By Gary Stocks
Finally it’s here. Well, just 24 hours away.
The game that was at back of mind when blokes started running around in the summer heat in January is upon us.
When hundreds of players swarmed around Charles Riley Reserve, rotating from station to station, it was all about preparing for this moment. At times there were more numbers on the track than the expanse space could cope.
Every millimetre of grass, it seemed, was occupied as players of varying shapes of sizes, of skill sets and aspirations, kicked, handpassed and ran.
Of all those young men who set foot on the track eight months ago, only 22 remain active. Six of the club’s seven teams tasted finals action, but the Credent Financial Services A-Reserves are the only ones who managed to make it to the big dance.
Tomorrow at Medibank Stadium they will fly the flag for North Beach when they confront Trinity Aquinas in the Grand Final at 12.15pm. After being the dominant team throughout the home and away series, the Beach played two tight, tense finals. They lost, then won by a kick.
With the senior team bowing out against University last week, some accomplished players are available to filter back to the A-Reserves. It will be a different team to the one that lost to Trinity in the qualifying final three weeks ago by five points.
On paper it looks powerful. But knitting that talent together, getting it to gel into a synchronised unit, playing as one with a single objective, is required to win big games. And they come no bigger than this.
With some senior players, who qualified through the course of the year, meshing back into the team some unlucky individuals will be spectators tomorrow. But as they take their seats in the East Perth section of the stadium, they should know that they played significant roles in creating this opportunity.
Doubtless their disappointment at playing no on-field role in the Grandy will sting. To have come so far down this journey only to be watching, will be gut-wrenching. But this club, this squad ,is strong and united and they will be there to support their mates.
That was, in part, the message from A-Grade co-captain Beau Witheridge.
Just before coach Michael Pratt was called to the podium at Percy Doyle last night, to announce the starting line-up, Witheridge grabbed the microphone. He spoke of his finals experiences, of the need to seize the moment, but to stick to regular routines. It was important, he said, to not play the game in your mind before the moment arrived.
It has been a big year at the club. A year of transition, with David Hynes assuming the senior coaching mantle from Bill Duckworth, after an incomparable 16-year reign.
The elevation of Witheridge to the captaincy, a post he shared with veteran Anthony Ingham, was indicative of the new era. An outstanding player, the growth of “Bozer”, in a leadership sense, has been profound.
At the start of the 2013 campaign, he might not have spoken so eloquently, so purposefully. Indeed, he might not have sought the opportunity to speak to the assembly, but he asked to have to the microphone for a minute or two.
Those who will wear the famous North Beach strip in battle tomorrow listened intently to every word. He cast his mind back five or six years, when he was one of those young faces in the group. A Jake Brazill, a Michael Schofield, a Mark Foreman or Dion Cownie. He could relate to them and could also envisage their evolution into key senior players ensuring our club culture survives for another generation.
His words were both encouraging and inspiring and Pratty followed suit.
This is the moment. Relish it, enjoy it. But most of all seize it. If and when the next opportunity comes, no one knows.