Country vs Metro
GAME on. That’s the best way to describe the now traditional, always fiercely contested Vic Country/Vic Metro meeting in the NAB AFL Under 18 Championships at Etihad Stadium this Wednesday.
There’s rivalry against South and West Australia, but it pales in comparison to when the Victorian teams go head to head.
It’s unmistakable. It’s palpable. It’s a match, regardless of where the respective teams may sit in the title race, which both teams desperately want to win.
It’s about bragging rights, but it goes deeper. It’s about how football is perceived: city versus country, a rivalry in any sense as old as the State itself.
Previously, Vic Country and Vic Metro had provided a dramatic start to the Championships, but this year, with the re-scheduling of the fixture, it provides a mouth-watering, tantalising final match to the carnival. An exclamation point, if you like.
Metro hold a 7-3 advantage in the past 10 matches, but Country have won the past two. Form guides or lines can be effectively discarded. Players lift themselves for this one match.
Five of the matches have been decided by 16-points or less. Back in 2008, Metro won with a goal by Jack Watts on the siren.
And, to elevate the match, not that it really needs it, is the fact that it will be televised live on Fox Sports in prime time. Coverage starts at 5.30pm.
Metro coach Rohan Welsh said there is an unmistakable rivalry between the Victorian teams. He noted the little prompting needed to spike the adrenalin rush or competitive spirit for the players when Country and Metro went head-to-head.
“It’s always been an ‘us against them’ mentality and they are always pretty high standard sort of games,” Welsh said.
Country coach Robert Hyde said he had no doubt the country players would be “up and about” for the match.
He said Country had a “good group” who would relish the opportunity to end the Championship by defeating Vic Metro, just as they had the past couple of years.
Welsh said he’s unsure what drives the players like it does, but said the pride of winning for the respective area is overwhelming.
“There has been a real rivalry, like the showdowns. There’s been a real competitive nature about these games and I think that’s good,” Welsh said.
“For the kid’s point of view it is a real positive to finish off the carnival. The boys are going to be super keen to do well, it’s going to be a real cracking game.”
Concentration and consistency are two non-negotiable tenets for Vic Country, according to Hyde who said the challenge for the players was to maintain a high level of concentration.
Hyde said Vic Country had played in patches throughout the carnival, mixing good passages with stints where the team really dropped away.
He noted it was evident in the wins against Tasmania and Northern Territory as well as at the core of the loss against South Australia.
“The realisation is that at national carnivals you need to play four pretty good quarters,” Hyde said.
“You can’t piece together two or two and a half good quarters or if you do you will get caught out. It’s really about concentrating for as long a period of time as possible.
“We will just have to work really hard. If we play four quarters then we are a red hot chance.”
Welsh said the similar game styles of Country and Metro led to a hard fought, in tight, well contested match with many disputed possessions and every possession was earned.
He noted the lift in intensity was apparent from the time the matches moved from Division 2 to Division 1 teams and it lifted again when the Victorian teams met.
Welsh added there was much to like about how Vic Metro answered every challenge thrown at them by West Australia and how they ran out convincing winners.
“It will be great for the kids to play at Etihad Stadium, the experience of playing at that ground and especially against Country. It’s something the kids will remember for a long time,” he said.
“We’ve been telling the kids that these games could be the most important they play. As much as a coach can say that, it is actually true.
“To finish off against Country, they want to put everything on the table.”
Hyde said the loss against South Australia would prove a great learning experience for all the players as it highlighted the concentration and consistency he spoke about.
He said the scoreboard in the loss against South Australia at Adelaide Oval last month did not accurately reflect the team’s performance.
While acknowledging that the home State turned a 22-point half time deficit into an 11-point three-quarter time lead, Vic Country responded by kicking the first two goals of the final term and a disallowed mark 20 metres from goal could have put the team in front.
“Maybe the momentum might have shifted, but they took it down straight away and got a goal. We dropped off for 10, 15 minutes and that was end of the ball game,” Hyde said.
“Really, we weren’t that far off them, but everyone now wants to see if we can bounce back from it.
“You don’t always have good games. The challenge is for the players to pull themselves out of the mire and get back on track.
“There is a heap of areas for us to improve upon.”
Country defeated West Australia at Skilled Stadium on Friday, whilst Metro won against South Australia.
One thing is certain, the Vic Country/Vic Metro match will be very much alive on Wednesday.