2016 Nationals Recap: Awards and Trophies All Around

In the second week of October 2016 the Portland’s men’s and women’s teams, the Steelheads and the Sockeyes, made the long trek to Sarasota Florida to defend their Nationals Titles. The Steelheads were looking for Back to Back Division 3 Championships and the Sockeyes back to back Division 2 Chamionships. Men’s and women’s teams winning back to back at the same time has never been done before in the history of the USAFL. These were lofty goals for the Portland club, but we all came together as one and made the comp “Fear the Fish!”.

sockeyestrophy

October 13th and 14th 29 brave souls hit the road, 23 men’s players and 6 women’s players. Along side us some loyal supporters also made the long trip, thanks all!. In a USAFL coup, the Steelheads were lucky enough to acquire the services of esteemed Northern Australian coach Mark Motlop to steer the team for the last 6 weeks of the season and on to Nationals. He would leave an indelible footprint in our hearts and minds in his short stay that would come to pay dividends in Florida.

Players were coming in at all times of the day and night Thursday, Friday and even Saturday morning…after we finally got Bowlby a flight arriving at 5:30 am! Sometimes that’s what it takes win a championship. Chock full of coffee he was able to join the team meeting at 8 am. The Sockeyes were already out and about heading to the field to mingle with their new team mates for their combined squad.

Coach Motlop went over the game plan in depth as we slowly built up the determination to give it our all. The squad was dialed in by the time we hit the road. Nerves and adrenaline were now flowing through the veins…it was close to go time. We arrived at the fields to see the best nationals surface to date. Field 3 was where it all began.

Men’s Game 1. Portland Vs Austin B

It was Austin B first up and as predicted they were tough as nails on the day. Determined to win, they dropped back a quality Division 1 player in hopes of securing a first round win against the defending champs. We spotted the ringer before the game and made a plan to turn the screws. Winning the toss we went with the wind, a significant advantage. We got off to a flying start with the first goal of the game. But there was no easy going in this one, as the Crows played a physical game the Steelheads found hard to match. By half time the fish had done just enough to have a two goal advantage…not enough to set up a win in these conditions.

Coach Mots got stuck into the boys about playing harder contested footy in the second half and the Steelheads tried to rally. But within the first few minutes of the half they were caught on the back foot and let the Crows back into the game with a goal. The Steelheads found it hard going against the wind. The Crows had the majority of the play for the half as the Steelheads tried to keep it out of their defensive 50. The Crows peppered away at the goals, but the defensive pressure caused them to miss. With only a few minutes to go they kicked the breakthrough goal to take the lead. With the clock ticking down the Steelheads were able to muster one last fwd thrust. The Crows took possession and tried to clear it with a wild kick out of defense, Marto scooped up the loose ball outside the fifty and launched a kick in Luke Mooney’s direction. Mooney took a mark just inside the boundary about 35 metres out. It all came down to this. With no other options available, Mooney decided to try and slot it….and with immense skill he steered the ball through the big sticks drawing the Steelheads level with the Crows! Soon after the siren sounded and it was a draw 20 to 20. The Steelheads stayed alive by the skin of their teeth.

Women’s Game 1. Portland vs Columbus/Baltimore
While all that drama was unfolding, next door on Women’s field the Sockeyes were going about their business gelling with their teammates for the weekend from Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Arizona. Forming a very talented line up that clicked from the start, the Sockeyes went on a footy rampage demolishing all before them. Lead by their fearless leader Simone Shepherd, the Sockeyes never looked like being threatened as they handled Columbus/Baltimore with relative ease. The Sockeyes set themselves up in the first half with a big lead and only a few late goals to Columbus/Baltimore kept the score respectable. Sockeyes won 36 to 18.

With our first games under our belts, it was time for some recovery. A bunch of men’s players hit the pool at the hotel. Bowlby finally slept and the rest of us chilled under a tent. Ram tended to everyone’s nutritional and medical needs, Marto served Princess Jessica and then we all had a nap. The nap of champions!

On to game 2!

Men’s Game 2. Portland vs Fort Lauderdale
Having almost blown it in the first game, the Steelheads needed to get their heads on straight for Game 2 and not only win, but win big. Coach Motlop focused on the hard stuff and the boys were ready to rock. Kicking against the breeze in the first half didn’t slow us down as the Steelheads dominated play. Everything clicked as we controlled play and the game. By half time the Steelheads had a big lead and the Squids were scoreless. It was more of the same in the second half with the Steelheads piling on a few more goals and the Squids one solitary point. The big win was just what the doctor ordered, setting up the Steelheads with a good shot of making the final.

Women’s Game 2. Portland vs Montreal etc
In Game 2 the Sockeyes continued their winning ways. The Montreal etc squad were thought to be their toughest opposition, but the Fish reigned supreme, dominating the Montreal squad from start to finish. Again Simone was in the action dictating play, ably assisted by the likes of Jess, Heather, Zaya, Raven and Claire. The Sockeye defense did not budge an inch all day and only allowed one goal for the game. The Sockeyes cleaned up again winning 36 to 6 and it was straight through to final!

After a successful day 1 the whole group went to dinner. There was more than just footy to celebrate as we all sang Happy Birthday to captain Simone Shepherd and rookie Raven Mad Mahony. You earned those gigantic desserts!

Sunday, Men’s Game 3. Portland V Philadelphia/Baltimore
Having butted heads unsuccessfully with Philly on numerous occasions, it was about bloody time we beat them. They are a tough mob and even an under strength Philly is dangerous. The Steelheads needed a good win to make the final. Getting the wind again despite losing the toss, the fish came out firing. The boys wanted that final birth and played like it. Aggressive attack on the ball across the field along with precision kicking and the Steelheads were up with a big lead at the half. Now was no time to take the foot off the pedal, but against the wind in the second half the Steelheads let the hawks get 3 easy goals. Coach Mots was none too happy and gave us a bit of a serving to make sure we got the message. We came out eventual winners 41 to 18.

Lucky for us the hungover Fighting Squids played their best game against Austin B and helped the Steelheads make the final!

Women’s Divison 2 Final. Portland vs Montreal etc
The men were busy warming up for their final and unable to watch the Sockeyes win theirs. From all accounts it was another demolition Job from the Sockeyes, with Simone dominating play as usual from start to finish. There was nobody going to stop these ladies going back to back and they won in very convincing fashion 46 to 8. Check it out on Youtube.

Men’s Division 3 final. Portland vs North Carolina
The Steelheads had done all the hard work and now it was time to finish it off. Mots had us all dialed in and ready to play. The Steelheads Brotherhood was ready to roll. Captain Martin Coventry had an extra stake in the game playing his former team the Tigers. His pre-game message was pretty simple along the line of “smash em!”. The Steelheads came out hard and never backed off a step. Having the wind again didn’t hurt as they peppered the forward line. Players seemed to be loose everywhere as we bottled it up in our forward fifty. The flood gates eventually opened as we stacked on 6 goals to zero in the first half. A big highlight and team lifter was a 45 metre bomb goal from young Matty Motlop who did his dad proud!

The second half was against the breeze, but the Steelheads still had the run of play. It was a much more even contest in this half and the Steelheads started to slow down. The Tigers bobbed up for 3 goals in the half, but the damage was already done and the Steelheads cruised to victory. Going back to back like the sockeyes, winning 46 to 22.

The celebrations began. There was beer, meat pies and other finals to watch as we basked in the glory of being two time champs in both Men’s and Women’s. A remarkable achievement.

During the awards ceremony the Steelheads and Sockeyes cleaned up, with Martin Coventry winning the Paul Roos Medal for Best & fairest for the Division and the Geoff Cann medal for MVP in the Final. Simone Shepherd did exactly the same thing on the women’s side, a clean sweep! In addition, Oscar Wight was selected for the Black Chrome All Star team, as was Simone.

Some of the biggest news of the day belonged to Jessica Blecher. We are very proud of Jess.. she was selected as the first ever Portland women’s player to represent her country on the U.S National Team, The Freedom! The Freedom will be competing at the International Cup in Australia in August 2017. Way to go Jess!!

And there you have it. Steelheads and Sockeyes Unite! Fear the Fish!!