Elite footballers don’t need external motivation, we are told. Their intrinsically high motivation levels are part of what makes them elite and what makes great orators of old such as Ted Whitten, John Kennedy, and Ron Barrassi apparently redundant in this day and age. Yet it seemed patently clear watching the scenes that unfolded in Werribee’s rooms after Saturday’s 14-point win over the Box Hill Hawks that these highly motivated elites had been driven by much more than their desire for a mere four points.
Emotions ran high for the “big W” after it defied the odds against the far more heavily fancied Hawks for the second time this season in a seesawing contest that began as a fast-paced, free-flowing affair and descended into a scrap as the heavens opened after half time and blanketed the turf of Avalon Airport Oval with hail.
There was joy for the successful return of veteran Nathan Laracy after almost three full seasons away from the VFL ranks; and sadness at the knowledge that coach John Lamont, whose stirring three-quarter time addresses have done more than most to make the case for the motivator in the modern game, would soon be departing the club.
With those two threads woven through the fabric of the afternoon, Werribee had risen to another level when pushed, found another gear as required, and even produced the extraordinary when nothing less would suffice.
Once a VFL fringe player, Matthew Brett has emerged this year as a reliable if altogether unflashy member of his side’s back six, but his diving intercept mark midway through the final term in which he clung to a greasy ball to halt the Hawks’ charge out of defence was nothing short of spectacular. Moments later, Ben Moloney seemed to defy physics with his second goal of the day, a quick snap on his non-preferred right boot swinging hard and late to sail through and produce the sixth and final lead change of the afternoon.
Under clearer skies earlier in the day, Joe Maishman had kickstarted Werribee’s campaign with perhaps his most important quarter of football. As part of his 10 first-term disposals, he won the ball out of the middle four times and went inside 50 five times to play a major role in asserting his side’s early clearance dominance and scoreboard ascendancy.
Up forward, the ever-lively Andrew Hooper produced his first five-goal haul of the year and a performance to rival his electrifying effort against Essendon in round 15. Twice he kicked consecutive goals to push his side clear – first in the opening term and then again in the final quarter to turn a narrow lead into a match-winning one – and his ability to find space on the lead and force turnovers and create opportunities with his defensive work proved especially important after key forward Josh Porter went down after half time.
Even Sam Collins found a way to outdo himself, stepping up his game perhaps the only way possible given he has taken all before him as a key defender this year: by changing positions. Collins’ move to the ruck after half time to combine with Jack Berry yielded 17 hitouts and fed the likes of Tom Gribble, Dom Brew, and captain Michael Sodomaco, enabling Werribee to again take control at the stoppages after a second-quarter lapse and once more reaffirming Collins’ importance to his side.
Then there was Laracy, both a source of inspiration for his team and part of its inspired effort, the heart-and-soul clubman of nine years who had defied the odds and overcome setback after setback with injury to make his VFL return 854 days after his last game. By his own admission, he had battled to bring himself back to the level required after so long out of the game, and his modest return of two kicks and three handballs against the Hawks won’t put him among any discussions on most valuable players.
But with his diving mark back with the flight of the ball – met with raucous approval from the home crowd – and subsequent pinpoint pass to hit up his skipper late in the first quarter, he proved he still had something to offer, even if not for much longer. His presence alongside second-gamer Jordon Butts, who showed an exciting glimpse of his potential as a strong forward-marking prospect, provided a showcase of Murray Bushranger talent old and new and seemed to draw into focus the changing of the guard taking place within Werribee.
In his penultimate game at the helm, Lamont reached for his trademark turn of phrase and implored his troops to “bunch up [their] courage” at the final change. As they rallied to turn an 11-point deficit at the seven-minute mark of the final quarter into a 14-point victory, it seemed hard to imagine the coach’s exhortation wasn’t ringing in their ears, and the sentiments that spilled over post match suggest his influence and legacy will carry on among the playing group long after season’s end.