heavy ball cannoned into the tips of my fingers, adding injury to insult. I promptly returned to my assigned forward pocket and avoided the ball for the remainder of the quarter. The siren eventually sounded and we were due some respite.
At quarter time our coach took the unusual step of taking us into the rooms in an attempt to warm us up, but its cavernous size and concrete floor meant it was little warmer inside. Some kids had hot water run on their hands, unable to turn the taps on themselves, but there was no abating the shivering bodies and chattering teeth. All too soon the break was over and out we went to face the terrible music again.
Despite some stern words from the coach the onslaught continued. However somehow at sometime during the quarter we managed our maiden deep entry into the forward line. In an over zealous defensive effort one of their players infringed and remarkably we had a set shot on goal from 30 metres out on an angle. Even more remarkably I was the player taking the kick.
I steeled myself to deliver for the lads as a fleeting feeling of team pride swept over me. However mind failed to win over matter and the resultant ball drop and kick were poor; the ball spraying toward the left hand point post before sneaking in for a behind. We were on the board but only just.
With self-preservation still at the forefront of most of our minds the game continued on its uneven axis: centre bounce, Daylesford clearance, Daylesford goal, centre bounce, Daylesford clearance, Daylesford goal. The three quarter time siren sounded not a moment too soon and Mr O exhorted us to provide one final effort.
Predictably we failed to deliver and the last quarter was notable only for their Full Forward’s, (a lump called Piggy Malone), 23rd, 24th and 25th goals of the game. Thankfully, shortly after this milestone the siren sounded and we headed for the showers running as fast as we could from a game we would never forget. Final Scores: Daylesford High 37 Goals 21 Behinds 243 points v Castlemaine High 0 goals, 1 Behind 1 point.
Sadly (and unlike in the movies) there was no redemptive moment in the immediate aftermath, but remarkably all of our team played on, unbowed by the experience with our love of the game somehow intact.