Fitzroy Football Club: Great football, Great community, Great culture.

Roys need to start upsetting the neighbours


Being based just a couple of kilometres down the road, the Uni Blacks are Fitzroy’s nearest rivals, our neighbours. Their players have been known to train on our oval during the off-season, procure their caffeine from our village eateries and a few of them, including their skipper, are former Fitzroy juniors.

On top of that, our Redders’ roots mean that there is some shared Melbourne uni campus history. The two teams play for the Rouge et Noir Cup, contested through the grades over the years but on Saturday it was on the line in A-grade for the first time.

When we played the Blacks most recently in B-grade a couple of seasons ago, however, their President didn’t even bother bringing the trophy to the game. “I think it might be in the garage somewhere,’’ he said off-handedly in the after-match function. It felt like Saturday might be a chance to flip the order of things, upset the neighbours.

Normally I would ride the bike to the University home games, but the last time I was on the treadly a charming driver introduced me to the perils of the tram tracks, which in turn introduced me to the unforgiving nature of asphalt and the joys of a cracked rib and bruised cartilage – so I was doing well to even get to the footy, let alone ride there.

I arrived early to watch coach Bernie Carter and the Reserves boys register their first win of the season. They controlled the match throughout, and despite a couple of nervous moments in the final term, got home by 19 points. Their big men Lester, Hodgeman and McGrath seemed dominant, while Johnstone, Harward and Vlassopoulos stood out. I was also rapt to see club stalwart Ross Borland back playing reserves for the first time since a nasty head knock last August.

The northern flank of the University Oval spends most of its life in the shade and consequently it usually is a muddy throwback to Moorabbin in the 1980s. But it seems to have had some re-sewn turf and looked resplendent with its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags painted on the wing for Indigenous Round.

The Senior team emerged from under the pavilion, missing Toohey (Coburg VFL), Minahan and Vlassopoulos. In came skipper Hart, McShane and Green in his first match since last year’s grand final.

The Roys began well in the first quarter but didn’t capitalise on their good work. They fluffed a few chances and some costly turnovers allowed the Blacks to split the quarter.

The Black’ game style reminds me of the Sydney-West Coast AFL grand finals from 20 years ago. They crack in hard at the contest and seem happy to contest the ball in a phone box until they can gain control and then chip it around and hope to find a scoring opportunity in their spacious forward half.

At the first break Roys coach Travis Ronaldson outlined the kind of pressing the Roys needed to change the pattern of play and dynamic of the game.

Fitzroy lacked for nothing in the close-in contests, the hard-ball gets, the pressure and tackling. But the Roys had trouble penetrating beyond the half forward line, and paid for some sloppy disposal and ill discipline that led to reversed decisions and 50-metre penalties.

Big Bill Clayton, playing in his 100th match, consistently got first hands to the ball at centre bounces and helped Fitzroy do well in the clearance stakes. He also snagged a couple of goals on the gallop – one of the more joyous sights to be seen on a footy field.

A lot is said about the prowess of Nathan Ligris, who had the distinction of being included in the VAFA’s state squad during the week. Usually those words revolve around his precise left boot and his ability to generate the Roys’ forward thrusts from defence, as though he’s just some carefree back flanker.

But it’s also worth recognising ‘Ligga’ for being a hard-nosed defender, with courage, clean hands and the ability to win his own ball. He was excellent in the back half once again.

As is his way, Noah Wright played with passion and gave his all, and in the second half provided a marking option and avenue to goal.

Johnson continued to stake his claim as Fitzroy’s most improved player, Grace showed he is working his way back into top form, and Seakins was outstanding on a wing. Lowrie, Ellis, Wilson and Ramshaw all put in good shifts.

Although Fitzroy slugged away in the second half, the biggest flaw continued to be the final kick into the forward half, which seemed to constantly end up in the hands of a Blacks player. Sometimes it was poor decision making or disposal, sometimes the forward not doing enough to halve the contest.

After a grinding first couple of months, I suspect the long-weekend break might come at an opportune time.

Next up is another engagement at the same ground, this time against our noisier neighbours, the Blues on June 15 (when it was pointed out during after-match speeches that the Fitzroy Reds links to Melbourne Uni are more tenuous these days, one wag from the home crowd chimed in “Sounds like the Blues’’).

A big scalp away from home is just what Fitzroy needs to recharge its season. Ahead of that Blues game I reckon the Roy boys should adopt an anthem from former Painters and Dockers frontman Paulie Stewart, who gleefully sings with the Dili Allstars: Nothing Tastes Better Than The Neighbour's Chicken. It’s a cracking little tune and would make a cracking mantra ahead of Fitzroy's Round 10 match.

Garry Gorilla

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