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Your first kick in footy – something to savour

”You must respect people and work hard to be in shape. And I used to train very hard. When the other players went to the beach after training, I was there kicking the ball.” – Pele

A couple of weeks ago I took my two older kids (Jarvis and Frankie) down to Victoria Park to watch the mighty Footscray Bulldogs VFL outfit take on their Collingwood counterparts. I highly recommend a day out at the VFL.

At half-time, as both sides went into the rooms, I gathered with a few of my Bulldogs teammates and watched our kids wrestle each other on the grassy knoll above the half-forward flank. The game out on the park had been a tough affair, but with two-year-old Otis Giansiracusa throwing his weight around, the action on the hill was just as willing.

The Murphys, Cooneys and Morris’ were all well represented on the hill, and we were also joined by former Bulldog, Lion and current Magpie Ben ”The People’s Beard” Hudson and his oldest boy Iggy. The kids took turns rolling down the hill and chasing each other all over the place. After a while they wanted to go out onto the ground for a kick. I smiled to myself and thought, ”This’ll be interesting.”

‘From my angle on the other side of the ground it looked like ”Bonti” kicked the match-winning goal from halfway down the ramp.’

My young lad Jarvis isn’t that fond of football. He has a growing passion for the Bulldogs, which is kind of a rule in our house, but when it comes to picking up the ball and having a kick, Jarvis usually has better things to do. Like catching frogs.

Occasionally, we’ll head up to our local park with ball in hand, but after a few dribbled kicks along the ground his head cocks to the side and he asks me, ”Can we just tackle?” I think he gets that from his mum.

But, lo and behold, out on the lush green grass of Victoria Park in the fading light of the afternoon, I looked on as my Jarvis launched a couple of drop punts onto the chest of Jaxon Cooney. And he’s a left-footer! This could explain the problems we were having with the right foot. Your first kick in footy, now that’s something to savour.

As the kids enjoyed the first kicks of their footy journey, I got talking to my old mate Huddo about old footballers still getting their kicks. The game at the elite level is a constant battle, a driving internal force is at play to keep going, ”I wonder how long I’ve got left”. I’m 32 and that thought drifts in and out of my thoughts like an afternoon breeze. At 35 and having retired a couple of times already, the winds must be strong and constant.  In his casual way, Huddo told me ”my shoulder’s knackered”. It’s a sobering moment, the full spectrum of a football life on display in front of us as the kids kept playing at our feet.

From first kicks to last kicks and then to those few kicks in a footy story that you’ll remember forever. On Sunday evening at Etihad Stadium, late in the game with the scores all tied up one of our young pups stepped up to the plate. After multiple efforts to wrestle the ball free, Marcus Bontempelli managed to free himself from the congestion, hoick the ball over his shoulder and complete the miracle play.

From my angle on the other side of the ground it looked like ”Bonti” kicked the match-winning goal from halfway down the ramp. It was an amazing piece of play full of everything that’s beautiful about our game. Our game is beautiful, but the eyes of much of the world are on the beautiful game in Brazil at the moment.

We had a World Cup lottery sweep at the football club, and I paired with one of our property stewards, Bill Hector. With pick 27 in the draft, we took the rank outsider Algeria. Our hearts leapt when we made it past the group stage and they were beating proudly as we took the Germans all the way only to fall just short. Billy and I were proud of our boys. All we needed was a couple more kicks, but that’s what everyone wants – a couple more kicks. I know Huddo would. And now I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Jarvis will, too.

This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.