If you showed up to Bennettswood Reserve last night, you’d be hard pressed to believe it wasn’t round one of the home and away season with the amount of men who showed up to take on South Melbourne Districts in the first practice match of Emmaus St Leo’s 2019 season.

With enough Animals to field at least three sides, it’s no surprise the men in blue came away with the win, eventually overrunning their opponents in the last quarter. The night itself consisted of six, fifteen minute ‘quarters’ with no extra time.

The playing group were split into two squads who more or less played three quarters each but you couldn’t tell, with everybody putting in a solid effort all night. Head Coach Ian Ledder was very impressed with the enthusiasm that the whole playing group showed both prior to the game and during, stating that it was hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere.

The attack on the footy was good from the get-go, with second efforts being seen from everyone. Tackles were more often than not held, with pressure from the Animals causing some headaches for South Melbourne, resulting in wayward and inaccurate kicking.

Ledder believes there’s room for improvement here, but knows that it’s going to get better once a few games get under everybody’s belts. He’s looking for more movement under pressure and then putting pressure on the opposition when they have control, but was happy that the feedback from players was very positive.

Despite losing the inside fifty count, the Animals were better in front of goal and had less scoring shots. South Melbourne Districts ended up with more behinds than Emmaus’s entire scorecard. The night ended with a 14-point victory to Emmaus, who finished 9.9.63 to South Melbourne Districts’ 5.19.49.

While there was only limited game time for all involved, a few of the seasoned players steadied the ship throughout the middle parts of the game, with the likes of Michael Davis and captain Chris Beluszar using their voices to direct their troops. Beluszar was quite impressed with the way the newer Animals performed on field, loving their ability to play with passion and ferociousness in the way only Animals can, even in a practice match.

On the boundary line, Fraser Walker could be heard shouting instructions from his position on the field. Davis himself played well all night, particularly in the fourth and sixth quarters. Lachlan Gunn put his guns away and showed off his goal umpiring skills instead, decking himself out in the signature white coat for the first three quarters before throwing his boots back on and showing a valiant effort on field.

The practice match also saw the return of Tom Birkett who booted a timely goal in the first quarter, and a bootless Dan Hill, coming back from a stint in Malaysia. Though, credit for the win could nearly be given to Harry Davis for donning the orange hi-vis vest and directing traffic all night through the interchange. From a club perspective, it was great to see support from the women’s side, where a few of the ladies came down to help the guys out.

All in all, the coaching staff walked away in a positive mood, understanding that it’s going to take time to implement the new playing style, but also believing that there is absolutely going to be great success this season with this group of men. Their next task is against Kew in Garfield on Sunday, where they hope to continue their winning ways.

- Sheridan Harris