"We need to up our fitness if we are to stop these university sides from overtaking us", barked Sam Ghirardello the newly appointed President and Coach for 2016.
It was hard to argue against that logic as almost half the squad needed replacing after the departures of the likes of reigning Bebbington winner Hiro Masuda, reigning JAFL MVP Gordon Jones, and All-Japan ruckman Seamus Ryan. So that dirty word again, fitness, was the new mantra and the players were held accountable for 12km's worth of running per week and training was pushed forward to the equivalent of going to your grandmother's poem recital - 10am on a Sunday morning.
Still, the players turned out admirably and fresh faces came through the gates to replenish stocks. Our reinforcements came in the guise of Cirque du Soleil back-office staffs, a pilot, and even an AKB48 professional fan. We knew then this was going to be an interesting year.
The first game started with a bang, a thumping win over the Poseidon's and then another over the Komazawa Magpies - both in excess of 100 points. Brett Whyborn became a Fantasy Football must-have racking up the Champion Data stats courtesy of Gordon Jones who is still finding it hard to let go of Japan and gets his fix from watching Goanna replays from Indonesia with his trusty stats book.
Next game was against the Powers and a 9 point thriller ensued. The match won by the Goannas is now infamous for Mitch Stace playing in yellow tights found from Cirque du Soleil's 70's regalia in a sort of modern-day Warrick Capper moment.
KC Imai was also voted best-on-ground in a popular count which inspired him to travel the world thereafter visiting the US and the UK in order to write an International dissertation on AFL. You can find it here: http://tokyogoannas.weebly.com/news/kc-takes-the-jafl-to-the-world. Also, we farewelled Steven Palmer - a popular Goanna.
High on confidence, the Goannas then took to the Grand Final Replay against the Tokyo Bay Suns with half a team but balanced it by having the players putting in double shifts. A memorable 31-point come from behind win was the outcome, spearheaded by Big Alex Wyatt with a 5 goal effort. Also, we again farewelled Steven Palmer (this time minus the chair-off) - still a popular Goanna.
It was then time for a short break with the summer heat well and truly cranked up, and a footy trip to the beaches of Sendai was just the tonic. A group of Goannas gathered to conduct some Auskick sessions there and courtesy of Jarrod Woodward, the word 'Sausage' bellowed out with gusto is now a slang term used among elementary kids all over Sendai.
A friendly match was also arranged with the Sendai Port footy club who kindly organised the highlight of the trip, a tug-of-war competition set up with Sendai's illustrious tug team. Big Douggie Bonham took the honors with a fine effort of being immovable. It was on this trip that Jason Fan was bestowed the prestigious 'Bucket' award for driving the intoxicated around. The 'Bucket' was originally a 48-piece chicken McNugget box which adorned the members of his beloved AKB48.
Back in Tokyo, the last game of the regular season against the R246 Lions was scheduled the morning after the actual AFL Grand Final. So it was those early hours that the team missing a few key players trudged to Saitama still smelling of VB's and chicken parma. A valiant effort was had, but Michito Sasaki again proved difficult to curtail, his troops assisting to inflict the Goannas first loss in 2 point classic.
Still the Goannas finished the regular season in 1st place on percentage closely pursued by Senshu Powers and their stockpile of young talent.
Before the finals kicked into gear, the daddy of all tours was still to be had. The 2016 Asian Champs in Ho Chi Minh! With logistics and planning all finalized, the Goannas teamed up with Dingoes, Suns, and Hawks alike to bring together a formidable looking team on paper.
Sadly, the team was grilled by media at home after being jumped by bitter rivals China in game 1 who came better prepared.
After a pep-talk the humbled group was able to recollect and get some synergy going by the second game, only pipped by 4 points after an apoplectically bad call from an umpire at the dearth handed Cambodia the winning goal. Picking ourselves up after a bit of a cry just in time for the final game, we finally managed our first win at the Champs for some time after beating a Tom Liberatore-led Macau side. No, you didn't read that wrong. We beat Tom Liberatore who ended up getting a bit of a slap on his wrist with the Bulldogs for putting himself at apparent risk of injury although the main risk was more likely a sunburn to his noggin: goo.gl/ab1QWM
During the final minutes of the win, Jason Fan dislocated his elbow and had the bone joint practically sticking out from his skin. However, showing true grit he got up less than 2 hours later and put his hand up to represent Japan in the Grand Final sprint finishing third after false starting and idly watching the rest of the contestants gas themselves by sprinting the full 100 before knowing it had to be restarted. It was a great strategy.
Owen Kearney himself also enjoyed being asked if he was a pilot numerous times during the festival after a preview article stated that he was - and that people should ask him about it.
Moreover, the fantastic tour gave the team a chance to reunite with legendary ex-premiership coach Gordon Jones who took up reigns as Japan player / coach. He spent the day before the tournament preparing by walking around Ho Chi Minh with an empty coconut used as a vomit bucket after drinking too much beer the night prior. It certainly was a grand ol' tour and you can hear the rest of the shenanigans by joining us down at Hobgoblins for a pint in the new year at some point!
All good things come to an end though, and back again in Tokyo it was time to put our heads down and start preparing for the Semi-Finals. A rematch against Michito's R246 Lions.
Held at the home of football, the coliseum that is YCAC, the Goannas raced out to a strong lead at the first stanza and never relinquished. In the end it was a comfortable 50 point win which was soured by Jarrod Woodward picking up a wristie (the bad kind) after racking up a lazy 40 disposals. Sadly, the fracture would rule him out of the Grand Final. Yuji Yamamoto continued his fine season being voted best on ground in a dominant display which was bitter sweet for him seeing as the dominant display was as a full-back - rubber stamping his role for the big dance.
Speaking of the big dance, it was a 6 day turn-around, and the Goannas were back at YCAC again gunning for back-to-back status against the Senshu Powers - the surprise packets of the season. The one distinct advantage the Goannas had this year around was that James 'Bash' Dennier was no longer a water boy (you may remember this incident: goo.gl/uTDxLa) but an actual on-field player.
A ferocious beginning entailed and through some Daniel Last desperation (knocking himself out by spoiling with his face), and Mitch Stace aggression (this time wearing red tights probably from Robin Hood), the Goannas got up by 40 points. A classy 4 goal effort saw Andrew Last take out the JAFL awarded BOG, while 36 touches ensured Brett Whyborn the Goannas voted one. Both capping off fantastic seasons on the biggest stage of all. The Powers team despaired in their loss but the Goannas were uplifted knowing how well footy in Japan is progressing and as a young side the Powers will be there to challenge again.
There was more silverware to come though for the boys in red and white. On football's night of nights, the JAFL award ceremony, Daniel Last made it into the All-Japan team on the forward flank after a prolific 3-goal season. Also, Sam Ghirardello beat out Japan's finest to win the 2016 Peter Wilson award - the Brownlow medal equivalent - to make up for his idol Jobe Watson losing his a month earlier. Asked how he felt, he quoted another boyhood idol's famous words when he said "I'm shocked to be here".
In their elation at receiving their well-deserved honors, Lasty (club treasurer) and Ghirra gave the thumbs up in shouting the entire University fraternity a round of beers at the afterparty. Coincidentally, Goanna members have been told to expect a hike in next years membership fees.
Finally, it was time for the Goannas Kim Bebbington Awards Night, this year held at the world-class RIAD. Bedecked in matching ties and pocketchiefs, the team cheered on as Andrew 'Firsty' Last stormed home to win by a handsome margin over first-year gun Brett Whyborn and Ghirardello. It was a night of celebration as evidenced by Owen Kearney's moves on the dance floor and Chris Murray making it rain for his Instagram poses.
So as the curtain finally closes on 2016's edition of Goannas Footy, we'll head off into winter hibernation belly full of medals and fond memories. From the Goannas family, thank you for all your support and we'll be gearing for a ripping 2017! Go 'Annas!