Travelling With Queensland

Thursday, April 07 2016 @ 09:25 pm ACST

Contributed by: Wesley Hull

One of the great benefits of being at a footy carnival such as the National Diversity Championships in Townsville is just how close to the action and the people you can get. Routinely chatting to some of the biggest movers and shakers in the AFL – both past and present – adds an at times surreal feel to being in elite company.

From my own point of view, the chance to travel around with the Queensland squad of Kickstart and All Nations players was a lot of fun and also enlightening. From being on the bench with them at close quarters during matches to relaxing at dinner later in the evening, my experience has been memorable.

Match day, and Queensland All Nations coach, Anda Tyalana allows me to sit (quietly) at the back of the coaches box. It is a great experience to listen to the coaches talk on the run about what is unfolding in front of them.

“Be on the defensive side at ball ups and stoppages to stop their run.”

“Face the play.”

“Attack the ball.”

All of these words of advice are passed on to the players on the bench before they run back onto the field. The players listen and nod. They heard the messages, now it’s time to enact them.

Half time comes and the Assistant coach, Will, gathers the group together. He drives home the positives – it was a 50/50 half of football – half of the things done were good but the other half poor. There is no point glossing things over. More than 20 missed tackles was not good, so time to do watch they have trained for. Back to basics. The big theme for the second half was stop their (the opposition’s” momentum.

The group peels off to their line coaches. Midfielders are instructed to run both ways – attack and defend. Anda tells his boys to run hard. Forwards are told to hit up their targets. Make every disposal count. Make themselves known as targets. Defenders are told to attack the ball and kick long and direct.

Their opponents kick the opening three goals of the second half and the bench goes quiet. Not out of despair. Just a realisation that they probably cannot impact on this result now. Here is the chance for the players to find a positive path to the end of the game. To test their resilience.

The game is done and it is time for rehab. Part of that is a swim in the pool. Cool, clear water can make anything feel better. Even defeat.

Later that night the Hermit Park Tigers local football club opens their doors to welcome the Queensland squad. Actually, they do so two nights running. One of the AFL Townsville clubs, they put on two wonderful meals. The players try their hands on the pool table, or just sitting on the balcony in a gentle breeze watching the sprinklers playfully watering the club’s footy ground.

It is a generous offer by the club, and it takes the players away from the grind of footy matches and hotel rooms. The Tigers were just the tonic needed to relax and unwind.

Next morning it is finals day. A chance for both the Kickstart and All Nations squads to win both of their respective matches and aim for Friday’s Grand Finals. It isn’t what there championships are about, but victory would be a great reward for effort.

Sadly, things didn’t go to plan. The Kickstart team played arguably the match of the carnival in a thriller against Victoria/Tasmania. Gallantly, they went down by just a kick. It finished their carnival, but though disappointed, every player had to be proud of finishing in such a heroic way.

The All Nations boys won their Semi-Final, but went down in a tough encounter in the Preliminary Final. It was the end of the line for matches, but these lads also did the maroon jumpers proud.

Now it’s the last day of the carnival. The boys stay together until the end to watch the two Grand Finals. Then it is time to say goodbye. Boys who didn’t know each other until relatively recently were bought together as a united footy force and did their state proud. Now they go home to their lives. Some will gain higher honours and continue a pathway to the top. Others will go home to their local teams and tell of their adventures – even use their new found and honed skills to help their local club.

But they will remember the time that they travelled as part of a Queensland representative team. No one can take that honour away from them. Or the memories of that week in Townsville.

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