All three Animals sides were in action over the weekend as preparations for the 2019 season continued. The Women kicked proceedings off on Friday night, taking on newcomers Richmond Central, whilst the Men travelled out to Garfield on Sunday to face Division 1 side Kew.
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Football is a winter sport, so it should haven’t been all that surprising that it hailed on the way to the Animalettes’ first practice match of the 2019 season against Richmond Central. The weather itself eventually couldn’t decide what it wanted to do, and it drizzled through the warm up, before providing some pretty humid conditions for the actual game. But that didn’t stop Emmaus St Leo’s, who were never in doubt, leading from the start and coming away winners.
The practice match itself consisted of four, fifteen-minute quarters with no extra time, which was apparently ‘very long’ according to one Richmond Central defender. The mood of the changerooms was simultaneously excitable and nervous. Everybody was looking forward to testing out the team’s strengths. Amy Ronchi, who had been named captain for the night, led her team out of the changerooms onto Tony Sheehan Oval.
The first goal of night went to Jess Evans who got paid a free kick in the forward line before a handy 50 metre penalty that moved her to right in front of the big sticks. Some standout efforts had Kate Lucas kicking her first goal ever for Emmaus St Leo’s in the third quarter, before following it up with another one.
Emily Kerr played well all night, particularly in the fourth quarter, making it hard to tell it was her first game of football. Shanelle Blachford show Animals’ determination and effort all night, and Bec Herne’s efforts left everyone breathless, including herself, as she spent the latter part of the last quarter off the ground and on the bench with her asthma puffer.
Assistant Coach Brendan Ellwood was impressed with the way the team was able to play for each other, even though the practice game was their first hit out together. He also enjoyed watching the skills transfer from training, noting that they looked dangerous when plays were executed well. Coach Roy Fenton is a man of few words, but enjoyed what he saw and says that all is looking good for the coming season.
Gab Biedenweg-Webster did what she always does and provided run from the midfield, bolstered by efforts from new faces in Ashleigh Morley, Tara Ingham, and Shino Walsh, who did well off halfback and the wing. Ingham impressed Ellwood with her versatility and run in a number of positions. Sally Hood got her preseason wish and played a forward role for a quarter, leading well and taking a strong mark.
Not so much of a trademark last year were positional rotations, but Friday night was a different story. With 16 players on the ground and 3 on rotation, Rhiannon Stute, whose dedication to the club is second-to-none clearly proven by the fact she travelled from Phillip Island for the game, had an opportunity in the ruck and took it with both hands, while Ronchi was swapped between the forward line and defence. Shellby Lonie played forward and midfield, looking incredibly composed no matter where she was on the ground and taking a couple of uncontested marks.
Geoff Koop had the whistle as field umpire and probably spent more time using it than not using it, getting both sides accustomed to the new rules by paying several 50 metre penalties.
Emmaus St Leo’s 2019 season has started off incredibly with first-practice-match wins from both the men and the women. If this is a sign of things to come, then get ready for the year of the Animals!
Pre-Season games are not always about results, and that was one of the main takeaways after a rough Sunday in Garfield for the Men.
Despite what the final scoreboards would suggest, new coaches Ian Ledder and Jarrod McMaster were able to extrapolate vital information for the upcoming charge towards the Division 3 flag in both Seniors and Reserves.
The acknowledgement of the gulf in class was not used as an excuse by the playing group either, with leader Chris Beluszar quick to point out that these are the kind of games and moments to test what the new Animals were made of.
A slew of new faces pulled on the Blue and the Blue on the day, with many impressing the sizeable crowd on hand for two inner eastern suburban teams.
The Reserves were first up out in the Far East/West Gippsland region taking on a Kew side who finished 5th in Division 1 last season and are looking to take the step to the Letter Divisions of the VAFA.
The twos were bolstered by the inclusion of consistent hardman Ray Kuhnell, who was a standout in the 9 goal loss. New recruit Connor Hoetzel was also consistent in his effort on the football all day despite consistently being paired with players who may have shadowed him in size, but not enthusiasm.
However the standout on the day came from the man the call “The General” as Nic Glanville completed yeoman’s work in helping launch repeated rebound 50s and took on a leadership role within the side. Glanville’s performance will go a long way to helping to convince others that his vision for the Reserves is more than a pre-season pipe dream.
Come the 3pm bouncedown, the heat of the day had truly baked a firm and fast Garfield surface and aided Kew’s hasty gamestyle. Several players backed up from the Reserves hit-out to help keep high rotation numbers for the Seniors as the Animals looked to match the intensity brought by a team looking to impress in 2019.
Lachlan Gunn worked tirelessly in the ruck against more fancied opponents, whilst Nathan Bird fought of illness which would have felled a bison to create some fantastic outside run.
Elder statesmen in Chris Beluszar, Michael Davis, and Joden Crothers were all their reliable selves and were crucial in helping lift the newer and younger crop of Animals coming through.
The heat took it’s toll on both sides and the game opened up in the second half, with Animals slowly losing rotations through the later stages.
Ray Kuhnell, Kieran Jenkins, and Sam Smith were among the players who played nearly two full games on the day in an effort that shows the Animals spirit is well and truly alive in 2019, whilst new players Pickles, Simmo, and Fish all impressed on their first times out for the side.
The men will finish their Pre-Season efforts with a 6 quarter clash against Elsternwick in a fortnight, with the Animals having a bye in Rd 1 of the VAFA Home and Away Season