Act 1. It’s a dark and stormy morning. The whatsapp whirrs with weather reports, ground status and lifts required. By-laws are reviewed, team sheets prepared, banners arranged and certificates printed. The nerves are evident early. The first final this team has played since formation and it is a telling day. Wonder how the girls will feel when they wake up. To the Forrest we travel, Lionel Watts oval, this time in daylight, the synthetic turf softened by the rain. The Lions gave us a lesson in physicality last time out and that will be the test today. This Team defines the word. They are united, devoted, but can they find the belief to overcome, to fight, to win. The coaches message is simple: This above all; to thine own self be true.
The Lions are limited to 14 players and so our bench numbers the armies of Denmark. A dressing room is provided and the team gathers. The coaches devise cunning plans to get everyone on the field, with the new players forming their own mini-team to rotate through some key positions. LilyD pulls the Cats jumper on for the 50th time today and few have worn it with such distinction. The Banner is raised and she leads the team onto the field.
Act 2. It’s a nervous start for the Cats. There is hesitation in their game as the ghost of the previous game haunts the ramparts. While the Cats aren’t playing badly, the Lions are harder at the ball and dominating the midfield. The Lions take the ball on the half back line and with the breeze behind, a strong kick sails through both teams into an empty forward line. The Lions win the race to the ball and score the first goal.
Q1 LCC 0.0.0 FoL 1.2.8
Act 3. The coaches’ words are reassuring at quarter time. The Cats simply need to stick to their game plan and be strong on the ball. As the Lions strengthen their defence against the breeze, the Cats dominate field position and build a bivouac in the forward line. Emma marks the ball 40 metres out and lines up. The ball looks good off the boot, but swings = ever so slightly in the breeze and clips the inside of the tall post. Three behinds are a poor return for the dominance the Cats have shown, but they are right in this game.
Q2 LCC 0.3.3 FoL 1.2.8
Act 4. The Cats continue to grow in stature. Full of running and confidence now, they are attacking the ball or whomever possesses it. Most impressive this week is the work off the ball. Everyone is running in to space, creating options and there are more shepherds than a Greek hillside. LilyS has brought both her hip and her shoulder to the game, she’s not taking nonsense from anyone. Midway through the quarter she runs in to the forward pocket and shoots for goal, but it floats to the right for another behind. Chops gathers the ball at ground level and shovels it to Lucy who has been relentless in her running and tackling. She moves the ball forward again and it ends up with Byrna in front of goal. At last
the goal drought is broken and the Cats have the lead. Bronte is taking to this game nicely and in her stint in the pocket she runs the ball down, takes clean possession and kicks toward the top of the square. Maia has led into the goal square, the ball spills to the ground and there are legs and hands flying everywhere. Maia toes the ball through, but when did the ball cross the line? The goal umpire raises both hands.
Q3 LCC 2.3.15 FoL 1.2.8
Act 5. The Cats are up now, the lead has been hard won by doing the little things well. Tackles are relentless, passes are going to hand, shepherds are on, everyone is tracking back in defence and running in to space in attack. This is a complete performance by the Cats, but no one thinks the Lions are going to lie down. Last week, Graiceeee was a colossus on the goal line, this week she roves the back line, collecting the ball cleanly at full speed and delivering it back with interest. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Almost from the tap, the Lions move the ball forward, a free kick is awarded in range and the goal goes through. 15-14. The next five minutes is an arm wrestle before the Cats take another poster. 16-14. Armo has been her usual influential self, breaking tackles and propelling the ball forward, but with 9:05 left on the clock, she steps awkwardly off her left and crumbles to the ground. As the umpires call play on, her teammates rush immediately to her side. The game is stopped and after a long break, Armo is wheeled from the field.
When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions! The umpires, who have had an excellent game, award a run of free kicks to the Lions. One is awarded deep in the pocket, but the ball is not returned to the player and a 50 is awarded. An easy goal and the lead swings back to the Lions. 16-20.
What have the Cats got left with their talisman off the ground? Helena wins the ruck, but again the whistle blows and the arm goes up the wrong way. Win the ball and go forward. Again a shot for goal flies wide. 17-20. There are only two minutes left and the crowd is desperate. Given every opportunity to drop their heads, the Cats simply don’t. The ball is shot in to the forward line and Byrna takes the mark thirty-five metres out. Byrna has provided the target up front that the team has been missing in the weeks past, but it hasn’t all gone her way. She has injured her knee, the umps aren’t paying the free kicks and the coach has been getting in her ear. To be, or not to be: that is the question. The kick is good,
it sails high, but from the crowd’s angle it’s impossible to see if the kick is true. The screams of delight from the team are the only clue we need. The last two minutes the Cats hold their ground and the bench counts down the last 10 seconds, before the crowd goes totally nuts. 23-20.
Epilogue. An extraordinary win by a team who have played their most complete game. Tipsy, LilyS, Laces and Lucy have run their opposition ragged. Helena has rucked her heart out. LilyD has played a milestone game of which she can be rightly proud. Maia and Elin have been a real threat up front and Byrna has been the leader in the forward line the team needed. LexieP has been brave on the ball and Midnight has gone all the way to the Forrest just to be there. Caitie, Sophia, Krysta, Bronte and Abby have rotated through the pocket, made important contributions and shown great promise for next season. Graiceeee, Jaime and Ash have been powerhouses in defence and Chops has picked up everything at ground level and marked everything in the air. The Bear has made sure there are no easy possessions and Armo may have ended up in the MRI machine, but not before she had delivered a brilliant performance.
Prologue. This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end, it is just the beginning, because the Cats are off to the Granny! The Cats can take the big prize, but it won’t be easy. The opposition are fierce and tough and each and every one of the Cats will need to find their strongest performance. If they play, as they did today, each devoted to their role, giving everything for the team; then the dream is alive.
Final Score: Lane Cove Cats 3.5.23 d Forest Lions 3.2.20
Goals: E. Byrne (2), M. King
Players’ Player: E. Byrne
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