Sporting greatness at all levels

Mt Evelyn under 17s stand linked together after playing in the Jai Reed Cup. Picture: SUPPLIED.

Reflect on some of the greatest sporting achievements of 2021 from people in the local community.

Kicking goals for epilepsy

Junior football teams from Mount Evelyn and Wandin helped raise awareness and funds for epilepsy in their Epilepsy Round on Sunday 23 May.

In memory of Jai Reed, who died from complications of epilepsy in 2018, the two teams have made an annual event to continue raising awareness around the condition.

Former Mount Evelyn club president Anthony Burns said in June 2019 the two teams came together to honour the former Mount Evelyn under 16s player in what was the first annual game.

In 2021 the two teams faced each other at Wandin’s homeground, where the under 17s played for the Jai Reed Cup and the best on ground received the Jai Reed Medal.

“[It’s about] bringing two clubs together, two rival clubs together because we’re so close together in proximity, Wandin and Mount Evelyn, there’s a bit of healthy rivalry there,” Mr Burns said.

“And just to have one day for all of us to get together and just have one aim, it’s not about winning football as much, it’s just all about getting together, sharing the awareness and remembering Jai.”

Mount Evelyn ran away with a ten-point lead at quarter time and didn’t look back. They won 137 to 74 in what was a proud day for all who played.

As the sun set over Wandin Football Ground, Bridget Vallence presented the Jai Read Medal to Iliro Smit who was named best on ground for his tremendous performance and the Jai Reed Cup to Rovers captain Rian Sharp.

Mr Burns said over 500 people came all throughout the day and a couple of hundred people lined the boundary fences to watch the under 17s.

Three decade trophy wait

The Lilydale Croquet Club took home the Eastern Region series two Autumn Shield competition trophy.

The competition spanned over the three months of autumn, with a number of teams competing weekly both at their home court and away.

Lilydale Croquet Club captain Murray Howlett said their team comprised six players who played in the level play East Melbourne division against teams like Sandringham and Brunswick.

“We were able to win the B grade competition which we were very happy with because it was the first time in a long time that we’ve actually entered a team in the competition,” Mr Howlett said.

President of the club John Thomson said the last time the club played competitively was at least 27 years ago, although some players have combined with other clubs to enter.

Coming runners up in the Eastern Region competition, the team went on to play the winners of the Western Region being Brunswick in a semi-final.

Lilydale played Sandringham in the final the last day before Melbourne went into lockdown and Lilydale was able to make it count, winning the Autumn Shield for the Eastern Region.

“So we basically won the whole Melbourne metro competition in our first go at it for a long time, so we were pretty happy,” Mr Howlett said.

“And everyone knows about Lilydale croquet now. I think there are even more people within the club that are getting more interested.”

Going for gold

With the Olympics finally upon us, Australians will be watching with bated breath as our athletes take to the global stage – but no community will be watching with more anticipation than Lilydale High School.

Two past students, Kelland O’Brien, 23, and Harry Garside, 24, will be representing Australia in their respective sports, cycling and boxing.

In what was an amateur versus professional match up against boxing’s world number one Andy Cruz, Garside held his own, showing his passion and determination throughout every round of his lightweight semi final on Friday 6 August.

Unable to out-beat and out-move the two time world champion, Garside pocketed a bronze medal at his first Olympic Games and made history as the first Australian to win a boxing medal since 1988.

“Obviously bronze is still good but the gold medal is what I wanted but now hopefully I’ve inspired the next generation of boxers and young athletes leading into the 2032 games and lets hope it is our most successful games ever,” he told Channel 7 after the bout.

“I know I wanted a gold but I’m proud of myself, I showed up and I had a great preparation and I really gave it everything but he [Cruz] was just a bit too good today unfortunately.”

O’Brien’s first Olympic experience also landed him a bronze medal in a seesawing battle against our trans-tasman friends from New Zealand.

It wasn’t so smooth sailing for the Aussie team, with teammate Alex Porter thrown from his bike after the handlebars snapped in the qualifying round.

The drama didn’t end there in an incredibly tight race with only 0.048 of a second separating them at the halfway mark in favour of the Kiwis.

But not long after, New Zealand rider Aaron Gate crashed into the velodrome, sending the New Zealand team into disarray and saw them fall well behind the Aussies.

“It’s been a crazy few days and even more hectic five years. We’ve been through a lot together and we wanted gold, that’s what we came for but in some respects we can hold our heads high,” O’Brien said.

Fritsch fever

The AFL Grand Final saw Coldstream boy Bayley Fritsch play in the big dance, as The Melbourne Demons and The Western Bulldogs battled it out for the 2021 premiership.

Bayley’s dad Scott Fritsch said he was thrilled his son’s dreams came true but it was bittersweet the family couldn’t be there in person to cheer him on.

Many Coldstream footy fans will be familiar with Bayley after he grew up playing juniors and seniors for the Cougars in the EFNL.

The Demons forward put in a stellar performance in the big game, leaving his family glued to the screen at home cheering for 31.

“It’s the most amazing thing to happen for our family, we’re unbelievably happy for him and the demons,” Mr Fritsch said.

Fritsch finished second in the Norm Smith Medal, booting 6.2 from 13 disposals, providing a menacing presence to kick the most goals in a grand final since Darren Jarman’s six in 1997 for Adelaide.

He was sublime in the air, mercurial at ground level and simply made things happen whenever he touched the ball.

His 2021 season yielded 59 goals – a brilliant effort in just his fourth season of AFL football. If he wasn’t already a star of the competition, he is now.

“It’s crazy – surreal, I can’t really put it into words,” Fritsch told Melbourne Media post-match.

“We did it, a lot of hard work’s gone into it – we had a mission from day one of pre-season, and for that to come true is unbelievable.”

Fritsch was modest when talking about his own profound impact on the contest.

“I got pretty lucky, I got on the end of a few cheeky ones early – it sort of went on from there,” he said.

“To play a small part in what was an unbelievable performance is pretty special, and something I’ll look back on for sure.”

Women take their mark

In May Star Mail caught up with player and assistant coach of the newly formed Mooroolbark women’s veterans football team, Alison Fitzgerald.

By October Fitzgerald was looking for more recruits after a successful inaugural season that gave women an opportunity to play a sport they have grown up with.

“For our first season together, we had an absolute blast. We didn’t get a win on the board at all but I guarantee you every single game the girls came off the field so happy,” she said.

“We just improved so much from the start of the season to the last game basically and this was noted by the other teams in the competition too.”

For many women aged 35 and over, they weren’t able to play football past the age of 12, so getting the chance to play now is really special.

“To actually get an opportunity even though we’re in our mid forties, to actually get on a football field and play, it’s so exciting,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“For those of us who have grown up and loved the game of football it’s definitely about ‘our turn’, it’s about our chance to play the game that we love.”