JAFA Rolling Down the Aisles

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Not rain, sleet, a huge cross-country trek early on a Sunday morning or a bunch of fit, young rampaging Samurai could halt the march of the Tokyo Goannas, 2003 Japan Australian Football Association champions.Capping off a match described as the “best ever seen in Japan,” the Goannas hung on to clinch a thriller against the spirited Samurai 8.17.65 to 8.10.58.It was not only the Goannas who played magnificently at the Radisson Oval in Narita on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2003.

Six teams took to the field over the course of the day, each playing well above its abilities. Fear simply didn’t exist for any team member, with notable mudlarks on all teams led by the Goannas’ Kim Bebbington Medal winner Matt Jacobs and Callum McAree in his farewell performance.

A day marked by spirited performances could have been a disaster with Tokyo turning on its best impression of Melbourne as rain pounded the capital for the umpteenth day in succession.

Fortunately for JAFA’s schedulers, they rode by car to the Radisson and not in the cramped bus the bulk of fans and players squeezed into for the seemingly endless odyssey from Tokyo Station – a trip made worse because it was being made early on a wet Sunday morning while most sensible people were still in bed.

Naturally, on a day wetter than a Shane Crawford groupie’s panties on AFL Calendar sale day, the Radisson Oval wasn’t in its most pristine shape. In fact, the mudheap lower side of the ground made Moorabin look like a pool table.

One of the flanks brought back memories of the old South Melbourne playing at Lakeside Oval. Where that ground earned its name for being located beside the Albert Park Lake, the waterlogged flank meant Sunday’s players were lucky enough to get the ground and the lake in the same place.

Prospects of high quality football weren’t too hot, with the super-soppers nowhere to be seen. What a surprise we were in for.
Opening with a blitzkrieg on the goals, the Gokongs stung the heavily favored Osaka Dingoes in the first quarter of their third-place playoff in a sensational display of football.

With conditions favoring them, the Gokongs held the Dingoes at bay as the wet ball and boggy field nullified Osaka’s height advantage.

But the Dingoes played like wild dogs, getting a running game going that allowed them to first overhaul their valiant foes and then established a comfortable winning margin, though the game was only truly decided just before the death.

Even the birds flew high, turning the women’s game into what has until now been a spectacle more noteworthy for its busts than for players busting through packs as they did on Grand Final day.

And then came the big one. Bolstered by the return to the team of star trio Travis Wilson, Nick Howes and Kristian Vandemeer after missing the previous clash with the Samurais, the Goannas were brim full of confidence.

But, even with the glitter guys back in the team, the condition of the ground worked almost entirely in the favor of the local lads, who used their lightning speed to good advantage.

Early on, the Goannas had the better of the game, peppering the goals, but with dismal conversion, keeping the Samurais in the game with an ordinary 1.6 to 0.5 in the first term.

When the students started running riot in the second quarter, the Goannas started to look tired. The writing appeared to be on the wall as the Samurais hammered four goals to two and went into the long break with a four-point lead.

Cameron “Barassi” Brooker must have given the lizards a revving during the interval as they came back looking like new men.

Once again, they got the better of the scoreboard, but continued to stray sideward, scoring twice as many behinds as goals and still trailing the Samurais as the season entered its final stanza.

Heading to the scoring end and blessed with fresher, younger, fitter legs, all indicators suggested the Samurais would probably hold onto their lead and claim the premiership.

But, showing the greatest display of guts since the Fukuoka Grand Sumo Tournament, the Goannas drew on their reserves of energy and unleashed their most effective offensive moves of the day. There was nothing offensive about the style the Goannas displayed, their final quarter effort of 3.4 being the best any team could boast of for the day.

Even more laudable for the lizards, the Samurais hit the lead twice in the last stanza, only for the Goannas to reply in quick order and clinch a well-deserved premiership victory.

Though the Goannas take out the cup, Smokin’ Pete “McGuire” Hosking couldn’t have put it any better when he said the events of the day meant “the bigger winner was Australian football.”