By Gary Stocks
It’s a Tuesday night at training. Cold and blustery, a polar chill in the air. The kind of night when you sense that a footy hitting the tips of your fingers might fracture a digit or two.
Coach David Hynes has just barked his instructions for the evening, after a brief post-mortem of the previous game, and the players are heading behind the goals to begin the warm-up.
At the assembly point they huddle tightly, called to within earshot, by a bloke wearing what appears to be the reverse strip of the North Beach jumper, only with a healthy black panel down the chest. As he speaks, his teammates link arms, edge closer and tighter.
Clearly he’s a man who commands respect. From his chiselled jaw, peppered by a healthy three-day growth, he urges his peers to lock in. It’s time to ramp it up, focus on training and build momentum in the last remaining qualifying games in the lead-up to finals.
The preliminaries are just about done, now it’s time to knuckle down and live up to the North Beach trademark of finals success.
As the group spontaneously applauds and break up layer by layer, to echoes of ‘let’s go boys,’ the figure in the middle of the group is wholly revealed. He’s co-captain Anthony “Chooka” Ingham. Could there be any other nickname for an Ingham?
He issues instructions as to the formation for some run-throughs and his voice remains a constant throughout. Always encouraging, urging a little bit more out of his teammates. Sensing there is more to give, even when the ball is moving crisply, the skills clean.
Experience tells him that you play as you train and that to close the gap on the top two teams – Wesley Curtin and University – training must be slick. And Chooka has plenty of experience to call upon.
On Saturday, when the Beach plays Fremantle CBC at Morris Buzzacott Reserve, he will play his 250th game. It will give the Tigers an extra reason to crank it up with one of the club’s most popular players achieving such a significant milestone.
“I didn’t really know this was coming,” Ingham said of his milestone. “It’s a bit of a surprise and an honour. This has been home to me since I had a run at Subi in the colts and then went to Wembley for a year.
“I came to North Beach in the middle of 2003 to play with all of my mates who were here. I played reserves with them and then played 2004 in the seniors when Bill (Duckworth) gave me a chance to play A-Grade.
“I spent the next year in Collie, but came back to North Beach in 2006. It has been a great club to be around and I have made some life-long friends. I never really thought I’d one day be captain and it’s a great honour, especially taking over from Peo (Chris Pearce), who was one of my good mates at school.
“I have played most of my career at full-back, though I did get forward a few times.”
A six-time premiership player, Ingham rates this year’s squad highly and believes the Beach can launch a serious tilt at the flag.
“This year’s team is one I rate highly on talent,” he enthused. “On paper it’s pretty good, but we just have to click. When we play our best footy we are capable of doing anything.
Ingham believes that when the Beach was winning premierships (seven in a row from 2004-10) that it was not always the best team, but the group was tight, had a strong belief and was closer than its opponents.
“You can’t force that kind of thing,” Ingham said. “You’re either close or you’re not and this group is tight.”
The Beach is targeting a top three finish, with no real benefit in earning a home final because Charles Riley Reserve is no longer available. Percy Doyle is the training base and the home ground for the lower grades as the first phase of the redevelopment of club facilities.
The first challenge comes against CBC in an unusual fixture which will see the A-Grade play ahead of the A-Reserves and Phil Scott Colts, who will play under lights.