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



Sunny conditions, an even playing surface, and a two-to-three goal breeze favouring the Glenhuntly Road end welcomed Fitzroy for their Grand Final clash with St Bernards at VAFA Elsternwick Park headquarters.

There were no changes to the side that defeated Beaumaris in the prelim a week earlier at Parade. Faith was shown in that 22, although the selection panel deliberated long and hard on Thursday night about a couple of possible inclusions.

We were set, and the Roys faithful, young and old, rolled up in numbers. The Essendon Snowdogs were equally numerous, both their Seniors and Reserves contending for flags.

In my view, to win we had to do most things right and unsettle the opposition game plan. We had to start well, and in the first stanza the Roys had the wind at their backs.

As is often the case in grand finals, there was a prolonged period of cut and thrust. McKay goaled at eight minutes after a smart pass from Baker. It was evident that our tackling and pressure were excellent.

Laidlaw then snapped luxuriously with a check side, sailing it through to the delight of the crowd. We were up and about. Ted Clayton then won a free at 55 and bombed it through from where the arc meets the boundary. A delirious response from the Roys supporters.

In an instant, Toohey did likewise from the centre bounce after great run and resolve from Tauber.

St Bernards then found a release from the wing for their first major. Goals to the southern end would prove invaluable. It was 30–7 at the first break.

Our midfield was more than holding its own, our defence resolute, and the forwards were finding a way. Six goals four would have been a better return for our efforts than four goals six however.

Coach Mahoney clearly articulated the game plan at the huddle. Contest, lower the eyes going forward, run and overlap and when in doubt, defend to the bowling club side.

St Bernards kicked the opener, and at seven minutes, added another. They were troubling us in the air, and their pressure all over the ground was incessant.

They took the lead at 17 minutes after a couple more majors, until Turner goaled after Lambert, Pyers and Toohey urged it forward.

Ligris and Ellis, I suppose you call them seasoned veterans, were resolute in defence. We lead 37–35 at the main break, not only in the game, but in front. We’d take that any day of the week against the undefeated Snowdogs.

Clearly, the third needed to be a big quarter. We missed a couple of set shots early, and then St Bernards dominated play for a period. A couple of goals into a fading breeze went their way, and we had to get on our bikes.

Heavy work in the packs saw McKay get it to Laidlaw who snapped truly around the corner. The game then became a bit of a scrabble, on the opposition’s terms, and finally relentless forward entries saw them goal.

It was 56–46 their way at the final break, and the knowledge that they had the scoring end favouring their midfield thrusts.

Our coach remarked that we weren’t going to win the game digging a hole. We had to negate their link ups, we had to cause chaos going forward. It was a hugely emotional and inspiring speech. The Roys faithful loved it.

I suppose sometimes emotion can get in the way, and often you can’t control events that confront you. They kicked their first within 14 seconds and had three in three minutes.

There was a clear momentum shift, surging from the centre bounce and putting the backs under extreme heat. They goaled at will for a period, numbers overwhelming.

Fitzroy manfully fought the game out. There was no concession on our part, but eventually went down 103–72.

The reality was that St Bernards were the better side, having an edge in most departments. They were undefeated for good reason. We had to play at our best to match them, and take our chances when they were there. After a promising start, we weren’t able to maintain the rage, despite our best intentions.

I won’t provide a season summary, other than to say that leadership of the coaching group, the resolve of the players in the face of manpower issues in the second half of the season, and the unwavering support of the Roys faithful, made season 2023 hugely successful.

2024 in A Grade will provide its challenges. Confront these challenges, plan for them, meet them head on with rigour and realism. Courage facing challenge is what makes the club unique, that’s what makes it great.

It’s been a pleasure. I’m off to the zoo for my summer lock up.

Guy Gorilla

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