Thursday, 28 June 2012

Yet Another Set Back

Describing my team’s losses is becoming an undesirable routine however my Woodville Warriors have suffered yet another setback, this time to Burnside, a club who is currently sitting in the top four of the league standings.  Unlike last week against Sturt I can at least say we played hard and fought valiantly until the final whistle, eventually falling to an 11-9 decision.  Despite our repeated disappointments I am proud to be a member of this club because my teammates point out the positives regardless of the situation and no matter what the outcome of a game is we look towards the future confidently.

During our post-game stretches my teammates were quick to state what they thought were worthy accomplishments throughout the game.  One positive was that my St. Mike’s teammate Tyler Violette still has a 100 percent shooting average, scoring six goals on six shots throughout the last four games.  Considering he played long-stick midfield from his youth days up until his college graduation only two months ago I’d say it’s a pretty impressive shooting percentage.  I wish I could say the same thing about myself however I kept giving the Burnside goalie easy saves.  Hopefully throughout this week’s training sessions we can all improve our shooting technique so we’ll be ready for North Adelaide (the team we beat a few weeks ago…with players on their team smoking cigarettes during the game). 

Due to the loss, the highlights of the week dealt in another sport; football.  I don’t mean American football however; I mean Australian football, generally referred to over here as footy. Footy is the most popular sport in Australia, especially in Victoria and South Australia, where we’re situated. The other Americans and I have been to three professional footy games so far and plan on going to more in the future. It’s a hard sport to describe but imagine a mix of rugby, soccer and a bit of lacrosse.  18 players from each team take the field  on a 180 meter-long oval pitch and the objective is to kick the footy (similar to an American football) through the goals at each end.  There are four long pipes that stick out of the ground and if you kick the ball between the middle two posts it is a six-point goal.  If the footy goes through the outside pipes the team is awarded one point.  Throughout the field players punt or hand-punch the footy to each other, advancing the ball across the pitch.  Like lacrosse players use V-cuts to get open, set picks, and teams utilize zone covers to strengthen the defense.

Charles Manning, who organized our trip to Australia and has continued to be extremely accommodating to us, organized for Christian Cook and I to train with the Port Adelaide Magpies’ U-18 club on both Monday and Wednesday.  The team is associated with the AFL (Australian Football League) Port Adelaide Power, one of eighteen different professional teams across the continent.  Head coach Julian Farkas gave us a tour of the Power’s headquarters which was very neat.  We got to see the coach’s offices and the players’ weight and recovery rooms. The team even has a swimming pool that only its players can use. It was the first time I’ve ever taken a tour of a professional team facility as it is very difficult to get the equivalent tour of an NFL stadium, not to mention a personal tour from a respected member of the organization.

Christian Cook admiring the star players of the past for Port Adelaide in the team locker room.

We knew footy was a physical sport but what we learned from two days of practice is that we severely underestimated the amount of skill a player needs to obtain in order to be successful.  One of the most difficult things I’ve attempted throughout my athletic career is to accurately kick a footy to a teammate who can be anywhere from 10-50 yards away.  I felt bad because here we were practicing with an elite footy club and all we managed to do was slow down the drills.  Almost every kick I took went over my target’s head or way to the side of him.  Despite my lack of competence with a footy, the players ensured that both Christian and I felt comfortable; making sure to complement us whenever we did something correct… as rare as that was.  They also made sure to slap our hands after every drill as if we had been playing with them all season.

The Magpies organization was nice enough to lend us jerseys to practice in for both training sessions.

The one thing I felt I did do well was tackle.  I participated in one drill which reminded me of my high school football days.  It consisted of a gauntlet of cones in which one had to run through, dodging awaiting tacklers on the way.  I was able to dodge many tackles or at least go down while putting up a good fight.  When I became the tackler I was able to take down the majority of the players however it was sometimes difficult because in high school I was taught to tackle bigger opponents below the waste which is illegal in footy.  One of the things I noticed about the footy players was the mentality they shared; it reminded me a lot of the brotherhood I experienced through lacrosse in high school and at St. Mike’s.  Each player would do anything for his teammate and even the smaller players were fearless and aggressive, despite being undersized in a very physical sport. At the end of Monday’s practice we showed a YouTube clip of college lacrosse highlights and spoke to the team about what the college commitment is like. The players seemed to be very interested in what we had to say and asked many great questions.  It was nice to offer them something back for all the kindness they showed us. I want to thank Charles, Julian and the coaching staff as well as the Magpies players for allowing us to partake in their training.