Otway Superheroes

I’ve found coaching Under 18s hard at times this year. They are all dead-set rippers, give their all, I’m certain, but hurdles of my own making frustrate me.

Now I’m a dad, it’s a busy life. I’m always charging into the club’s carpark with a minute to spare, exhausted, filthy, straight from long days on the plantations, picking up my kid, coaching the lads, who’ve started without me, then training with the seniors, then getting me and the kid home, over the other side of the ranges, by not too long after her bedtime. And on the nights there’s no footy, it’s straight to work on the farm, in the gullies, until past sunset.

The writing gets done after dinner, starting at about 9pm, by which point I’m cooked, but flop forward until about 1.

I’d love to give the boys even more time. Do one-on-one training on spare nights for those with the hunger. Go see the races of the one who drives funny cars, go to a swimming meet for the one who’s shooting for the Olympics. Jam more with the ones who I helped form a band over summer.

Show I give a shit, that it’s about more than footy.

Similarly, I’ve been playing okay ressies footy, but not quite enjoying that, either. My kicking’s turned to shit this season. Every time I try to roost it, especially on the run, I splice, spray and butcher the pill all over the place for bugger all footage. Pack-marks I used to fart out now slip through. Even though I still have the hunger. As a result, a few in the backline seem wary of kicking it to me.

So we had the bye.

It would have been easy to take last Tuesday off. Every other club in the league does, our seniors did. But all year I’ve been preaching about want.

Wanting to do extra.
Wanting to commit to something.
Wanting to improve.
Wanting to work.
Commitment to task.

About how footy is a reflection of life. If they can show said desire here, to achieve, even if they don’t like footy that much, there will be nothing stopping them… in anything! Whatever, in the long run, they chose to do, their work ethic will be ready.

But you can’t command hunger.

So, for the players, for me, this training run, I told them, would be optional, basic. Pressure free. Not much teaching, just enjoying.

Being school holidays a lot of the lads were away, others were working, I was fine with that. Optional is optional. I really didn’t care. Training just one, or a few, has even less pressure attached. Becomes more personal. The messages are more personal.

Tein was first there, of course. He has the speed, skills, and, most importantly, the attitude, to be anything! He just wants to work, to learn. To love his footy.

Moto showed up in his work fluros, followed by Frankey, our bull! Our leader. His force of personality recruited half our team. He said he couldn’t come, but there he was, in his civies, ready to go in long shorts and sneakers.

“Things worked out different than I thought,” he said.

Finally, ten minutes in, Toby rocked up, from out back of nowhere, in his clunky work ute, mighty mullet, and easy, likeable manner. A dairy farmer’s son from one of the valleys.

These four champions! The number was perfect.

After a few warm-ups, I called them in.

“At some stage in your career, you’ll go through a lull, a loss of form, confidence. Bad coaches, bad luck, whatever, it will happen. This is what you have to do to turn it around; enjoy yourself. Bring it back to basics.”

And told them about Plugger.

“Plugger was about 19, great skills, a real forward pocket. Our coach was all about pressure. He was relentless, squeezed the fun out of it. Soon, Plugger was too scared to even lead. His kicks sprayed, hangers become Falcons. So I said; Come down to the oval Monday, I’ll knock off in the bush early. And after about twenty minutes of building up a small sweat kicking and leading, he asked me; What are we going to work on? I said; Nothing, This is it. And we kept going. Just an hour or so of marking and kicking.

No apologies for bad kicks or dropped marks permitted.

“Within three Mondays he was back in the team, and kicked the first goal in that year’s Grand Final.”

So I put Frankey and Tein in one pair, with a ball, Moto and Toby in another, and said, “Get to it.”

And, “Remember, no apologies.” And joined in now and then, just developing a rhythm. Of hard work and football.

Soon, the Bull was at his best, champing to have a real crack at it. He went to get the spare footy gear in Moto’s car. So good. Full Frankey is almost frightening!

He took his marks full height, full stretch, ran with that power. A Riccuito as opposed to Tein’s McLoud.

Moto’s Stewie Dew, Toby’s everyman.

Then, I taught them how to play three drop.

“Stand about 30 meters away from the other bloke, and kick it. High, low, over him. Whatever. First to drop three marks loses. Easy. Drop punts only.”

“What if the kick’s so bad you can’t reach it?” Motto asked.

“Then they’ve wasted a kick. You can’t get a point for a mark you didn’t drop.”

And they got to it.

I yelled some advice.

“At first it will seem like a game will go forever, but as fatigue sets in, you’ll be amazed – drop, drop, drop.”


“The trick is to run them around with kicks to the left, then right, bomb it sky high, they run back, then drop the next kick short. Make them work for it.”


“It will improve the length of your kicking, eye-hand, and teach you heaps about reading the ball off the boot, as well as through the air. Just by having fun.”


“One of you gets to three, the other hangs shit. Vital. Swap ends, go again.”

And, lastly,

“No chest marks.”

And they went to it. Laughing, trying to beat each other. Laying on the shit stir when they dropped easy ones. And, soon enough, I joined in, replacing Moto, to take on the captain, Frankey.

We had a ball, on a beautiful arvo, on a beautiful oval with no lights on it, under a ripper sunset, in the middle of winter. No politics, no bullshit, no stress, just blokes kicking and marking a footy.

It was Heaven!

Taking mark after mark, trying to outwit Frankey with my kicks, I noticed they were getting longer than they have for two years, my eye was more in than it has been for several seasons.

God, I’d let life speed up too much! How long had it been since I’d done something so simple? So high school! You’re never too old. Never! Your footy’s never too advanced, or too versed! For 40 yeas I’d always made time, days, hours, moments, to simply mark and kick a bloated bladder. My footy has been built around it.

How had I forgotten?

I upped the ante. “No hesitating, now. When you mark it, play on, run, kick. Both of you. Get a real flow to it.”

Winners played winners until Moto was up against Toby for the 3 Drop Grand Final! It was getting dark, but so what? We were having a ball!

Before they started I told the boys about GIanpi.

“He was my best mate. We played this game all the time, but to ten. We’d keep going until it got so dark you’d hear a BOOT from the darkness, then look up to try and spot the ball as it crossed the skyline, and had to guess where it was landing… and call out if you dropped it! He had no way of knowing.”


“We just loved footy.”

And, finally,

“While Moto and Toby do the marking to see who wins, the other three of us will rove for the handballs, and do the kicking.”

Tein and I went over to rove off Motto, Frankey off Toby, and they were away! A few times Tein and I teamed up with our handballs, sweet, like senior footy.

Moto and Toby kept at it, their eyes were in. Fatigue would win it.

I felt for the others who couldn’t make it, to not be sharing this. Just two drills for the night, just footy. No rush, no yelling. Footy players with a purpose. Training for the love of it, sharing a bond. Sharing hard yakka. A team for the night, within a team.

Anyone can do it when they’re finals bound. We’re not. This was just because. Because they have character, because they are the best young fellas on Earth! Because they love footy.

Tien, Frankey, Toby and Moto.


Thanks boys, with all my heart. I mean it when I say I’ll remember this session forever!

If I’m going to keep playing, I’m going to have to find the time, to MAKE the time, to simply kick a football.

In the end, my wife had a few chores to do and was a little late dropping off our kid. I hung around in the dark talking footy one-on-one with Tein. General footy, our team, club footy – not coach to teenager, just player to player.

That, too, was magic.
by Matt Zurbo