By Ben Pollard
The SMJFL season hasn’t unfolded exactly as several teams in Under 17 Division 2 would have hoped.
For many Under 17s, 2012 is their final year of junior football and you can’t blame them for wanting to bow out on a high.
But if one team is to win, another must lose, and of course, there are those teams in Division 2 who have lost more than they’ve won over the first nine rounds.
Yet there is still a prize worth playing for.
The bottom five teams of the seven-team division may not reach the Under 17 finals series, but will play off for the Championship Cup, a one-day round robin competition on August 5.
Mark Hardeman, coach of fourth-placed East Sandringham, says the Cup provides an incentive for players in lower ranked teams to finish their junior careers with success.
Despite his team’s 3-5 record, Mark says the spirit his players showed in some big early losses will hold them in good stead for the competition.
“I’ve said to my boys all year: ‘If we can be the best tackling side in Division 2, we’ve done a good job’, and I think we are, so that’s the main thing,” he says.
Mark says victory in the Championship Cup would mean a lot to a few East Sandringham boys who have been together throughout their SMJFL journey.
He says the collective attitude of those players, such as team captain Jarrod Mantell, Angus Grant and Sean MacPherson, is a credit to the club.
“Last year in the Under 16s they almost won the flag, but lost it on a technicality of too many players on the field,” Mark says.
“True credit to them – at the end of the game, they held their heads up and shook the hands of the other players.
“That was one of the reasons I took them on last year as Under 17s, because I saw their attitude and it really impressed me.”
Mark’s son, Adam Hardeman, is another to have impressed in his junior career – he’ll clock up his 175th SMJFL game this coming Sunday in Round 10.
That match is against sixth-placed Mordialloc-Braeside, another team preparing for the Championship Cup given its 2-6 record.
It will be a game for the veterans at Peterson Reserve: Mordialloc-Braeside’s Jack O’Toole will be taking to a SMJFL field for the 150th time, while three of his teammates have already played their 100th games this season.
Team manager Tony Jenkins says the longevity of such juniors deserves to be rewarded.
Although after several heavy defeats early on, he says the players were struggling to stay motivated without the promise of finals action.
“But what this Championship Cup does, it gives them something to aim at… something to focus on,” Tony says.
Tony predicts a late-season climb up the ladder by Mordialloc-Braeside and says a successful SMJFL send-off would be just reward for the team’s core group of boys.
“We started training back in November. We did some weekends before Christmas; we took them on a camp in February down to Blairgowrie for the weekend,” he says.
“I think with all the effort and work they’ve put in, to have a cup sitting out the front on our presentation night – their last official function at the club – it’d be a fantastic way for them to go out.”