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Road to the Premiership - Jet's U14 Girls

Chris Carrigg - Coach.

Friday 22nd February seems like a long time ago but it was where the first steps were taken by the Heathmont Jets U14 girls team to what would become a premiership winning season. Back on that hot Friday afternoon in our first training session we had 21 girls show up to train in the park next to the football ground as we didn’t even have an oval to train on and we had a coach that had no idea what he was doing. Luckily the girls didn’t know any different and off we went.

We trained every Friday afternoon with great numbers showing up with all the girls keen to learn and improve – even one night where it was 40 degrees – the sort of commitment that would be needed 6 months later on Grand Final Day. As a group we had a chat about what we wanted out of the year and the key themes were summed up in 3 words:

  • Fun

  • Improvement

  • Teamwork

Or FIT for short. I took the acronym a little further by ensuring fitness would become part of what we wanted to do. There were always a few groans when I would send the girls off for a jog but the hard work paid off when it mattered. I would like to think that the girls had a lot of fun while still working hard, I know they Improved out of sight during the year and they definitely jelled as a team – working hard as a team on the field and creating strong bonds off it.

We settled on Millah Wright as Captain – a natural leader in the way she approached training and games – leading by example. After a couple of games we added Anna Carrigg and Jacinta Hose as Vice Captains. Anna with her encouragement of teammates and Jacinta with her ability to bring players along with her on the ground.

After a strong performance in a practice game against Forest Hill, we travelled out to Waverley for our first game against Waverley Blues. Before the game some of our girls were concerned at the size of some of the opposition players but we focussed the girls on the things that were within their control and dominated from start to finish to record a 7 goal win and we were away and racing with a lot of girls playing their first game of football.

We then travelled out to Knox and copped a beating by a team that would be promoted to Division 1 after grading. I still maintain that if we played them again I think we could have beaten them.

We had a bye in Round 3 and played Forest Hill the following week in Round 4 – one of the highlights being Taylah Innes kicking her first goal – for the opposition!! It was also Forest Hill’s first goal of the season but we ran out comfortable winners.

With grading completed and the division settled we took on Vermont at Vermont. The girls were a little apprehensive taking on Vermont as they knew some of their opponents but we put them to the sword in an all round team performance with the highlight being Emily Menagh’s strong pack mark in the goal square and subsequent goal.

We were cock-a-hoop the following round for our first home game of the year against Bayswater who had been winning easily. We dominated parts of the game but struggled to score and went down by 4 goals. As coaches we learnt a fair bit from the game and vowed to eventually beat them. More on that later, but Operation BB (beat Bayswater) was born.

By now players were starting to settle into regular positions and we played South Croydon away and had 29 scoring shots in a big victory. It would have been bigger had we not hit the post at least 6 times! Another big win followed against Mooroolbark where some of the girls were subjected to some rough tactics from the opposition but they kept their cool, concentrated on the football and had the last laugh.

Coming into round 10 the coach decided he needed a mid-season break and headed off to Greece to work on his tan meaning he missed 2 games. Fortunately his trusted lieutenants Ross and Bron took over and we recorded a solid win against Forest Hill in wet and cold conditions (the opposite to Greece!!). A return bout against Bayswater followed after a week off for school holidays with the stand in coaches under strict instructions to keep a few tricks up our sleeve for later in the year. A 4 goal loss was the result however our resolve to knock them over in the finals only strengthened.

One of those tricks was to increase our scoring power and we let Jacinta Hose have the forward 50m to herself when we played South Croydon in round 12 and she delivered with all of our 6 goals in the first half. With the job completed she returned to the ruck in the second half and we had ourselves a new scoring option and a 7 goal win. The other trick was deploying Bianca Dumais to the back pocket. Her smarts around the ground looked tailor made for an inexperienced defence and she delivered in spades.

In Round 13 we gave Anna Carrigg and Kiahna Pomponio a half each at full forward and they both responded with 2 goals apiece which could have been more if not for inaccurate kicking. Now we have 2 more scoring options, a comfortable win and Operation BB gathering pace.

Coming into Round 14 we were third on the ladder and needing to beat Vermont to finish second. And win we did. This time Jasmine Coney had a turn in attack and delivered with 3 goals (her beautiful kicking coming to the fore a little later on in the finals).

So we were playing very good football to close out the Home & Away season but could we take it to another level for finals????

The answer was a resounding YES.

First up was a very strong 8 goal to 2 victory against Ringwood North, with the opposition’s 2 goals coming late in the game when it was all over. At that stage it was the best we had played all season. Our Preliminary Final opponent was to be Upper Ferntree Gully – by a quirk of the draw we hadn’t played them all season – and the feedback we were getting from their first final was that they were a tough and aggressive team. With the girls more nervous than usual we set about reminding them that

we were the hard and tough team and that they should be worried about us, not the other way round. The girls were primed to start well and 2 goals in the first 2 mins thanks to Jacinta in the ruck and Kiahna at full forward had the team settled and the opposition rattled. Highlights were Kiahna’s 7 goal haul – a super effort in a final – and Emily Menagh tackling the opposition’s biggest and best player when she stood between her opponent and a certain goal. It all added up to an 11 goal win and a spot in the Grand Final against our nemesis Bayswater.

Playing our best football at the right time of the year had us taking significant confidence and momentum into the big dance. Not much sleep for the coach in the week leading up to the game with lots of plans and strategies swirling around in the head but our last training session was our best for the year and it was able to settle the nerves a little.

We headed in as underdogs but were convinced that if all 25 players were able to contribute to the team then we would be good enough. But Bayswater would be a formidable opponent. A little known fact was that we were the only team all year that were able to kick goals against them. So they would also know that they would need to be at their best to beat us.

The game itself was an arm wrestle from start to finish. With Paige Rennie being given the task of following Bayswater’s best player for the whole day (and doing it superbly), we started well and peppered the goals without scoring a major. Goals would be hard to come by with both teams attack on the ball a feature. Bianca in defence stopping a certain goal a highlight.

There was no space or easy kicks so when Jasmine Coney marked 30m out in the third term it was hearts in mouth stuff. But with ice running through her veins and Ross Williams’ goal kicking practise on Friday night fresh in her mind, she calmly slotted the goal and we were a goal and half in front at 3 quarter time but kicking against the wind in the last quarter.

So with 15 mins of the season left the girls were instructed to leave nothing in the tank and go as hard as they possibly could. Bayswater came out hard and kicked a goal to get them within a few points. The last 10 mins was a blur of contest after contest after contest with neither team giving an inch. Bayswater had some shots on goal, none more important than when their best player marked 15m out and ran close to Dakota Pears on the mark who was able to smother the kick. With the ball deep in Bayswater’s attack and the time ticking away could we hold on? A superb passage of play followed starting with a Lani Blueming mark in defence and us bringing the ball up the grandstand wing with a strong mark to Sunny Lei and resulting in a one on contest at centre half forward between Zoe Lanyon and her opponent. Win the contest and we win the game. Zoe fought hard, gathered the ball and wouldn’t let go. Seconds tick away, siren sounds, a 2 point victory. Ecstatic players, relieved coaches and proud parents everywhere. A true team performance and reward for 6 months of hard work to deliver the Heathmont Jets their very first girls football premiership.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

Thanks to Rachelle Pears for the photos!

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