It’s every kid’s dream; to run out onto the MCG on Grand Final Day. Today however, Richmond VS Fremantle on a soggy afternoon will have to do. 13 participants from Benton Auskick on the Mornington Peninsula will run onto the ground at half time of the match this afternoon to play a mini-match in the forward pocket.
If you’re a regular at AFL matches, you will see Auskick participants from around the country playing at half time. What you don’t know is the amount of time and effort put into running and organising one of these games, which only go for 20 minutes.
This week, Gary Liddell, Benton Auskick Centre coordinator, was notified about the upcoming match by the AFL on the Tuesday. Usually these matches are set in at the start of the season, but due to the Queens Birthday holiday this wasn’t able to be. The holidays also provided a massive headache for Gary.
There was no normal Auskick session on the Saturday leading up to the event, so the long task of ringing and emailing coaches, team managers and over 20 parents to find out what children would be able to play began, which was made even harder, if possible, by the long weekend with many families going away.
In top of this, he had to find helper coaches who would assist with the on-ground activities, without going over the allocated ticket allowance put forward by the AFL. So it was painstaking, but it had to be done to allow the children to get the opportunity.
By the time Garry had arrived at the ground at 12PM on Saturday, two men were already at work. Duncan and ‘Nugget’ are employed by the AFL to help run the half time grid game matches, and they both thoroughly enjoy it.
Duncan is the Saturday MCG Grid Game coordinator. He is in charge of contacting the Auskick centre coordinators and briefing the coaches on the day to get them as organised as possible. He was asked by his mate Matt George, who is the AFL MCG Venue coordinator, if he wanted to assist five years ago, and he has been doing it ever since. “It’s a great job, just to see the look on the kids’ faces at the end, they’re all smiling, it’s great.”
‘Nugget’ as he is affectionately known as is the assitant to Duncan on match days. When he arrives his job is to set up the clothing and equipment in the Auskick rooms for the grid games and also helps Duncan to organise the coaches and coordinators. He has been in this role for three years and he enjoys it. “Yeah it’s a good job, I love it.”
Around 12:30 the kids of Benton Auskick start arriving outside Gate 6 of the MCG. They then line up and await for Duncan to hand them their ticket, although this task is made harder by the loom of the AFL Playground, with kids running off and playing. Eventually though, each child and one parent recieved a ticket and it’s time to go inside.
Due to the ongoing redevelopment of the inside of the Great Southern Stand at the MCG, it is easy to get lost, but Benton Auskick coaches Travis and Michael quickly put the participants into a straight line, cooly disguising it as a ‘Simon says’ follow the leader game.
These two coaches will take the group to their seating area, while Garry goes and joins the coordinators from the other centres, Duncan and Nugget. Here they are briefed on what position of the ground their centre will take, when to go down to the rooms and when to come back into the rooms.
The game soon gets underway and 20 minutes into the first quarter, it’s time to make a move. Travis, Michael, a parent and myself group the kids together and take them down into the bowels of the MCG’s Great Southern Stand and into the Melbourne Football Club rooms, where the participants will get changed and the assistants will collect the required equipment.
The coaches will then talk to the players about which position they’ll play in, what team they’ll be on and what to do after the siren. By that time it’s nearly half time and that means it is time to head up to the race.
Richmond are trailing Fremantle by a goal with the siren about to ring. You could feel the excitement amongst everyone, not just the kids. They didn’t care that it was raining, they just wanted to emulate their heroes and become the next Buddy Franklin or Scott Pendlebury and run out onto the ground. Then it rang.
Everyone, including the coaches, sprinted out through the rain and into our game area, the forward pocket. The game would run for 10 minutes and then we would run along the boundary line, clapping hands with the supporters. I can assure you that every player enjoyed the game thoroughly, even though it was pouring rain.
As the siren sounded for the game to stop, we instantly started running for the race to get back into the rooms. Not exactly record time but the kids got a record number of high fives from the fans.
Once in the rooms, we all got changed back into our normal clothes and collected our certificates for participating in another successful grid game. By now it was mid-way through the third quarter and it was time to go back up and watch the remainder of the match.
In the end, Fremantle won with captain Matthew Pavlich best-on-ground, but the majority of kids (except for Richmond supporters of course) didn’t care, they just loved the experience on playing on the same ground as their heroes. Some of these kids will not experience this again, hopefully they made the most of it.