By Ben Pollard
The girls at East Sandringham have things a little different to everyone else.
Under the training regime of coach – and Fox FM radio jock – Matt Tilley, it’s not unusual to see the Under 12 Zebras mud-sliding their way across Chisholm Reserve wearing garbage bags.
On a particularly dry Monday afternoon, Tilley realises he won’t be able to keep his weekend promise of a mud-sliding session after training.
“This is the problem with living in the sandbelt – it all drains too well,” he complains.
“On Saturday it was really wet down there and it was fenced off, but it’s all drained away.”
It’s easy to imagine the Under 12 Zebras’ disappointment with such an outcome.
“We like sliding around,” says Sienna Courtney.
“We always smash it when it’s cold and wet and rainy and dark,” says Grace Tilley.
But the East Sandringham girls clearly love playing under any conditions.
Three Saturdays ago during AFL Women’s Round, they had the honour of playing on Etihad Stadium at half time of the match between the Western Bulldogs and Carlton.
Matt Tilley says it was “barely-controlled hysteria” in the Etihad Stadium change rooms before the game: “You know what girls are like in an echo-y underground chamber… It was like we were backstage at One Direction.”
But both girls and coach – Tilley may have been more excited than his players – quickly settled after taking in the thousands of people watching from the stands.
The girls did beat their Hampton Rovers opponents, but for some, that wasn’t the most important thing: “A few of the girls went and picked up the grass and stuffed it in their shoes to sell on eBay,” Grace claims.
And when the girls formed a guard of honour as the AFL players returned to the field, her teammate Ella Smith turned Melbourne Demons recruiter.
“I told (the Western Bulldogs’ Luke) Dahlhaus to come to Melbourne and he just gave me a strange look,” she says.
Matt Tilley’s not surprised the Zebras girls are growing in confidence and having success to go along with it.
“Girls that age play a better team game than boys, I think,” he says.
“About four weeks ago, I offered some Lady Gaga tickets to the best team player and we didn’t kick it in the first quarter – they just kept handballing to each other.
“They (also) hold their position. I think the boys just all form a big pack and follow the ball. When the ball’s not down their end, girls are happy to stand there and talk – even to the opposition.”
So game day may be easy for the coach, but Tilley’s biggest problem is getting the girls to focus at training: “Day at school; there’s a lot of gossip to cover off…”
Bring out the garbage bags.