Coach lauds Vic Country spirit

IT’S back to reality this weekend for country Victoria’s best U16 footballers, writes David O’Neill

After claiming the NAB AFL U16 Championship title in Sydney last week, country Victoria’s finest are likely be found back at their local clubs this Saturday, enjoying everything winter has to offer.

It’s a world away from the action in Sydney, playing on pristine grounds like Skoda Stadium, home to the GWS Giants, and trying to make an early impression on AFL recruiters.

While Vic Country’s campaign - proudly supported by Dairy Australia - wasn’t all smooth sailing with two wins and one loss from three games, a final day victory over the highly fancied South Australians secured the coveted national title.

The men in white were given little hope against SA, after the Croweaters had demolished Vic Metro earlier in the week, who in turn had run over Vic Country in Round 2.

But relishing their underdog status, Country leapt out of the blocks before gallantly holding on for a memorable two-point triumph.

Geelong Falcons ace Rhys Mathieson capped a stunning carnival with a starring role in the win, ensuring he took home the Division 1 best-and-fairest trophy.  

The midfielder-come-forward bagged two important goals in the victory after earlier helping Country gain the ascendancy with some powerful work in the centre square.

Key defender Sam Skinner (Gippsland Power) was awarded Vic Country’s most valuable player after keeping Australia’s premier forwards in check all week, while his fellow backman Keiran Collins (Dandenong Stingrays) won plaudits for his defensive efforts.

Midfielder Dylan Parish (Geelong Falcons) and forwards Josh Dunkley (Gippsland Power) and Josh Schache (Murray Bushrangers) were others to impress, while Sudanese born Gach Nyuon (Dandenong Stingrays) captured plenty of attention with his athleticism and ruck work.

Coach Paul Henriksen, who hails from Terang, said the resilience and character shown by his players was immense.

“South Australia had easily defeated (Victoria) Metro and WA so we went with the mentality that if they were going to win it, then they were going to have to earn it,” Henriksen said.

“We jumped them early and credit to them they came back. But our guys were able to withstand it and had probably had learnt a fair bit from a tight loss to (Victoria) Metro.”

Vic Country had been cruising at half time in the Round 2 encounter before their traditional rivals powered home to win by two points.

While no one in the Country camp was pleased with the result, Henriksen said it did allow his chargers to take stock of where they are as players.

“The week is really about learning and teaching and that loss taught the kids that they need to look within themselves and think about what went wrong.”

“For a lot of these kids they’re used to a 100 pats on the back. But we tell it like it is and give them a good idea of where they’re at.”

Vic Country’s successful campaign also included a two-day camp at the Australian Institute of sport, which Henriksen said was a real eye-opener for the players.

“It’s was great for the kids get to see that professional environment and all the things that come with it like stats and analysis.”

“We held up a champion data report (stats breakdown) and not many of the kids had seen one before but by the end of next season nearly all of them will be familiar with them.”

“The week is all about preparing them the best we can for what will hopefully be TAC Cup football next year.”


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