By Ben Pollard
* For the results and match details from the SMJFL’s successful Under 13 interleague campaigns, please CLICK HERE.
The Under 13 Division 1 team
Tim Marshall explained to his players that because they were collectively small in size, the plan was to run, run, run.
The Division 1 coach thought with only two talls to share the ruck duties over two games, this would be his team’s weakness.
But he didn’t count on the presence of St Kilda City big boy Oscar Paulke.
“Oscar turned what we perceived to be a weakness – against two pretty big sides – into a dominant display,” Marshall said.
“The Yarra JFL coach actually came up to me after the game and said he thought his team’s strength was going to be the ruck, but that Oscar single-handedly destroyed his game plan.
“He was just amazed at his sheer dominance in the middle.”
Paulke was awarded the Division 1 Player of the Carnival award – an achievement seen by some as unlikely to happen just a few months ago.
“We weren’t sure about Oscar early and at one stage, we were tossing up whether to release him early in the program,” Marshall said. “He really had to work hard and show he could be a dominant big man.”
Oscar wasn’t alone in dominating the Yarra JFL and Northern FL on Sunday.
Marshall pointed to the team’s captain Bailey Smith (East Malvern) and Harry Reynolds (Hampton) as others who were integral to the successful campaign.
“Our first game (against the YJFL) was the tighter of the two and when someone had to stand up and make a difference early, Bailey was superb in the middle of the ground and really led by example,” he said. “He can hold his head up and know that he made a difference, not just on the field but off the field.
“Harry Reynolds is another one. He’s had the experience of playing under-12 Victorian footy last year and we were looking for that experience to rub off on others. When the carnival was there to be won in the second game, his first half was exceptional and he really set the tone.”
But of course, games of footy aren’t won by individual performances.
While the weather conditions were on the SMJFL’s side and allowed the boys to use their speed to run and carry the ball, Tim Marshall says the group’s greatest strength was its evenness.
“We had no weak links at all,” he said. “The evenness of the group shone through and everybody did something on the day.
The Under 13 Division 2 team
Like Tim Marshall, Division 2 coach Brad Berry placed enormous value on his players’ team mentality at Sunday’s carnival.
Formed through a 10-week program that started with 142 interleague hopefuls, that mentality came to the fore at quarter-time of the first Division 2 match.
Trailing the Yarra JFL, Berry reinforced his key message of ‘Team first always’.
“And after the first quarter of the first game, that’s what they did so well for seven more quarters,” he said.
“Once the novelty of rep footy wore off, they ran, they spread, they shared the ball around and they adhered to the coaching instructions very closely, and they got a well deserved result.”
If that tough, slogging win over the YJFL was all about hard work, the team’s second victory over the Northern FL was reward for that effort.
Berry’s boys moved the ball through the midfield smoothly and with speed, hitting the scoreboard with more freedom.
One of those smooth movers was the SMJFL’s captain and Division 2 Player of the Carnival Adam Ball.
“Adam was very consistent throughout the two games,” Berry said. “Every time he approached the ball, he was clean with his possession and made the right decision.”
“He impressed us all the way through the program.”
Others to catch Berry’s eye were East Sandringham forward Jake Turner and Jamie Kokoras, a Beaumaris… defender?
“Jamie assures me he had never played in the back line in his career, but in the first game he was probably one of the standout players while playing at full back,” Berry said. “He probably saved the game for us.
“Jake Turner was the other one. In the second game, he just led straight up the ground or to the vacant side and his teammates were skilful enough to put it out in front of him and he did the rest.
“I think to, one, take the clean clunk, and two, turn around and convert – four goals straight – is pretty impressive for Under 13 footy.”
Yep, there was a lot to be impressed by on Sunday: 48 talented players; two strong team bonds; two interleague shields.
And one very proud SMJFL community.