The East Sandringham and East Brighton Under 14 teams last night faced off at Etihad Stadium in a tribute match for injured footballer Will Murray.
The game, which was played as a curtain-raiser to the Richmond Vs Port Adelaide NAB Challenge clash, was organised by the AFL as an awareness and fundraising initiative to support Will and his family.
Will, who was last year’s Under 13 Division 1 league Best & Fairest winner, suffered a spinal injury in an accident at Half Moon Bay in January.
The match was a replay of the 2015 Under 13 Division 1 Grand Final, which was won by Will’s Zebras.
Will’s dad, Nick Murray, who coached East Sandringham last season, addressed both teams as one in the rooms pre-game. He implored all players to go out and enjoy the experience as they may not get another opportunity to play a match at an AFL venue.
He also instructed all players to play with flair and style. Speccies, daring runs and outlandish goal celebrations, often frowned upon by new-age coaches that favour team over individuality, were openly encouraged.
The match was recorded so Will could watch it at a later date, and the players were told to ham it up for his entertainment.
And they certainly followed Nick’s instruction, as the match was an entertaining spectacle from start to finish.
The skills on display were remarkable given Round 1 is still a month away, with high-marking and pin-point passes by foot the highlights. The fervent attack on the Sherrin was also a surprise given no premiership points were on the line.
As a pre-season hit out, both coaches would have been heartened by what they’d seen from their charges.
But as Nick said in his pre-match speech, the night was all about Will and there is little doubt all of the players had the popular and talented Zebra in their thoughts.
‘Support Will Murray’ messaging had dominated the LED signage at Etihad Stadium throughout the curtain-raiser match, as well as the Tigers-Power clash that followed.
The Under 14s players also rattled tins and collected donations during the main event to support the Murray family.
In all, the night was a heart-warming example of how the football community rallies around one of its own in their time of need.
The result of the match was of little concern to most, but for the record Will’s side triumphed in a nail-biting finish.
Trailing by two points at the change of ends, the Zebras kicked the only two goals of the second half to seal a 4.4 (28) to 2.5 (17) victory.
The SMJFL would like to extends its gratitude to the AFL for their wonderful efforts in organising the night, and to the wider football community for their support of the initiative.
You can show your support for the Murray family at www.wheretheresawill.com.au.