Voices cut through the night air as players go over their weekly drills of kicks, marks and handballs.
It’s a chilly Wednesday evening at Wodonga Football Club, so training’s the best way to keep warm.
None of the Wodonga Jets need convincing of that, although they’re quite happy to pause for a team photo.
In fact they seem quite happy generally, and coach Sam Maher agrees.
“They’re so positive, there’s not one here who’s negative, they’re all pretty keen to be around here,” he said.
“If you’re having a bad week, come down here on Wednesday – and I’ve said this to a lot of people – it can change your week just like that.”
Part of the Bulldogs for several years, the all-abilities team’s club ties have only strengthened this season.
I love it big time, every Wednesday night and every game I love going out there, playing with the boys and playing footballJack Maher
A National Insurance Disability Scheme ripple effect led Wodonga to take on full administration of the Jets, who play in the Victorian Football Integration Development Association northern conference.
Through that league, the team competes in a number of regional Sunday carnivals each year against the Bendigo Dockers, Wangaratta Merriwa Magpies, Shepparton’s GV Stars and the Echuca Moama Rockets.
After two rounds this season, one at home, one in Echuca, the Jets lie second on the ladder behind Bendigo.
More than 20 players come from Howlong, Jindera, Lavington, Albury and Wodonga to attend the all-abilities team’s practice sessions at Martin Park.
In a carnival week, training is shifted to Thursday nights so the footballers can join the other Wodonga squads for a meal and to hear the team lists read out.
Of course, none of this just happens.
Like any sporting club, it’s a substantial voluntary contribution that makes the Wodonga Jets possible.
That effort was recognised in last month’s Wodonga Volunteer of the Year presentations when the Jets earned the People’s Choice team award.
Team co-ordinator Katrina Redcliffe admits the role has ended up bigger than she expected when she started this year.
“It’s not an on-a-Wednesday job and occasionally on a Sunday, you’re getting phone calls every day,” she said.
“It’s a lot of work, but the most rewarding job out, this is what football’s about.”
Wodonga Bulldogs president Richard Bence said the relationship between the Jets and the wider club was terrific.
“There’s a real healthiness in just having people play footy in your club who play because they love playing and not because they’re playing for money or whatever,” he said.
“It probably brings it back to that essence of why people came together to play sport.”
But he adds there’s no need to overthink it.
“They’re a part of our club,” he said.
“They’re just men down here playing footy, like the three other male footy sides.”
Mrs Redcliffe thanked Wodonga for its ongoing efforts and said any extra sponsorship for the Jets would always be welcomed.
“Our transport costs alone are over $3000 a year, so for a footy club to take that on is huge,” she said.
“We have outgrown our guernseys, we have now over 26 registered and we’ve only got 24 guernseys.
“If everyone turns up on a game day, we don’t even have enough jumpers for them.”
Independent candidate for Benambra Jacqui Hawkins joined in training on Wednesday night, invited along by Mrs Redcliffe.
“I thought I’d come down here tonight, learn a little bit more about what the Jets are doing, what their challenges are and see how I can help advocate for them and raise the profile of what they’re doing,” Ms Hawkins said.
Having been sidelined from soccer recently by injury, Ms Hawkins also enjoyed exercising with the players.
“They were all nice and warm and welcoming, it was the encouragement I needed to get back into it,” she said.
Jack Maher once just watched his brother Sam play football, but now he’s been a footballer and proud captain with Wodonga Jets for about three years.
“I’d been doing water boy (at Bulldogs) for a little while now, watching all the players play, so I thought I’d go and join a football side and have a crack,” he said.
“I love it big time, every Wednesday night and every game I love going out there playing with the boys and playing football.”
Maher said the team had done well at the two carnivals so far this season.
“Three games of football, you get out there and you try your best and all it’s about is having fun,” he said.
The Wodonga team will be well represented at next week’s AFL National Inclusion Carnival in Launceston.
Pearce said he was looking forward to his first state competition and praised the Wodonga Jets coaches.
“They do a marvellous job, they do, just their enthusiasm, getting the team organised and all that and showing lots of dedication,” he said,
Mrs Redcliffe, also Jarrod’s mother, said the selections highlighted some of the talent on display at the Jets.
“It’s a great opportunity to represent their state and potentially their country,” she said.
Sam Maher became involved with the Jets after his brother started playing.
“I thought I might help him out and it’s grown from there, really,” he said.
“Lots of things keep me here, the enjoyment of seeing them down here and seeing them develop as people and to see them grow.”
At first assisting previous leader Matty Deegan, Maher is now in his second year as coach, along with Jack Russell and Tim Kindellan.
The players range in age from late teens to about 50 years and the training sessions follow a common path – some running, skills sessions, goal kicking and maybe a bit of a game depending on numbers.
“I think the best thing that’s happened, they’re involved in the footy club now,” Maher said.
“They actually come to the games on Saturdays and they feel a part of it. And the rest of the club loves it; on our carnival day players, supporters, members came down and helped out on the day, that was really good.”
Because the social benefits of being a Wodonga Jets player can’t be ignored.
“They love training, but I think it’s getting down here and just seeing everyone, see their mates once a week,” their coach said.
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