Wickers no basket case

Memorable win: Creswick slammed on 10 goals in the last quarter to defeat Daylesford last Saturday. Photo: SuppliedThe Creswick footy club, which is located 20 kilometres north of Ballarat, spent more than two decades trying to move away from its much-maligned former home ground, Hammon Park.

”It was a bit of a dung heap, but I think the best way to describe it would be dated,” club president Peter Considine said. ”The fences weren’t far enough back from the playing surface and the rooms were tiny – no more than 10 feet across.

”The ground was too small as well. It was probably 20 metres shorter than most others around here. The 50-metre arcs were only 45, and they were almost on top of the centre square. And the ground was prone to flooding.

”A big problem was that the drains ran into the Creswick Creek. I remember matches getting called off in the ’70s and ’80s because the creek got up and therefore the oval wouldn’t drain.”

Although the idea was first considered in the 1980s, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Hepburn Shire Council developed plans for a new football oval and community centre to be built at Creswick’s Doug Lindsay Reserve, which is on higher ground and was already home to netball courts and soccer pitches.

Still, many locals considered the plans a pipedream until the federal government announced in 2009 that it would commit $2.24 million in funding from its Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. Other funds were subsequently contributed by the ‘Wickers’, the Bendigo Bank and the local community, taking the total beyond $3 million.

Construction began in 2010, but when time came for the club to leave its old oval behind, the break-up was not as clean as had been hoped.

In August 2011, Creswick hosted what was supposed to be the last match at Hammon Park. The ground, on which games had been played since 1869, was given a low-key farewell. Six months later, in round two of the 2012 season, the ‘Wickers’ celebrated a milestone when they hosted their first game at the Doug Lindsay Reserve. But things turned sour when players began finding chunks of quartz scattered across the playing surface.

”The council just put the wrong materials on it,” Considine said. ”They got slack. They decided to use some topsoil from somewhere that wasn’t sieved properly.”

The oval was declared unsafe in July, so the ‘Wickers’ had to stage their last home fixture at Hammon Park. Such dramas overshadowed what was a remarkable 2012 campaign for Creswick’s senior team, which made the Central Highlands league finals for the first time since 1987. It was a particularly special achievement for stalwarts Tim Reiniets and Mick Griffin, who have spent their entire careers with the club, notching more than 200 games each, but had never previously played in a senior final. Although Creswick went down to Waubra by nine goals in week one of the finals, its performance gave many locals a reason to be hopeful about the club’s future.

Later that year the footballers found themselves at Hammon Park yet again for pre-season training, but things began falling into place when the new ground was resurfaced during December and January.

Creswick has played three games at the Doug Lindsay Reserve this year and has won them all. The most impressive performance by the ‘Wickers’ at home came last weekend when they trailed reigning premier Daylesford by 16 points at three-quarter time, then booted 10 goals to two in the final term.

The victory over the Bulldogs came a week after Creswick slumped to a five-point loss to Carngham-Linton. In the days after the defeat, the players and senior coach Len Watson had a heart-to-heart and pledged to turn things around.

One key change prior to the game against Daylesford was the return of Damian Lubeek. A Creswick local whose old man Laurence is a club legend, Lubeek played for North Ballarat in the VFL and Redan in the Ballarat league before returning to the ‘Wickers’ as coach for the 2011 season. He guided Creswick into the finals last year, then relinquished the coaching position due to work and family commitments.

Despite his lack of match-practice, Lubeek was listed as the ‘Wickers” third-best player in the big win over Daylesford. He was expected to suit-up again in Saturday’s game against Ballan, and if he plays most weeks Creswick will be well placed to make the finals for just the second time in 26 years.

”We’ve got a mostly young side, … but you never know what might be possible,” Considine said.

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Lads, it’s time for greater respect

When I was a schoolboy, the mums served afternoon tea at Friday afternoon footy games. The dads would file in, the ladies would hand out party pies and curry puffs and the captains would thank them in their speeches. Later, at club level, there were porn nights, footy trips and half-hearted initiations.

Some coaches banned girlfriends from after-match functions – others would hit on your sister given a five-second window of opportunity. There were always wives, student physios and canteen mums. But it was a belching, clamorous and decidedly male bubble.

For anyone that’s played football, Anna Krien’s Night Games, which follows the rape trial of a young Victorian footballer, is concussing. Personally, there were regular flashes of recognition and an unremitting unease, one that occasionally morphed into shame.

It elicited a certain defensiveness too. It’s tempting to channel your inner Sam Newman and say Krien picked low-lying fruit – that she took the biggest game in town and ran with a sure-fire bestseller. It’s easy to say that this is a man’s game and that men need space – to bond and to let off steam. It’s easy to point out that coded conversations and male hierarchies are everywhere, whether it’s on construction sites or in corporate corridors of power. But there’s nothing easy about this book.

Unlike the film Blinder, which sought safer ground and made a right royal hash of it, Night Games treads the grey zone between rape and treating women like dirt. Though football is central to the narrative, it is jock culture that stands accused. Whether you’re a bunk-bedding basketballer in the Olympic village or a leg spinner with strand-by-strand plugs and a giant inflatable penis, the same themes apply. For sportspeople, they’re questions of entitlement, groupthink and a self-indulgent, Peter Pan existence.

I grew up with footy and for better and probably worse, it helped define me as a man. It both stunted and elevated me. It propped up my strut. It introduced me to my closest friends and to total scumbugs. I played football with and against hundreds of guys like Krien’s blank, unremarkable protagonist. In the dark recesses of my mind, I know I have put myself in similar positions to him, navigated similar grey zones.

Growing up, footballers weren’t exactly role models but their cultural clout was greater than today. It was a curious time for AFL footballers – an era when players embraced full-time professionalism while persisting with their herculean social lives. The stars were far more visible and subject to greater adulation than those of today. They were given carte blanche to pretty much do as they pleased. Many are now inclined to preach from the puritanical pulpit whenever a scandal breaks. Back then, their currency was the drink card. Men like John Elliot ran clubs and the two biggest on-field names were ”God” and ”The King”. The brightest off-field star was Ricky Nixon. All three would soon be revealed as all too human and all too male.

Potential draftees are now more carefully screened, better educated and on a tighter leash. The stars are essentially unknowable but come across as far more humble and grounded.

As fans, we are nonetheless tougher on them than ever before. Commentary has become tart and cynical. Supporters are less star-struck and more inclined to sledge and vent via social media. The fan base has also changed markedly. Whether it was born of commercial necessity or courtesy of their obsession with PR and sanitising the game, attracting more women has been one of the AFL’s great triumphs.

Increasingly, men and women attend matches, watch at bars and discuss the game at water coolers as equals. But footy always sleepwalks its way back to sexism. Witness the way the chief football writer of this newspaper is pilloried, the indignation when a woman dared enter the commentary box and the casual contempt for females on panel shows. The dearth of women in meaningful roles persists. The Footy Show, with its sneering, leering patriarch, splutters into its third decade. On Brownlow night, WAGS have been spun around a lazy susan and scrutinised like they’re at a yearling sale. Football, by virtue of its heft, swagger and blokey brio, is an easy target but a deserving one. The game has come a long way but it was miles behind to begin with.

As it currently grapples with everything from homophobia to tanking, Krien poses a more pressing question – how does an often brutal and very male game find a place for women, one that doesn’t stink of servitude and goes beyond mere bums on seats?

Night Games explores what young men and women struggle to articulate, what the legal system still cannot comprehend and what the AFL could never assuage with a snappy advert or commemorative round. For every superstar, club CEO, boundary rider, bar-propper and park footballer, it should be mandatory reading.

Jonathan Horn is a freelance writer.

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Players fend off rants over drugs

When, in 2005, the AFL Players Association agreed to have its players randomly tested for illicit drugs, it was permitting the opening of a Pandora’s box. The depth of mischief lying therein continues to emerge.

At the time, there were strict limits to the process, the most fundamental being that – barring a third offence by a player within a four-year period – the identity of those returning positive tests would remain confidential.

Almost immediately there was outrage, much of it born of confusion. Other sports don’t conceal the identity of their drug offenders, went the stereotypical rant, why are AFL footballers being protected?

This, it’s now better – if not totally – understood, was to confuse the testing for illicit drugs with the global sporting practice of performance-enhancing drug-testing. But the three-strike aspect of the illicit drug code has continued to attract critics like bees to the proverbial honey pot. Jeff Kennett, as president of Hawthorn, trumpeted against it. He spoke of running any player found to have used illicit drugs out of his club.

Ironically, and sadly, it was Hawthorn’s Travis Tuck who was the first – and thus far only – player to record three strikes.

The then federal government of John Howard sought to smash the policy in 2007 but a pair of confused ministers, George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, were given short shrift at a meeting with AFL boss Andrew Demetriou. Beyond grandstanding politicians, World Anti-Doping Agency president John Fahey has described the three-strikes policy as soft and accused the AFL of setting a bad example. The prominent News Limited columnist, Patrick Smith, denounced from day one what he considers an overly liberal policy and is maintaining the rage eight years on.

The criticisms kept coming but, one by one, were stared down by the collective strength of the AFL and the players’ representative body. A deal was a deal – particularly one that permitted an invasion of individual privacy – and, as uncomfortable as the AFL may have been with the negative publicity, it couldn’t renege.

Lately the ante has again been raised. There have been suggestions of players abusing the self-reporting loophole, enabling them to avoid a strike by owning up before a positive test result was confirmed. Collingwood chief executive officer, Gary Pert, described the activity of some players during the off-season as ”volcanic”, thus adding a new word to football’s lexicon.

There was a summit, and – with the heat rising – the players’ association gave some ground. Curiously, given that Demetriou has said the self-reporting condition may have contributed to the saving of two lives, it has been tightened. It will now offer a player just one get-out-of-jail card in a career. Another modification allows for club CEOs to be given notification of the identity of players who appear to be behaving contrary to the spirit of the policy. Also, there will be more target testing and an increased level of hair testing of players during what is spoken of as the ”high risk” off-season.

As well as a three-strike policy the illicit drugs code has become a thin-end-of-the-wedge policy. With every passing year there comes pressure for the AFLPA to compromise further. There is no reciprocity in the deal and the politics are such that there is no escape. This makes it an evolving and recurring nightmare. Matt Finnis, the chief executive of the players’ body, must fear by now that the unceasing demands will only grow. And some he will have to accept.

His intractable problem is that the public’s understanding of the issue is limited and its response is emotional. It is based on revulsion towards one word and one issue: drugs. The widely held view is that any liberties granted to footballers, within a policy dedicated to the fight against drugs, is shameful. There is little, if any, recognition that the players made the code possible in the first place.

Season by season – and out of season too – the illicit drug code has been scrutinised and savaged. With Thursday’s release of figures showing a 400 per cent increase last year in positive tests (amplified by the previous year’s low base number), the rhetoric has again been ramped up. The recent joining of dots by Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner, Graham Ashton – of illicit drug use to organised crime to match-fixing – takes the pressure to a new level. Ashton’s view is that this link is a greater threat to the integrity of sport in Australia than the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.

If such a link was ever materially confirmed, the pressure on players to accept unqualified scrutiny on illicit drugs would be overwhelming. Given that the three-strike policy has never gained broad acceptance, imagine the problem if the public linked it to crime and the corruption of games.

That could conceivably be checkmate for Finnis and the players’ association . What was always a well-intentioned, but ill-considered, agreement may be nearing end game.

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Langford controls Rodan as Hawks down Casey

Will Langford has spent more time on the sidelines than on the footy field during his three seasons at Hawthorn but the father-son prospect became a notable improver during Box Hill’s rise in its 60-point win over the Casey Scorpions at Casey Fields on Saturday.

Langford, the son of former Hawthorn champion defender Chris, followed his father, playing in defence, but has changed it up as part of the on-ball brigade this season.

Langford’s role on Saturday in quelling the influence of Melbourne veteran David Rodan was one of the many reasons Box Hill got on top in the second quarter.

The Hawks kicked eight unanswered goals before Dom Barry finally gave Casey a reprieve on the scoreboard. It was Box Hill’s most damaging 20 minutes of footy this season with Jed Anderson getting two of those goals.

But Langford, who has had a terrible run with injuries since arriving at the Hawks as a rookie, appears to be finally on the cusp of senior selection after a fine start to the season, according to development coach Damian Carroll.

“I think he’s as close as he’s ever been,” Carroll said.

Meanwhile, Collingwood’s upset 13-point win over Geelong at Victoria Park wasn’t a magic performance, according to coach Dale Tapping.

The win perhaps was a surprise because of the different methods both stand-alone clubs use the VFL format for. The Pies admittedly say that development is their large focus, while the Cats focus more on winning. Former Werribee Tiger Ben Moloney has been one of the X-factors for Collingwood this season and again was best on ground along with Jackson Paine.

In other matches, Port Melbourne won by 12-points over Essendon with Chris Cain following up on last year’s best on ground performance for Victoria. Werribee smashed Coburg by 89 points with Ben Brown and Ben Warren kicking five goals each, Northern Blues won by 44-points over North Ballarat and Sandringham won by 76-points over Bendigo.

VFL Sunday: Frankston v Williamstown, 2pm at Frankston Oval

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Beams out another month


Collingwood star midfielder Dayne Beams’ return from a quad injury is expected to be delayed for at least a month, according to Pies development coach Dale Tapping.

Beams, who has spent the past two months recovering from a torn quad muscle, has only just returned to training. There had been speculation he would return next week.

“I’d probably think he’s [Beams] still about four or five weeks away,” Tapping said.

The extension of Beams’ time on the sidelines is a further blow for the Pies. Alex Fasolo has been ruled out for the season with a foot injury, while doubt surrounds Dale Thomas’ ankle injury.

In better news for the Pies on Saturday, defender Ben Johnson got through his return from a calf injury.

Tapping said the 32-year-old had 25 touches and played a stellar leadership role – along with Alan Didak and Ben Hudson – in Collingwood’s upset 13-point win over Geelong at Victoria Park.

Johnson had been a late withdrawal from the previous two VFL matches because of his calf.

“He’s just been a bit sore and like any of the older guys, you’ve just got to make sure they’re right to play,” Tapping said.

“It’s great to see him back playing and he did really well. Johnno, Dids and Huddo, being the three experienced guys we’ve got in the group … their leadership and influence among the group was really good.”

Didak, who was named as an emergency for Saturday night’s AFL match against the Cats, kicked three goals in the second half.

“Didak has been pretty good at VFL level, he’s got his body in good shape. I thought today he was good in the second half and he hit the scoreboard. He’s just a quality player,” Tapping said.

Geelong ruckman Nathan Vardy managed just one goal against the Pies, with defender Corey Gault playing impressively on him.

The return of Josh Walker from injury helped strengthen the Cats’ forward half.

Fellow tall forwards Mitch Brown and Shane Kersten kicked seven goals between them.

“I thought Nathan [Vardy] presented well at times but certainly some of our delivery into our forward line wasn’t too the best of our advantage,” the Cats’ VFL coach, Matthew Knights, said.

”I thought Corey did a good job because ‘Vards’ is a hard match-up.”

George Burbury played only the first half, acting as a carry-over player for the AFL clash.

■Hawthorn forward Jed Anderson was prolific for Box Hill in its 60-point win over the Casey Scorpions. Anderson made his return from a hamstring injury.

Hawthorn development coach Damian Carroll said: “He made an impact on the scoreboard, but just his energy around the ball and around the contest was terrific.

”He brought a lot of hardness and strength around the contest. He got through well.”

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Patient Waymouth praises ‘magic job’


An emotional Norm Waymouth put a testing run of outs behind him when his favourite horse, Mister Milton, landed a long overdue win in the Straight Six at Flemington, completing a treble for young jockey Damian Lane.

Waymouth was a star in the saddle in the 1970s and ’80s and carried Mister Milton’s blue and yellow silks to victory in the Blue Diamond Stakes on the brilliant colt Rancher for his father Charlie in 1982, but as a trainer has maintained only a small team in the hope of uncovering a star of his own.

Mister Milton hinted at hitting the heights when placed third behind Mosheen in the Australian Guineas last year, but many injury niggles have kept the four-year-old from realising his potential.

Saturday’s win was proof that the entire is a genuine black-type performer.

”His last run here he was maybe a gallop, maybe two, underdone. I came here today and said he just could not get beat, there was no way in the world anything was gonna beat him,” Waymouth said.

”He’s a lovely horse, he deserves this. It’s only a listed race but we’re gonna come back in the spring and we’re gonna brain them.

”He’s never let me down. If you knew some of the problems he’s had, he’s done a magic, magic job.”

For Lane, the victory iced a special day after wins on Menage A Charge and Desert Wizard in the first two races.

”He [Mister Milton] hasn’t won for a while but he’s run some nice races in better races so it was great to get him home,” Lane said. ”It’s the first time for me to get three in Melbourne so it’s a big day, it means a lot.”

Mister Milton travelled well into the race by the 400 metres before quickening well to dash clear of By The Way, a late closer, and race favourite That’s The One, which had a luckless run. Jockey Glen Boss was unable to extract the big sprinter from behind a wall of horses.

Consistent stayer Unchain My Heart continued a recent female domination of the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes (3200 metres) when she became the third mare in four years to take Flemington’s other two-mile race.

Unchain My Heart and stablemate Whisper Downs, also a winner yesterday, of the Baden Baden Trophy, continue to stand up to a rigorous schedule. Trainer David Hayes has coaxed the horses to nine and 18 runs respectively, scoring multiple wins.

”She’s fantastic, just fantastic, and she gives her owners a very big thrill. The crew at home have done a great job with her and it’s a testament to David’s training and the benefit of having the farm at Euroa” said Hayes stable foreman Bruno Rouge-Serret.

Unchain My Heart surged over the final furlong to reel in the Kathryn Durden-trained Wells and score by a half length, with Chris Waller’s import, Thubiaan, a further 1¾ lengths away in third place.

Fledgling syndication company First Light Racing continued to shine when Menage A Charge won her first race by taking out the Victorian Carbine Club Plate (1000 metres).

The win highlighted the highs and lows of racing. A group within the filly’s ownership had been shattered when their first horse, a colt by Hard Spun, died in a paddock accident before it got to the races.

”Fortunately we convinced them to go around again,” said First Light director Sam Kilkenny.

”They’re a good group of young guys and thankfully we’ve found them a good filly.

”She only cost $27,000 and she’s just won an $80,000 race at Flemington so it’s a great story all round.

”She had a lot of barrier issues early on. We thought we were a live chance to go to the Gold Coast [Magic Millions] but she was just wouldn’t settle in the gates.

”Julian Welsh has done a great job with her to get her right, he’s out there every morning teaching her how to jump [from the barriers].”

Menage A Charge, by Charge Forward out of Trois Couleurs, was too speedy for the Robert Smerdon-trained Calcatta, with Mick Kent’s well-backed debutante Miss Steele in third place.

Kilkenny and his business partner Tim Wilson are enjoying enormous success with a growing client base, the members of which are largely in their late 20s and early 30s.

Ten of its first 12 runners have won, including six this year. Their winners include city performers Hamam, Suite Success and Epic Saga, in just its third year of operation.

”We’ve had some good luck so far but we’re in it for the long haul so hopefully it continues,” Kilkenny said. ”The main thing is that we get results like this with young owners who are going to stay involved in racing for a long time.”

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Plucky Giants overpowered

HAWTHORN 6.1 12.7 15.10 21.14 (140) GWS 2.1 5.2 8.2 9.3 (57) GOALS: Hawthorn – Roughead 5, Gunston 3, Franklin 2, Burgoyne 2, Sewell, Hale, Smith, Lewis, Hodge, Shiels, Bailey, Puopolo, Mitchell. GWS – Cameron 4, Miles, Palmer, Adams, Bugg, Scully. BEST: Hawthorn – Mitchell, Gunston, Lewis, Simpkin, Roughead, Burgoyne, Hale. GWS – Coniglio, Palmer, Cameron, Adams, Scully, Ward. INJURIES: Hawthorn – Hill (thigh, replaced by Guerra). UMPIRES: Ryan, Kamolins, Harris. CROWD: 10,513, at Aurora Stadium.

It was never going to take much for GWS to perform above expectations against Hawthorn, given how meagre those expectations were. While the margin of its loss on Saturday in Launceston – 83 points – was close to what was expected its competitiveness, at least until the last quarter, was admirable.

None of the form lines favoured the Giants. On the only other occasion they played the Hawks they lost by a club-record 162, they were coming off a 135-point pummeling at home to mid-ranked Adelaide, and the last time they played in Tasmania – against North Melbourne – they were blown away 12 goals to none in the first half.

The early signs were not good for GWS as the premiership-challenging Hawthorn kicked five unanswered goals in the first 15 minutes while it struggled to even break beyond its half-forward line. The Giants held their own in close but wily Hawks midfielders Sam Mitchell and Shaun Burgoyne intelligently used rapid-fire handballs to find teammates in space who could stream forward – although coach Alastair Clarkson later declared his midfielders had become too handball-happy.

“We had more handballs than kicks in the first half (111 to 108). That’s not usually our go . . . we perhaps didn’t go into our forward line deep enough on occasions because of that,” he said.

Rhys Palmer’s defensive-forward role on Grant Birchall was particularly effective, although Clarkson later revealed those type of scenarios do not bother him because of the resulting lack of attention for other key players.

“It’s not all that great for ‘Birch’ [Birchall] from time to time, because he’d like to be getting 30 touches every week, but it’s very, very difficuly for opposition forward lines to structure up in the way that they’d like when they’re running one tag. If they tag him then they’re letting (Sam) Mitchell off the leash . . . that helps us out a fair bit,” he said.

Mitchell eventually received the greater attention his form demanded, from Anthony Miles, but was never able to be shackled completely. Even when he was hindered somewhat – he was on track for 40 possessions at half-time but finish just below that mark with 35 – Jordan Lewis’ emergence thereafter meant it had negligible effect on the result.

Hawthorn will have matches throughout the season when its three key-forwards Lance Franklin, Jarryd Roughead and Jack Gunston will kick more than the 10 goals they kicked between them against the Giants. Nevertheless what will worry opposition teams was how cohesively the Hawks any of the three, in rotation, up the ground either into midfield or on a wing, disrupting defensive match-ups. This was reflected in them snaring, in addition to the 10 goals, 59 possessions between them.

“That’s what we’ve tried to work on through the course of the summer, that we wouldn’t be so one-dimensional in our front half and share it amongst a group of players. That’s working OK for us at the present time,” Clarkson said.

“To get 13 goalkickers was a really good spread once again.”

Stephen Coniglio was the most consistently effective of GWS’ midfielders and received solid support from Taylor Adams, Tom Scully and Callan Ward. As a group, however, they were nowhere near as devastating as the likes of Mitchell, Lewis and, unexpectedly, Jonathan Simpkin were for the Hawks.

The Giants’ most encouraging stint came in the third quarter, to the extent they would have won the quarter – an inconsequential but nevertheless encouraging achievement – had it not been for Hawk David Hale’s goal in the last 90 seconds.

Jeremy Cameron was typically efficient up forward, kicking four goals from limited opportunities.

Excepting the start and end of the match the Giants showed their competitivenes by not allowing the Hawks to kick more than three goals in succession. The margin of victory owed much to the first five goals in the first quarter and the final six goals in the last. The latter was due to the GWS players conspicuously tiring and no longer being able to fill holes deep in its defensive zone. Such flaws are typically punished by any team, and almost invariably one as clinical and skilful as Hawthorn.

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Simon happy to be home after South Korea woe

It was only for just over a year but to Matt Simon, his foreign foray felt like a lifetime. The 27-year-old joined South Korean club Chunnam Dragons in January last year and, after injuries and misdiagnosis confined him to the sideline, he had only one thought upon his return to the Central Coast Mariners. ”I’m just glad to be back,” he said.

Simon was excited to begin his first overseas adventure. With half a season of the A-League in his legs, he hit the ground running during the Dragons’ pre-season campaign. His form in those friendlies suggested the South Korean club had made a wise investment, but his fortune turned in his first competitive match.

Simon suffered an abductor tendon injury in his groin in what was initially dismissed as just swelling. The club physiotherapists urged him to play through the discomfort, assuring him it was nothing serious.

”They didn’t actually tell me what I had, they just kept telling me what was wrong and a bit of inflammation in the groin area,” Simon said. ”Four months later, I came home and had a tear in my abductor tendon and had that operated on.”

He managed to play through the pain six times while overseas but his injury hampered his performance.

”It’s really frustrating you know, because you’re overseas and it’s the first time I’ve been overseas so you’re there at a new club, you’re trying to impress the coach, impress the club and the club’s telling you that there’s nothing wrong,” he said.

”You can feel the pain and you can’t run properly, it’s very difficult. They just want you to keep playing no matter what. It got to a point where I couldn’t keep going and I had to go home.”

Frustrated with the physiotherapists at Chunnam, Simon seized on an opportunity to go meet his former teammates when the Mariners played Suwon Bluewings in the Asian Champions League. He drove four hours to meet the club and even sought the advice of their physio, Andrew Nealon.

”It is very different over there. They’re [Chunnam] all about what they can get out of players and getting you on the park because they just want you to play games. They were saying that there’s nothing wrong and I just knew that there was something wrong,” Simon said.

After being granted a release, Simon pounced on the chance to work with Graham Arnold again.

”That was a big part of why I wanted to be a back at the Mariners. My game excels under Arnie and he knows how I work,” Simon said. ”That was a big part of my decision, why I wanted to be back at the club. He’s one of the best coaches in the league and he’s proven right now with a championship under his belt and you look at his win-loss ratio … it’s pretty impressive.”

Simon returned to Australia two months ago and has spent the past three weeks training with the Mariners. He’s been told he is over the worst of his injury woes and is eager to make up for lost time.

In the 17 months since Simon departed Bluetongue Stadium, the Mariners have become A-League champions. They’ve relocated from training at suburban fields to an academy unrivalled in Australian football. He returns to a club that is being watched by European scouts and a strike force that boasts some of the best marksmen in the league. Simon is not expecting automatic selection but is familiar with the qualities that will give him the nod.

”You’ve got to be doing well in training and be fit. I’m just happy to be back on the coast,” he said.

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Craig Foster: Investing in Aboriginal youth will pay huge dividends

We can be pleased about the growth in our football but there is still one glaring aspect of the game in Australia that needs urgent attention: helping indigenous Australia discover a lifelong relationship with the game.

Football is a gate to the world, and we owe it to Aboriginal youth to give them the opportunity to follow the same path of John Moriarty, Harry Williams, Charles Perkins, Travis Odd, Jade North and the talented Sam Kerr and Kyah Simon.

This is our responsibility, just as we all share a responsibility to create better educational, health and life outcomes for indigenous Australia. Their plight is, without any shadow of a doubt, our national disgrace and we are not a wholly civilised nation until we rectify these wrongs.

We spend billions on different infrastructure and programs, yet can’t solve basic problems to give our first Australians the most fundamental rights that every human being around the world can expect.

A rich and prosperous country, yes, but one without a complete soul until we effectively spend what we need, and commit what we must, to save our own people from a life none of us would accept for our own children. Not one of us.

I would move heaven and earth to provide for my three beautiful kids, as would you, so how can we stand by and let Aboriginal kids face a life without education, without the necessary medical care we take for granted, and with little hope to reverse the cycle?

And with the power of football and its extraordinary impact on indigenous people’s worldwide, it is our community that must be at the forefront of making this change happen.

Yet, there is too little urgency, and we are all culpable.

For years now, there has been a plan – at least two in the last five years – rehashed and filed, but still nothing tangible has resulted.

There may be an annual tournament as talent identification, but that misses the point. The fact that Aboriginal kids possess phenomenal dexterity and aptitude for the world game is merely secondary; our responsibility is not just to find and develop talent but to help.

To help by putting the same programs into place in every indigenous community that give our kids the chance to finish their schooling and experience the great world of football beyond their home.

As yet, we have not done enough, any of us. The game has other problems needing to be fixed, but what takes precedence over the right to a free life for one’s children?

Our national indigenous patron of football, John Moriarty, has sowed the first, meaningful seeds in Borroloola for a three-day camp where over 50 kids train three days a week – just like any kids their age, anywhere in the world – and focus on their studies. A double way out, and it’s working wonders.

Oh, boy, how it’s working.

To see the kids run and turn, dribble and pass, shoot and feint is to see skills, the sort of ball skills these kids are uniquely capable of but, more than this, it is to see joy.

The joy of achievement, both in school and in the field.

And now John’s foundation, managed by his merchant banker son, James, once managing money and now aspirations, has expanded to nearby communities in the Northern Territory.

Slowly, slowly is the mantra. Do it once, and do it right. Start small and grow, like John: starting with his Yanyawa people, he connected with the Gadanji tribe, then the Mara, and so it goes.

Things can’t be rushed, they need care and love, patience and dedication. No fly in, fly out here, but stable care and guidance.

There’s a revolution – not just in football, but in life outcomes happening in Borroloola; the start of a glorious future.

Study, play, train, achieve, and the kids are passionate about what they do, with great dreams of conquering the world. They look to their heroes in the A-League and W-League, to the Socceroos and Matilda’s with Jade and Kyah, to the great clubs of the world and dream. If I study and keep my grades up, and train hard and am committed to learning, and behave with respect and fairness as my heritage and Jumbana, the elder who played for Adelaide City demands, I might one day have a chance to be a champion.

A champion of the world, no less.

You have heard me say before, and I’ll do so again, Australia will one day succeed in football, but not before we have embraced our brothers and sisters who were here before us for 50,000 years, and it is they who will become our best. One day, it might be 50 or 100 years, an indigenous Australian will win the Ballon d’Or.

Madness? Perhaps. But every man is mad until proven right.

The John Moriarty Football Foundation has gone ahead and done what others failed to do, and the program has laid down roots that are strong and are starting to shoot.

Football has waited too long to give the gift of our game, and we can wait no longer.

I believe we should all come together to make a life-changing statement, for all of us to contribute so that, through John Moriarty and his wonderful program, we can change the future and leave a legacy for coming generations.

It would be something for us all to be proud of that, once and for all, we stood up and made the difference needing to be made, and changed this county for the better.

In the next World Cup year, we will organise a campaign to expand into dozens of communities and change the game, literally.

We can stand around calling for FFA to find the money, for the government to fund, for others to make something happen, or we can damn well do it ourselves. Football is one of the largest constituencies in this country, and we span every age, religion, race, colour, demographic, political persuasion and belief system, but what binds us together is the ball.

Will you join me in giving the gift of football to our indigenous brothers and sisters?

I reckon it’s time, in fact, long overdue. I hope you agree, so be ready for the call in 2014.

Twitter [email protected]_Foster

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.

Management revamp lets Sharks players get on with the job

Renewed focus: Sharks hooker John Morris. Photo: Brendan EspositoA revised management structure is allowing Sharks players to focus on football even while the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation hangs over their heads, says veteran hooker John Morris.

In a rare interview with one of the players who was at the club in the period in 2011 that ASADA has highlighted, Morris said the players had learnt to live with the investigations as the club celebrated back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

“We are managing things a bit better these days, which is allowing us to focus a bit more on footy and not off-field stuff,” Morris said.

“When you’re losing, you’re thinking about your game, your errors and what you need to do better.

“It’s quite challenging to focus 100 per cent on footy when you have all that off-field stuff. A lot of people have other stuff outside footy and you’ve just got to balance that.”

Earlier this year, meetings and concerns about their immediate future meant players had limited time on the training paddock and their performances suffered. The Sharks slumped to four consecutive losses.

Plans implemented by new bosses Steve Noyce and Bruno Cullen have eased the burden on players and the usual training expectations are now being met.

“As it’s gone on, Steve Noyce has provided a strong leadership role and Bruno Cullen has put a few things in place for the players,” Morris said. “You sort of get used to it and tend to move on.

“Nothing has changed too much footy wise; we’re still training hard and doing our best.

“Our training has picked up a lot and the quality has been better. That’s carried over to performance on the field.”

As a senior player, Morris, along with Sharks skipper Paul Gallen, has become a central figure in the playing group. Morris said he did not know when investigations into the club would be resolved, despite ASADA cancelling interviews with players and officials.

“It wasn’t a burden but it was something new that everyone was going through,” Morris said. “As a senior player, it was my role to provide a bit of leadership. Through my experience, I am one of four or five senior players. We can’t worry about things out of our hands.”

On Sunday the Sharks will host a Raiders side who embarrassed Cronulla, eliminating them from last year’s finals series with a 34-16 win. Morris will again start at hooker and Isaac De Gois will come off the bench. Having inked a one-year contract extension for this season, Morris, who turns 33 this year, wants to play on.

“The Raiders have touched us up a couple of times,” Morris said. “We were in that finals game for a long period of time and they made us look silly at the end. We saved our worst performance of the year for the end, which was disappointing.”

“I’m in good shape and look after myself well. I want to be part of the team for as long as I can.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.