The 2nd game of the day was against the Ontario “Awfuls” of the OAFL. This squad was a bit more fearsome and played style much like our own. Slower but physically imposing Forwards, sleek and fit midfielders that hit hard and could take hard hits, and a bruising back line that didn’t let much thru the gates.
I had anticipated playing in this game, since much like in Yonkers, it seemed we were saving our best squad for the team we most wanted a victory against, the Magpies. Knowing the rivalry and history we had with Baltimore, I was almost expecting to sit out that game unless it was a rout. With Ontario, I had expected to play both quarters and was only slightly disappointed to play the second quarter while my family and friends looked on. I had to tell myself that it wasn’t a reflection on me, just that the coach had decided to go with his starters in the first half and try to tack on as many points as possible and then hit them in the second half with a fresh bench and try to give them a solid one two combination. Unfortunately for us, the Ontario squad were leagues better then us and went on to score three times the points we had tallied in the first half. I was subbed in the second half to play in the back line yet again, and I felt that I had performed my job as well as possible.
Much like in the first game, I followed along with what some of the Demon Veterans had suggested. Rich and Matty G had given me some great advice that has served me to date, which was to sit on the hip of my direct opponent and harass, harangue and generally piss him off until he got sloppy and maybe draw a penalty. And again, I executed that to a T. The player I drew in the Florida game became very frustrated early in the second half and really could not escape my arms length reach and began to drift further and further in to the middle of the field in an attempt to get a touch on the footy. And much like in that game, my direct opponent for Ontario became exceedingly frustrated with how I was playing him. Shoves in the back, elbows across the chest and smacks to the arms and hip were on the menu for me, and yet despite all that my man didn’t get a sniff at the ball.
That was until my first mistake.
In attempting to receive a kick from our Goal by the Fullback, I set myself up to take the mark. The ball was kicked higher then it should have been, and I steeled myself for what was sure to be a attempt by the Ontario forward and midfield to punch the ball away from me. What happened next has only been told to me in stories, but as I braced myself for the ball I was, in my recollection, waved off the ball. What I should have done at that point was go up for the ball and try to put it in front of me so we could keep it from being marked. What had happened was I had taken an “elbow” to the back of the head, and when I turned around the Ontario team had taken a mark. I came to find out later in the game that what I thought was an elbow was in fact a knee. Photographic Evidence later would show this behemoth of a guy launching himself in the air as I was taking the ball. This play called “The Step Ladder’
If you were to search Youtube for “AFL Step Ladder” you might see videos popping up with titles like “Mark of the Year 2009” and so on. What the step ladder is, is nothing short of impressive. Leaping on top of your opponent to take a mark is perhaps one of the most impressive plays in all of Footy, and incredibly embarrassing to be a part of the lower portion of the ladder. The coach and a few other players told me at the after match function in Charlestown that it wasn’t really my fault, and that there wasn’t much I could have done once he committed himsellf to his leap. Still I wish I could have that play back, as it’s direct result was a successful shot on goal, and six points for the Awfuls.
Dusting myself off, I tried to refocus myself back into my coverage of their forward pocket. Mistake #2 came when I played the ball and not the man, which I later would find out was perhaps the right call anyways. It happened pretty fast, and having not gotten alot of contact or a touch on the ball in a game yet, I stepped up and attempted to help Joey out in the Left back flank. The footy is a tricky ball, bouncing around the field as both offense and defense attempt to recover it. Playing up a 2 on 1 situation, I ran forward about 8 yards to try to bump the Forward flanker off the ball only to see him scoop the ball up, hand pass over us both to my direct opponent, and another 6 points for the Awfuls.
Aside from that, there wasn’t much I was disappointed by. A few people told me that what happened happened, and if my direct opponent only touched the ball once, and only because I attempted to to back up my teammate to recover the ball and push it out of our back line, then 9 times out of 10 that is the right play. Not to mention that, despite my contribution to 12 of Ontarios points, they did manage to hang 84 total points on us. So as a team, we allowed 84 points, I can feel confident that my man only kicked 6, and only because I left his side. Had he not taken that hand pass, perhaps the flanker would have kicked it in anyways. Oh well, I learned from it.
Most everyone stuck around to watch the Baltimore and Ontario game, with Baltimore coming out on top by over 30 points. Perhaps the advantage to playing the first and third games in this tournament format is that you can use the 40+ minutes between games to rest up, keep warm and loose. Having to play back to back 80 minutes of football against 2 fresh sides seems to put you at a disadvantage, but someone has to play back to back. Luck of the draw I suppose?
Continued in Part 3: Day 110 - Why I love the draft.