Friday, September 28, 2012

AFL and loving country footy

In 2010 as we entered our second year in Barham, Sam announced he’d like to have a go at playing AFL for the Koondrook Barham River Raiders Under 11s. Apart from a few Friday night Auskick sessions in Hay when he was small, Sam hadn’t much experience with football.

Previously the only football I’d ever taken any interest in was rugby union… possibly a genetic thing as my mother is a New Zealander. Up at Hay we enjoyed the Saturday afternoon rugby union and followed local club, the Hay Cutters.

I encouraged Sam to attend the training on a Wednesday night in Barham but I am slightly embarrassed to say that I was not so secretly hoping he wouldn’t want to play on a Saturday… I didn’t think weekend sport commitments would be my “thing” so to speak. Nevertheless after a mere two training nights Sam had me handing over his registration money, friends had given him some hand-me-down boots and I was headed to C and Gs for the obligatory footy shorts and socks.

Not long after this was “Jumper Presentation Night” where the players were presented with their team jumpers. I heard, “Sam Barr, number twenty eight.”

“Twenty eight?!” I thought, “Poor kid, he must be on the bench.”

In rugby union the number on the back of the jumper corresponds with a position on the field, ie: number one is loosehead prop in the front row and number fifteen is fullback. I had wrongly assumed it would be the same in AFL so I was quite happy when a fellow parent later informed me that the numbers just identified the player and were irrelevant with regard to their position on the field.

Before long I was loving Saturday morning football as much as the boys, even though I had no idea of the rules and used to come home and “Google” every position Sam played, hoping to have a better idea by the following week. By the end of Sam’s first season with the Raiders Under 11s he’d won the Most Improved trophy and I was missing our Saturday morning outings and wished there’d been another month of games to watch.

These days I have both Sam and Henry strapping on their boots for the Raiders and Max is easing into the idea by training with the Under 15s on a Wednesday night.

Last Saturday was the first day of the September school holidays. With Max and his fellow cattle enthusiasts from Barham High down at the Melbourne Show; Sam, Henry and I decided to head over to Swan Hill and watch both the Raiders Under 17s and Under 15s in their respective grand finals.

Driving over on our own, I hoped we wouldn’t have any trouble locating where to go once we got to the oval… I needn’t have worried. All we could see upon arrival was a massive crowd in front of the grandstand in the Raiders colours of blue, red and gold, waving huge Raiders flags. It seemed to me that over half the population of our little towns of Barham and Koondrook had made the eighty odd kilometre trip to support the boys. The atmosphere was incredible and it was a very impressive example of the Barham Koondrook community spirit at work.

For two hours we yelled “GO RAIDERS!” and watched the likes of Wazza Lolicato (the human equivalent of an M4 Sherman Tank) demolish the Kerang opposition in the Under 17s grand final. The hard fought and exciting game ended with the Raiders victorious taking home the flag and back to back wins, having won the grand final against Lake Boga in 2011.

We then shifted to the next oval to cheer on the Under 15s. Despite having a minimum sized team all year and only one extra player for the bench, they still made it to the grand final. The younger Raiders put in a mighty effort but went down to a much larger Cohuna team who enjoyed the luxury of an additional seven players on their bench. Regardless of the end result, it was still a great experience for the boys to play in a grand final.

Country footy, you’ve got to love it – GO RAIDERS!

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