In a day and age where the hustle and bustle of every day life, one could argue that a VAFA Third Division Grade Elimination Final pales in comparison to the more important issues, but you would be wrong.
After a 4 game winning streak, the Animals Reserves hit a hurdle late, as two close losses from the final three games saw them stumble into the finals.
However, finals is a different beast. It spawns eternal hope, dreams that for the majority of participants are cruelly dashed by a mistress who holds no sympathy or remorse, and special feeling that wells up inside you the week leading in to it, creating a warm fuzzy feeling no puppy is able to replicate.
To add to the pressure, it’s a Reserve Grade final.
The Reserve Grader is a special type of person. He plays the early game of a weekend, more pressure applied by his own teammates than his direct opponent. He finishes before 2, and then watches on as the Senior side do their business, making claims that he could do better if his knee wasn’t dodgy still.
But come finals, the Reserve Grader ditches the larrikin demeanour which he has boisterously carried through a long and arduous season. He suddenly starts talking about meal prepping, carb loading, “warm downs” whatever those are, all to achieve the ultimate glory, a Reserve Grade Premiership.
The journey begins here, and for the Animals, on a Saturday in Bundoora, on an oval just off the Ring Road.
Their opponents are a Manningham side whom they only fell 4 points shy of defeating just 3 weeks ago in conditions that can only be described as unplayable (Direct quote from 4 Animals Reserve players at Tuesday training following the game).
In a low scoring affair, the Cobras dressed in blue won 35-31, reversing a 20 point win the Animals recorded back in May at Bennettswood Reserve.
Now the season series is settled at a neutral venue, and it is the Animals who seek revenge.
Michael Mazzeo has been tossed the role of fullback, replacing long term Reserves player Fraser “G-Train” Walker, who has abandoned his fellow twos and become a Senior player. Dynamic swingman Darcy “Screech” Burke features, as well as current Reserves B&F Favourite James Rippon.
Through the middle, the Ginger chinned hard man Jason Schinck leads his midfield into battle on the vast Bundoora surrounds, with the classy Sean Howard looking to remind those who have slept on his talents just how dangerous he is.
Up front, the most dangerous man in Reserve Grade football, Tom Birkett, leads a forward line ready to score freely. Birkett kicked 48 goals in just 9 games in 2019, 12 more than his nearest foe. He’s joined by fellow goal kicking dynamo Jonathan Greensides, who despite playing only four games all year, has 13 majors to his name, and Zac Kearns, who’s exploits in the Seniors will be key to an Animals victory.
If successful, a date with a demoralised Aquinas or Richmond Central awaits in the second week of the finals, as well as the chance to etch their names alongside heroes of Animals past in making a Grand Final.