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Roys show they belong at premier level


In his first game review for season 2024, Roy scribe Garry Gorilla reports from the reeds of the Snakepit on the Roys' first foray in Premier.

It seemed to take forever to come around and then suddenly it was upon us with a rush.

With the A-section fixture dotted with engagements in Melbourne’s well-heeled leafy suburbs, I jumped into the car and pointed it west for what would be the only time this season.

And I did so with a sense of trepidation.

It wasn’t just because playing at 'The Snakepit' reminds me of heading off to a Bunnings in an unfamiliar suburb: navigating false turn offs on Google Maps and then meandering around the labyrinth of asphalt trying to find an elusive parking spot.

It was more the nervousness about how the boys would cope with the VAFA’s Premier grade; how would they adapt to new coach Travis Ronaldson’s style; and how would they mesh with a line-up missing several of last season’s prime movers.

I arrived to find the Twos a few goals down. Apparently they got jumped early and struggled to make up the ground, turning over the ball at crucial times whenever they looked like mounting a charge. Nelson, Bourke, Hodgeman, Bombardieri and Roy were among those who produced some encouraging moments in the 45-point loss.

After a mercifully brief and informal unfurling of St Bernards’ B-Section flag, the seniors took the field.

Half of Fitzroy’s line up had changed since last September’s grand final.

Out were skipper Ted Clayton (12 months overseas study), Toohey (VFL), Lambert, Baker, Long (all retired), Grace, Green and Megennis (all injured), Pyers, Bill Clayton and Harry Tauber (travel).

In came new skipper Hart, Harvey, Harward, Holmes, Kewell, Lester, Staples, Vlassopoulos, Wilson and debutants: Hamish 'Hammer' McShane (Red Hill) and Riley 'Ned' Kelly (Mt Gravatt).

I suspected the Snowdogs would be out of the gates early, given we ambushed them with 10 scoring shots to two in the first quarter of the 2023 grand final.

But what unfolded was almost a carbon copy: a slick chain of possession led to Hart slotting the opening goal with a set shot from 45 metres and the second coming after a terrific snap by Kewell. At the first change we had nine scoring shots to two and led by 22 points (it could and should have been more).

Following the pattern of last year’s grand final though, the Roys conceded a string of unanswered goals in the second term to let St Bernards back into the game. At the half Fitzroy led by six points.

The third quarter was marked by tough and uncompromising footy with both teams adding a couple of goals.

There were two great highlights: Lowrie pulled in a contender for mark of the year, leaping onto a pack for an intercept grab; and Ramshaw goaled with a clever left-foot snap after a textbook display of front-and-centre crumbing.

And so to the final quarter. It was a seesawing half an hour with both teams refusing to yield. The Roys looked in trouble late in the term, but consecutive goals through Harvey and Ramshaw got them five points up heading into added time.

The Roys played with composure to protect their lead but when a ball spilled free in the centre square it squirted out to a St Bernards defender who kicked a classy checkside goal on the run from 45 metres.

The Snowdogs now had their noses in front in the 32nd minute, and although Fitzroy continued to drive forward the siren sounded just as a Roys kick was spoiled deep in our forward pocket.

Players slumped to the ground. It was a cruel way to lose.

There were some mighty contributions for the Roys. Ramshaw was excellent on a wing, Minahan was the architect of many important passages of play, and Laidlaw and Faubel produced damaging bursts.

Lowrie had a cracking game and was the best of a solid defensive unit that also had stand-out contributions from Seakins and Ellis.

Big forwards McKay, Hart and Harvey presented and contested well and looked a constant threat.

Overall, Fitzroy’s pressure, tackling and discipline was solid and there were times when the ball usage and movement looked slick.

There is scope for improvement around the midfield clearances. Perhaps the in-and-under grunt of a Nelson or Bombardieri from the Twos can bolster that department.

After the match coach Ronaldson acknowledged that letting such a tight game slip was a bitter feeling, but he praised the players for their “outstanding effort and intent’’.

He commended them for their willingness to “work and put your heads over the footy. You showed that we belong at this level.’’

The challenge will be to back up that effort at Old Scotch next Saturday and go one step further and register Fitzroy’s first win at this level.

Garry Gorilla

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