Inaugural tournament celebrating a full season of footy!
June 4, 2022 - This Nashville Kangaroos have been playing Australian Football since 2018 and have hosted tournaments over the years, but in 2020, COVID shut down the world and footy stopped everywhere. Some of the boys were so frustrated at not being able to play footy they just wanted to burn it all down! During one of those sessions of feeling miserable at not being able to play footy, the concept of a Burn It Down tournament was conceived. If we could get a few teams to come to Nashville once footy restarted, we could sweat and bleed together on the field, burn it down, collect the ashes afterwards and celebrate the return of footy. Hence the Tennessee Ashes Cup, with the winner being awarded the cup with the ashes (with actual ashes from the sacrificed wood burned at the tournament).
On June 4th, 2022, Baltimore, Chicago, and North Carolina footy teams gathered in Nashville, Tennessee. During the eight o’clock hour as the boys rolled into the Metro Soccer Complex near the airport, and the location of the 2018 Central Regional tournament, the temperature was a comfortable 71 degrees, with only a few wispy clouds overhead and exactly no breeze. Terrific footy weather (and this reporter’s homage to Alex Benjamin, rest in peace brother).
In the first match of the day, the host Nashville Kangaroos took on the North Carolina Tigers, supplemented by the Chicago United boys. This match took on more special meaning for the Rooboys because it was the 300thmatch in the Kangaroos history. Fitting, given that in the final game of the 2021 season at the USAFL Nationals, these two squads faced each other to decide the Division IV Grand Final Championship, which we all know was won by the Kangaroos. So, the Tigers were clearly looking to exact some revenge! Well, Revenge be damned!
Game 1 – The Kangaroos had the hot start by kicking a few behinds and a goal from rookie sensation Andrew “OD” O’Dwyer. That was followed by three straight goals from Ross Flemming, having returned to the Roos for the first time since 2015, and looking like he hasn’t lost a step! The match was following the exact same pattern as the Nationals game when the Roos jumped out to the early lead. Just before the siren, the Tigers managed to kick a point, having finally cracked the stout defense, led by Saul Camarena and the captain Dave “Frosty” Harris. Half-time score Nashville 4.2.26, North Carolina 0.1.1.
The second half started like the first with Nashville getting a few behinds, before Keith Phillips for the Tigers managed to score a major. That pepped up the Tigers who fought valiantly to try and wipe out the three-goal lead. But the Roos would have none of it. With newbie Judd “Kozi” Kozikowski, Kersei “I’m a dad now” Davis, and ruckman Ian “Nilla” Eastwood working hard to keep the ball in the Roos forward line. Finally, the door was slammed shut with goals from Joel “I need a nickname” Thornton, Michael Kitching, and Maurice “Slo Mo” Howell. The Roos emerged victorious! Nashville 7.5.47 defeated North Carolina 1.3.9
Game 2 – In the second match of the day, the Baltimore Dockers took on the North Carolina Tigers. Baltimore was eager to get busy and they got the first major right away from Brian Skaggs, but Tiger midfielder Keith Phillips was able to answer and keep the score close. Then the Dockers took their passing game and shifted in the next gear, with plenty of handballs to go around, a second goal from Brian Skaggs, two goals from Val Kaf, and one from the ageless wonder Matty Byrne, and the rout was on. Halftime Baltimore 5.2.32, North Carolina 1.1.7.
In the second half, it was all Dockers, with goals from all over including Val Kaf, Brian Skaggs and John O’Conner, leading the way. The Tigers were unable to put enough passages of play together to sustain an attack and managed only two behinds. As the final siren sounded, Baltimore finished 10.7.67 to North Carolina 1.3.9 (giving them identical scores in their two matches). And that set up what became the de facto Grand Final.
Game 3 – In the late game, the nemesis Dockers took their lifetime 3-0 record against the hometown heroes, with the winner to be crowned the inaugural TN Ashes Cup champions! The breeze had picked up and was blowing east to west at a mild four miles per hour and the temperature had picked up to 82 degrees (Thanks, Alex!). The Roos won the toss, choosing to kick with the one-goal breeze in the first half.
Unfortunately, the Dockers were unfazed by losing the coin toss and their Val Kaf kicked the opening goal. Then the mids found their footing and the Roos attacked with Cody McLain and Andrew “OD” O’Dwyer feeding the forward line. Evan “Colonel” Ling proved age is not a factor with a terrific handball to a streaking Joel Thornton who kicked true and leveled the scores at 1.2.8 each. Andrew “OD” O’Dwyer got the Roos the lead with a beauty from 25 out, but then with the Docker passing game running a teamwork clinic, their star middie Patty Pryor showed how to kick goals, with two to close the half, the Dockers leading 3.3.21 to Nashville 2.2.14.
The Roos opened the second half as the Dockers did the first, not caring one whit about the breeze, as Cody McLain, Kersei Davis, Jack Jacobs locked the ball in the forward line until Phil “Two Foot” Lavis broke free and kicked true from “in range” (inside of five feet from goal), bringing life back into the fans and all the Roos faithful. The defense held back the Docker attack to only behinds with Saul Camarena booming kicks out of the back line and clearing the danger zone. Ross Flemming then returned to form with a terrific mark and from a steep angle was able to squeeze one between the big sticks to give the Kangaroos a slim two-point lead. Most of the middle minutes of the frame was frantic footy with both teams working hard to move the ball, yet both defenses standing tall and only a single goal to the wonder kid Patty Pryor, which kept scores nearly level the rest of the way. That is until the final minutes of play.
For a guy playing his third game of footy, one could not be more amazed at OD O’Dywer, who followed a clearing kick from Cody McLain, allowed it to bounce over the defender, scooped it up and imitating Two Foot Lavis, boomed a goal from ‘in range’, putting the Roos up by two points with time winding down. Undaunted, the Dockers pummeled the Roos’ backline managing to get two behinds to level the scores at 33 with less than a minute remaining. Saul “I love tacos” Camarena blasted the clearing kick to the near wing which was deflected out of bounds. On the throw in, Ian “I suddenly love being the Ruck” Eastwood, winning the tap to Jack “I think I’ll move to Nashville” Jacobs, who kicked out to the middle where Cody “You Can’t Catch Me” McLain slipped past a defender and launched one to forwards. Phil “Two Foot” Lavis tried to mark but was spoiled, however Jeff “Peeps” Persson and Joel “I’m gunna be a hero!” Thornton were crumbing. Thornton scooped up the spoil and as his kick for goal sailed wide, of the goal, but not the behind post, the final siren sounded. Roos win! Roos win! Roos win! A true buzzer beater. Joel “I’m a hero!” Thornton was quoted as saying, “I’ve never been so happy with a miss!”
Wrap up– Many thanks to all the boys from Baltimore, Chicago, North Carolina and Nashville, all the umpires and officials who made the games possible, and all the fans who cheered the Roos and witnessed history. It was a great day of footy and everyone agreed that they are looking forward to next year’s installment of the Tennessee Ashes Cup, when we get to burn it down again.
Best and Fairest, (tied) Joel Thornton and Cody McLain
One Percenter, Andrew O’Dwyer
Goals: Ross Flemming 4, Joel Thornton 3, Andrew O’Dwyer 2, Maurice Howell, Phil Lavis, Michael Kitching