A final-quarter burst for goals was not quite enough for a men’s Navy victory in the showdown match at this year’s Australian Defence Force Aussie Rules National Carnival, which ran from 2-9 April in Melbourne.
In the first day of play, Navy took on the Royal Australian Air Force at Moorabbin Oval, with comfortable victories in both the men’s and women’s matches. Final scores for Navy women were 19.17. (131) to Air Force’s 0.0. (0). For the men, Navy finished 21.12. (138) to Air Forces’s 8.9. (57).
But the final and deciding day of play did not go to plan for the Navy teams, facing their fiercest rivals, Army, to secure the coveted men’s Jim Smail Trophy and women’s Geoff Ledger Cup.
The Army women leapt ahead for an unassailable lead to dominate the match from the outset. Final scores were 12.9.(81) to Navy’s 1.0.(6).
Women’s captain Petty Officer Physical Trainer Tricia Muller said her team gave it their all in each match.
“It was fantastic to see how hard our team worked on the field, and although we didn’t beat Army, I’m really proud that we’ve got some great talent coming through,” Petty Officer Muller said.
“Sixty per cent of our team were new players, and brand new to the Navy as well, so they completely embraced our culture and have committed to us in the future, which will be great for the growth of the team.”
For the men, the Army took an early lead in an extremely close match that left spectators thinking it could be anyone’s game. Three Navy goals in quick succession in the final quarter had everyone on their feet, but a return goal from Army allowed them to hold on to a 15-point victory, 11.6. (72) to 8.9. (57).
In his first year as Navy men’s captain, Able Seaman Electronics Technician Casey Radford said it was a disappointing result.
“Our game plan was starting to come into fruition in the second game, but unfortunately we were unable to complete the comeback this time around,” he said.
“Overall the competition was a bit more even than a few years ago and the Navy group, although quite young, is starting to form a really strong program.
“A number of young guys stepped up for their first carnival and were able to fulfil integral roles, and they pulled together and managed to play well throughout the carnival.”
Australian Defence Force Aussie Rules Chairman, Brigadier Matt Hall said this year’s carnival, which again saw Defence’s indigenous players take to the field, yielded excellent results across the board.
“Every single player involved in the competition has represented their side to an extremely impressive standard,” he said.
Petty Officer Communication and Information Systems Sam Sheppard, who has been an integral player in Defence’s indigenous competition, said it was a great opportunity to get the team together again during the carnival this year.
“While we didn’t play a match during the carnival, we really had the opportunity to practise our skills ahead of the Dream Time round next month, with help from our new ambassador, indigenous AFL player Aaron Davey, who’s been an excellent role model for our players,” he said.
A new addition to the competition this year saw adaptive sports teams, primarily from 1st Brigade, take on other Australian state-based teams and the Returned and Services League New South Wales veterans in the newly introduced game of Wheelchair Australian Rules, played at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
“It was fantastic to take to a chair and test our footy skills in a different way,” Brigadier Hall said.
“A highlight was legend Ron Barrassi meeting our soldiers undergoing recovery and rehabilitation during the wheelchair carnival,” he said.
With the nationals now over, top players from each service have been selected to represent the Australian Defence Force in All Stars matches played in both Melbourne and Adelaide.
The women’s team will take on the tough players of the Victorian Women’s Football League and the men’s team will play at Adelaide Oval against a team from Combined Emergency Services, as a curtain raiser to a major AFL game.
The men’s and women’s All Stars matches will coincide with Anzac Day commemorations.