Bayside Blitz Unpacks Visitors At Cleveland (Prepubescents Caught Assembling Human Pyramid Outside Theme Park Wall)

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Sheldon College vs Broadbeach State; QPST All-Schools Championships Mixed Touch Grand Final; Cleveland Showgrounds; 3/10/2013

“…a fairly pure manifestation of one of team sports’ longest- standing curiosities, the relative value of teams of champions and champion teams.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. A sweltering Sunday on Moreton Bay. You can just about taste the salt in the humid air. The keen Broadbeach team is putting the final touches on their preparation, warming-up with verve and twitchy intensity. They go through a few drills – back and forth, ball through the hands – and then hit formation and run a few moves. This side has come a long way to the championship final, advancing from the 9th pool of a 40-team draw over two whole days of back-to-back fixtures in heat that occasionally comes at you like something from an oven door. They’re not yet ready to walk away with anything but the ultimate prize, and by the looks of them you’d say they’re going to will it so. Their coaches are stubble-faced twenty-somethings that give nothing away in these penultimate moments. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arms-folded, eyes unseen but no doubt narrow behind more-or-less identical wrap-around shades. Occasionally one of them points and things happen right away.

Over on the next field, otherwise vacant for the first time this weekend as the pointy end of the competition achieves sushi-chef sharpness (a staggering 116 games of mixed touch have taken place since 7:30 yesterday morning – this will be the very last), local side Sheldon College is hands-in-pockets, kicking turf and generally dawdling in the long four o’clock shadows of the surrounding spotlights. It’s two or three minutes from game time but you’d hardly know these guys are just a pop song away from the grand final. They’re paying no attention to the Broadbeach mob that’s sprinting back and forth just a half field-width away. Two of the Sheldon kids even wander off suspiciously and establish a satellite clique upfield, like they’ve just unwrapped a rare basketball card that they’d better keep to themselves until they get it valued.  The coach is nowhere to be seen, or else he/she isn’t obvious among the parents that have gathered in the vicinity. If this is a warm-up, it’s ultra-relaxed and very hard to read. Anyone with a sporting eye would probably say that Sheldon look dangerously complacent.

The lead up to today’s gobstoppingly titled Queensland Primary Schools Touch Mixed Championship Grand Final has been a small miracle of organisation and it’s equally miraculous that the ultimate game is only forty minutes behind schedule. The aforementioned 116 are but a third of the total fixtures that have been squeezed onto the physico-temporal space allotted for this underage touchfest; there are equally gargantuan all-boys and all-girls competitions being played here at the very same time and place. The eleven playing fields are laid out like neat block-work, leaving just a narrow space between dead-ball lines through which to get about. Sub-thirteen-year-old kids being the elastic and sprawling things that they are, when you do get mobile, you’re more often than not going to have to step over a few small bodies, sometimes stacked and tangled.

The sun is brutal and sideline shade is much coveted.  Sheldon take the field and wait there alone. It’s the first obvious example of tactical cunning from the Broadbeach administration, holding their pep-talk back just late enough that the local team is left roasting for critical pre-game seconds. Here, where snow-cones are the ultimate accessory, it’s a neat little coaching play from the icy twosome, right at the precipice of absolute managerial cynicism. Turns out that the Sheldon coach is a broad-brim-and-drawstring-hat-wearing PE teacher. He shares with his adversaries a pair of black wrap-around sunnies behind which the emotions of today’s final will go unseen. At this moment, as he emerges on your correspondent’s radar, his prepubescent players’ core temps are rising at a rate. He’s already thinking about reserves.

Despite the pre-game subterfuge, it’s Sheldon that come out of the blocks first, chewing up easy metres with ultra-confident mid-field drives. They seem to have scored with the starting whistle still echoing around the grounds, putting to rest any suspicions of their being less-than-ready to play. Then Broadbeach find their own way over with expansive movement and a nice in-and-away from a lanky, curly-haired finisher.

There can’t have been more than a minute of game-time and yet the first act of the play is already over; we know our characters and their modus operandi. Sheldon College’s tepid pre-game vibe is symptomatic of a team that has risen through faith in a platform of unyielding structure. They run straight and hard and fast, playing the percentages all day. Regardless of the opposition or the score, Sheldon play the game with the same religious routine and dispassion that professional golfers adopt to consistently pulverise balls into a silk-thin thread of up-course oblivion.  They trust the plan, the structure, utterly.

Broadbeach, Ying-to-Sheldon’s-Yang, are a team that shimmers with unbridled, free-flowing skill, enterprising talent, creativity and spark. They look to score off every second play, seeking gaps and angles whenever the ball’s alive. Essentially structureless. They’re full of tall, long-striding lads and super-quick girls, and there’s a strand of individualism that’s fairly inevitable when you’re blessed with these kinds of players. They’re lead by a big kid with a Bronco’s cap on backwards; he plays an improvisational style, ruling the roost by example.

All in all, the teams are fairly closely matched.  And so today’s GF pits routine and discipline against flashes of magic. Government bonds versus high-yielding derivatives. It’s also a fairly pure manifestation of one of team sports’ longest-standing curiosities, the relative value of teams of champions and champion teams.

By half-time Sheldon College has taken a 5-2 lead and look like they’ll have the rub. They’re cross-legged and typically cool during the break, while the Broadbeach team are all on their feet, itching to get back out and set things straight. The game’s nowhere near over; neither team is bulletproof and contingencies are many. Both are weighted towards attack and can be fairly porous in defence. Broadbeach’s nimble runners have zig-zagged through a bunch of times already. But the local side seem least likely to falter, directed as they are by their three-foot general, whose veteran temperament is the absolute skewer in the Sheldon kebab. As well as having the calm and vision of a forty-year-old first-grade captain, this Napoleonic tyke has the safest and neatest hands out here today, plus he can change course on a five cent piece, a happy fortune of those who weigh about as much as public telephone receiver.

Off the back of half-time, the Broadbeach team emerge with new-found discipline and shuttle their first complete set directly up the field and over the line. The Sheldon coach throws words of encouragement to his side, but they’re dry and unconvincing. It does feel for a moment that the Broadbeach team have epiphanically evolved, and might just get the unlikely win that feel-good flicks always cough-up. They’re only two points down and all of a sudden their quick, heart-faced girls have started to pelt the advantage line like circling gulls after shallow fish. But Sheldon’s own females are also getting busy. They emerge as the second half’s die-hards, lunging for touches, the game’s fate a matter of fingertips.

Five minutes from the buzzer, when either outcome is totally possible, Sheldon’s merciless defence of consecutive sets returns to them the clear moral supremacy. Having finally broken the plucky Broadbeach comeback, they score twice out wide. The engraver’s nib hits the flank of the cup.

The abrupt dead-end in the road to glory is a bitter pill for the visitors from the coast; they’re left to sit in the car park of Disneyland while Sheldon run gallantly through the turnstiles. Broadbeach learn the hard way that in the cruel emotional calculus of tournament sport, not-quite-everything tends to feel like less-than-nothing.

Match Day (Steak) Burger Score: 6.0

MDB Cost: $6.00

MD(S)B Service Atmosphere: 7.0

Match Score: Sheldon College 8, def Broadbeach State School, 5.

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