‘HAWKS SAVOUR THE REWARDING TASTE OF VICTORY…..’

“Losing builds character;  losing week after week builds grace……. When the prospect of winning is there, when we can sniff the four points, things just seem to work better……… Kicks hit the target, marks stick and clearances are won. It makes the rare taste of victory all the more worthwhile and rewarding……”
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

In a match that had minimal significance on the radar of the Ovens and Murray populace, North Albury and Wangaratta Rovers – situated eighth and ninth on the ladder – squared off at the Findlay Oval today.

It’s been a season from hell for these two proud clubs, combatants in three O & M Grand Finals, but they looked pretty evenly-matched. To paraphrase the Form Guide’s summation of a horse running at Rosehill today, they were: ‘…..Back in class in this one….. Not without a chance……’
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Talking about character, the Hawks were feting two of their own who have it in spades.

The respective journeys of Ben Kneebone and Sean O’Keeffe to the 150-game milestone is a study in contrasts, but a tribute to their deep love of the game and the Club.

Benny was in Year 8 when his fellow Wang High School student,’Okey’ was drafted to Carlton. He was, he says, in awe of the precocious talent of a kid who had already played senior footy with the Rovers at age 16 and was to go on to a stellar career in three states.

It included representing the Australian Under 18’s against Ireland in International Rules ;  playing AFL football ;  winning a Best & Fairest and successive VFL flags with Sandringham;  SANFL appearances with Sturt ;  taking out the Goldfields (WA) Medal with Kalgoorlie club Railways and finally, dual B & F’s with the Hawks.

His dad Greg had been a star back in the seventies and eighties, his family was steeped in the Rovers tradition and it was always his ambition to finish his career in the Brown and Gold.

Just that he didn’t think it would extend to 150 games…….

Whereas ‘Okey’ had the happy knack of the Sherrin being drawn to him, Benny, like so many of us, had to search for the key to unlock the game’s subtleties.

He figured in a Thirds premiership in 2003 – five years after ’Okey’ achieved the same distinction and spent a couple of solid years with EDFL club Blackburn whilst at university. He then returned home to realise one of his great ambitions – to play alongside his distinguished uncle, Matt Allen, as part of the Hawk defence.

An assortment of injuries have stricken his wiry frame over the last dozen or so years, and have usually hit when he was well-established in the side. Then he’d have to resume the fight, after a lay-off, to regain his spot.

He’s the archetypical ‘battler’ who has won over his coaches by giving nothing less than 100 per cent effort……..

Ben reflected briefly on his debut game, back in 2004, when his coach Peter Tossol threw him the monumental task of lining up on a ‘Hopper star, Daniel Leslie. “Wow,” he said to himself,”Look at the physique of this fellah,” as he proceeded to chase him around all day.

“And I had to do the same thing out there this arvo, for a while.”

Sean and Benny are both blokes who set the classic example to the young’uns of what it takes to be part of a footy club.

On a match-day it might mean having a yarn to the gate-keeper on the way in, paying due respects to the supporters who wish them well, and thanking the volunteers who do so much to keep the club going behind the scenes.

That’s why this game meant so much to their team-mates……..
…………………………………………………………………………………………

To be honest,  it didn’t scale any great heights, but boy, it was a fair dinkum contest.

It was obvious early on that the Hawks’ biggest bugbear would be Leslie, North’s co-coach, and the subject of some controversy in recent weeks.

He played today as an on-baller and racked up a mountain of possessions, but I wondered whether his absence as a marking target, would cost the Hoppers when they launched into attack.

The Hawks snuck away to an early lead, with the first two majors of the game, but North, with the aid of the breeze, enjoyed plenty of forward thrusts.

The home side obtained a distinct advantage at the stoppages, where Shane Gaston and Chris Knowles held sway in the ruck, feeding plenty of opportunities to those at ground level.

The continued improvement of Ben Clarke throughout the season was best exemplified today. With unerring Bontampelliesque precision he continued to extricate the pill from the packs to a running player.

Sam Carpenter, too, knocked up winning kicks, enjoying the rarified-air of the open spaces. Josh Newton’s consistent year continued, as he worked hard in the clinches. At the main break the Hawks had opened up a 21-point break and were playing like winners.

But the fans were still none too sure. In a season when they have barracked for the clock as much as the scoreboard, their ‘glass half-full’ attitude was understandable.

Consequently, it was terrific to hear the pent-up, guttural roar come from the balcony, when, in a matter of a couple of minutes, Cam Fendyk twice snapped truly to extend the advantage.

The Beechworth youngster has proved his mettle in recent weeks and looks a born-forward.

Again North fought back, but just couldn’t kick the multiple goals which would put the pressure back on the Hawks. Shaun Mannagh, who is always a danger-man, snagged a couple of majors for the day, but was fairly well-held by the Hawk ‘blanket’, Dale Martin.

Another reason for their difficulty in finding a clear path to goal was that the defiant, loose-limbed Michael Clark, who has fought against the odds this season, was providing stern resistance in defence.

Ben Lloyd made the most of his chances and was a fine player for North, as were Tom Gallaway and Danny Warren. But with the Rovers well in command it was obvious that they’d need a huge turn-around to pull this one out of the fire in the final stanza.

You knew that the Gods were shining down on the Hawks when Kneebone, the ‘Milestone-man’, gathered the ball on a tight angle in the pocket, sighted the big sticks and squeezed it through, a’ la Eddie Betts.

The only downer for the Hawks was that they relaxed a little in the dying stages, and leaked a couple of late goals. When North again scrambled the ball forward, the siren thankfully prevented them inching closer than the 26 points which separated the two old rivals.

It had been a solid team performance, with a host of contributors.

So the Rovers song was belted out with extra oomph in the packed rooms after the game, and the message is that there’s still plenty of life left in what was purported to be a scarcely-breathing corpse……..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s