AJAX’S turbulent season took a turn for the worse after Mark “Choco” Williams’ men blew a 40-point lead against rivals and fellow relegation battlers Old Haileybury at the Jackas’ spiritual home of Princes Park, Caulfield on Saturday.
Goalkicking stalwart Jake Lew pulled on the Jackas jumper for the 150th time, but the mile-stone match was marred by a wave of injuries in the first half, followed by a disastrous second half fadeout, which has again left the club teetering on the edge of the drop zone.
The boisterous AJAX crowd that flocked to Princes Park rode the three-hour emotional rollercoaster, only to be bitterly disappointed by the end, which saw Old Haileybury win 10.17-77 to 11.6-72.
The youthful Jackas were injected with even more inexperience, with impressive under 17 duo Corey Zielinski and Ryley Michaelson earning their senior debuts.
The first quarter went according to a familiar script – AJAX blew Old Haileybury out of the water, piling on six goals, while keeping their shellshocked opponents goalless.
Zielinski became an instant crowd favourite, joining the exclusive first kick-first goal club with a magical solo effort.
Old Haileybury counterpunched in the second term with nine scoring shots to four, but inaccuracy saw the margin only cut by 11 points by the main break.
A brutal half on the injury front left the Jackas with just two fit players on the bench after midfielder Asher Burstin suffered a sickening dislocated elbow and important defender
Daniel Janover-Rocha succumbed to an ankle injury. Bravely, two others played on after dislocating fingers.
Old Haileybury chipped away at the deficit in the third term and looked headed for the final turn with the momentum before milestone man Lew stepped up and kicked his third goal to bring his team and the crowd to life.
With AJAX’s young side rapidly running out of legs, the hosts threw everything at them early in the final term and stormed to within three points.
Fittingly, Lew stood tall once again, halting Haileybury’s momentum with his fourth major. With scores even in the dying stages, the game cried out for a hero, and one emerged, but he wasn’t wearing red, white and black.
Old Haileybury completed a stunning 45-point turnaround with five goals to one in a thrilling final term, leaving Williams speechless in an eerily silent changeroom post-game.
Upon reflection Lew told The AJN: “The weekend was bittersweet. The support was amazing and I loved seeing some of the young guys make their debuts. However, lots of injuries and the loss really puts us in jeopardy of staying in B grade and we’re up against it now. I hope we can dig deep and find a way to win a few more games to stay up for another year.”
With six rounds remaining after this week’s bye, AJAX sit 7th on the VAFA Premier B table, with marginal percentage separating them from the relegation zone.
Earlier, the reserves kept their slim finals hopes alive with a dominant ten-goal win. The Jackas were slow out of the blocks but found form after quarter time piling on 11 goals to two.
Olly Hoffman booted three goals, while under 17 debutants Matthew Lincoln, Lior Smart and Aaron Bryer all impressed.
Meanwhile, the Jackettes were outclassed by Old Scotch and kept goalless for the first time this season. Isi Burstin, Daniella Abraham, and Amy Sekler battled hard.
With a competition-wide bye this weekend, AJAX’s next match will be against Beaumaris at Banksia Reserve on Saturday July 14.
AARON FETTER - The AJN
Seniors – Old Haileybury 10.17 (77) def AJAX 11.6 (72) Goals: J.Lew 4, C.Zielinski 2, D.Rotenberg 2, B.Joel, W.Williams, T.Lipton. Best: J.Berkowitz, R.Simon, J.Ludski, C.Nankin, N.Lewis, C.Zielinski
Reserves – AJAX 12.19 (91) def Old Haileybury 4.7 (31) Goals: O.Hoffman 3, D.Goodman 2, R.Israel 2, J.Forbes 2, M.Feiler, J.Broons, J.Liberman. Best: M.Lincoln, L.Smart, D.Rothschild, A.Bryer, R.Israel, J.Goldberg
Jackettes – Old Scotch 5.11 (41) def AJAX 0.1 (1) Best: I.Burstin, D.Abraham, A.Sekler, J.Gabriel, L.Nankin, H.Mel