The second last round of the regular season saw the fifth placed Ipswich Eagles host the Redcliffe Tigers who were sitting in sixth, both with the knowledge the win would bring a finals berth to the victor. Tigers coach Grant Heath was preparing his charges for their most important game of the season when with half an hour before the first bounce, his phone rings, wife Kerina was going into labour. He delivered a last, stirring address to his team, handed the reins over to assistant coach Shane Ward, and began his anxious drive with the knowledge that this game was largely going to be in the hands of the players.
The first quarter started with a youthful Ipswich slamming 3 quick goals on before the Tigers settled and booted 5 of their own with some brilliant running from skilful, half-bank flankers Chris Haesler and Nathan Bell. The big Tiger forwards Bond, Gunn and Laycock took full advantage of the quick ball-use and the visitors looked set to silence the home crowd. After a hectic start, Alkin, Spencer, and Rhodes down back, with in-form defender Scott Davis were showing great discipline and confident ball-use having the better of the Eagle forwards for the term. With stand-in coach Ward’s reminder of the relentless nature of Ipswich-Redcliffe games still clear, no-one was getting carried away with the 7 point first quarter lead.
The second term began with a very focused Tigers outfit gaining ascendancy in the midfield through some smart play by Steve Jenkins, with Chapman, Goodenough and Lee, combining well and playing team-orientated football to kick another couple of goals before the 2009 injury hoodoo struck yet again. Ruckman Jason Goodenough was helped from the field after injuring his ankle in an aerial contest and within minutes, courageous on-baller Damien Lee was involved in a sickening head clash seeing him leave the ground in an ambulance with his jaw broken in 2 places. Adding to the injury list were Captain Josh Bond, key forward David Gunn and prime mover Lee Chapman who were all now carrying significant leg injuries but refused to succumb and helped the Tigers hold onto a 6 point lead at the main break.
With the heat and limited rotations available to the Redcliffe side, they were directed to absorb as much pressure as possible, and restrict the young Ipswich ball winners from taking the match out of their reach. As expected the home side attacked relentlessly, trying to put the now injury-ravaged visitors away, but through some massive individual efforts and great team support running, the determined Tigers held on to be within 10 points at the main break. Crumbing forward Rick Milligan displayed clean hands and was rewarded with 2 majors of his own whilst setting up several shots on goal for his team mates. At the start of the term the ever-reliable wingmen Tim Backhouse and Mark Fitzpatrick were asked to not only continue their great running, but to work even harder for the cause, with both players running to near exhaustion to stabilise the centreline. Explosive small forward Ben Foley was using his pace to create attacking space, whilst classy midfielder James Niven was starting to find the footy regularly despite some close checking by his opponent, and everyone could sense the chance was still there.
It was do or die with a finals berth on the line and some anxious supporters for both sides. Being low on manpower to simply get in front and hold Ipswich off was never going to be an option so a planned shoot-out was Redcliffe’s greatest chance. A free flowing quarter of attacking football and the chance to play in finals was exactly what Brad ‘Lazy’ Laycock was wanting, as he dominated several opponents all over the ground on his way to kicking 7 goals for the day and grabbing plenty of marks. Steven Hill had rucked solo for more than a half, but it didn’t stop him setting the crowd alight with several running bounces and forward entries, looking like a giant Kevin Bartlett! With the ball going end to end in a flash, young Joel Hart and Jason ‘Fuzz’ Burgoyne were tight and desperate and were only out-shone by an excellent game from Scott Davis at full-back. Whilst Chris Anderson was only expected to play minimal game time, once he got on his presence was felt by several Eagle on-ballers and his attack at the contest saw him create some important chances for his team mates. In the end Ipswich won the shoot-out, 8 goals to 7, but the Tigers proved that the side many wrote off at the start of the season, have the work ethic and team spirit to build into very strong unit. If the senior side can reproduce the same spirit next week against bottom of the ladder University, I wouldn’t want to be a student...
In all seriousness, it was an impressive group of footballers that I had the privilege of coaching on Saturday and one that gives great hope for future success. Wishing all the best for the ever-eminent birth of Grant and Kerina’s first child, and also for Sauce’s operation, thanks guys.