Watching Frankston’s tooth and nail battle with the St-Kilda-aligned Sandringham on Saturday from the boundary line it was hard not to marvel at the spirit of the Dolphins. Despite the Zebras having 12 AFL players, the game was in the balance until midway through the last quarter. At ground level Shannon Grant’s boys were as tough and fierce as the Zebras. Had they been blessed with a key forward of Nick Sautner’s class they could well have won the game. As Grant told me at three quarter time ‘I never question their intent’.
So fierce was the contest Frankston players Byron Barry and Clinton Proctor were carried from the ground on stretchers and Marcus Marigliani collapsed after the game. So why is the AFL flagging funding cuts that would devastate standalone clubs such as Frankston and Port? Is there anyone who can seriously argue that VFL football is an impediment to the development of AFL players? Is there anyone in AFL ranks prepared to put their head up and tells us the VFL doesn’t play a substantial role – financially and culturally - in the development of our indigenous game?
Frankston and Port have been revelations as standalone clubs. It’s quite remarkable that the Dolphins, with only local boys, are able to compete with AFL-aligned clubs. The team’s performances in last year’s finals were nothing short of inspiring. And there’s no doubt that had Port not been hurt by injuries the grand final would have been much tighter. Without these clubs we’d lose yet another vestige of distinctiveness. Unfortunately, it appears there might be a nest of second tier bureaucrats in AFL ranks who either lack a genuine grasp of the fabric of the game or are so fixated on the TAC Cup they are incapable of marketing the VFL. Am I the only person who thinks it odd the AFL would fund a film - The Essence of the Game – that captures the fabric of the game in the suburbs, whilst simultaneously flagging funding cuts to VFL clubs?
A man of all sorts
It’s no secret there was a time when state selectors grimaced at the prospect of having to play Nick Sautner in interstate matches. ‘Not good enough for these games’ was the catch cry. With eight Frosty Miller goal kicking medals behind him and the goals flowing – 14 in the opening two matches – he has truly earned the title of VFA/VFL champion. If there was one thing the VFA could produce it was goal kickers? But that was in the days of 16-man-a-side football, when backmen were at the mercy of the open game. Sautner has amassed goals at a time when flooding has been the rule and one-on-one contests the exception rather than the rule. His six goals on Saturday – five in the last half – simply broke the deadlock and won Sandringham the game. It prompted me to describe him as a footballer rather than an athlete. This shouldn’t be taken to mean he doesn’t have some sublime skills. Sautner does have a big leap, as he showed when he climbed above players in the last quarter and goaled from a sharp angle. He also has great goal sense and is quick on a lead.
Yet so much of his football is an act of guile. Sautner is always plotting a course. He can seem beaten and forlorn only to emerge at a critical moment, just when his opponent believes he has his measure. On Saturday Shaun Pollard looked to have him beaten. So confident was Pollard he’d taken to marking above Sautner from behind. It was classic old style football that brought the crowd to life. The Dolphin fullback could hardly have imagined what was around the corner. Like Fred Cook and Frosty Miller before him Sautner now has a special place in VFA/VFL history. And the beautiful thing is that so much of it has been captured by the ABC cameras. Miller, Cook, Sautner; wouldn’t that be some compilation!
I’ve had to forego the ABC TV match this week – re-scheduled for Sunday. I’d love to be at Williamstown on a Sunday, just like in the old days, but my West Coburg Under 16s are taking on traditional rivals Strathmore!
Northern Bullants vs PORT MELBOURNE
BOX HILL vs Coburg
WILLIAMSTOWN vs Werribee - ABC TV
FRANKSTON vs Casey
Bendigo vs COLLINGWOOD
SANDRINGHAM vs Nth Ballarat