By Lance Jenkinson
Ben Cavarra will be forever grateful for the time and effort Williamstown put into his development as a footballer, but when he runs out for Footscray against his former club in the VFL finals at the VU Whitten Oval on Saturday, he will bleed for the red, white and blue.
Cavarra has some great memories from his time with the Seagulls and has made lifelong friends that he keeps in touch with to this day, but the football cycle moves on fast and the Bulldogs accepted him as one of their own from the moment he was drafted with pick 45 in last year’s AFL National Draft.
The 23-year-old small forward/midfielder endured a bumpy start to life as a Bulldogs player health wise, missing chunks of the season with niggling quad and shoulder injuries, but that never led him to feeling out of place at the kennel.
“I’ve only been here for a short time and I’m enjoying it – it’s a very special place to be,” Cavarra said. “The boys have been amazing and the coaches have been great. The amount of support you have on a day to day basis is second to none. The resources are amazing and the club does everything in their power to make you feel comfortable and confident that you can play good footy and be a good person in the community as well.”
Now that he is injury free, Cavarra has shown in the second half of the VFL season why he was coveted by the Western Bulldogs recruiters.
A small but strong bodied player, Cavarra has produced a number of team lifting acts for Footscray that have rubbed off on his teammates.
The 2013 Morrish Medal winner is also showing his knack for a goal, kicking 19 goals in his past nine VFL games.
That is no surprise considering he was Williamstown’s leading goalkicker in the previous two seasons.
He is running hard to link up with teammates and his tackle pressure is going up by the week.
Cavarra is reaping the rewards for sticking to the program set out by the club to get him back out on to the field.
“Personally it’s been a bit of a frustrating year in terms of injuries,” Cavarra said. “I’ve just been talking to the coaches and sticking to the process to get my body right. Now that that’s there, I’m starting to play some better footy at the back end of the year.”
Cavarra has felt energized by the mood around the club this week.
It is not only that finals are the horizon, but the anticipation that both the VFL and AFL sides have what it takes to go deep into September.
“We’re very excited with what we think we can do with both the AFL and VFL,” Cavarra said.
Footscray’s encounter with Williamstown has the potential to be one of the matches of the year.
The two sides were neck and neck all season before the Bulldogs pipped Williamstown to finish second late in the season.
It is a fairly unique rivalry with many families in the west splitting allegiances.
Some individuals in the area have grown up supporting the Bulldogs in the AFL and the Seagulls in the VFA, so some might be some fence sitting come game day.
Of course, the Seagulls and the Bulldogs were also at one point partners through a VFL alignment.
Nowadays, Footscray is a powerhouse in its own right, feeding players into its own Western Bulldogs AFL side, while Williamstown thrives on its standalone status and is one of the premier developers of talent in the state leagues.
“It’s a great rivalry and both clubs have a tremendous amount of respect for each other,” Cavarra said.
Expect the game to live up to expectations.
It is always hard and tough between the two sides, but it will go up another notch with it being a finals game.
Cavarra is preparing for it to be a physically demanding game.
“Finals footy is always contested and hard at it,” he said. “We’re going to be up for the fight. We’re ready for it.”
Cavarra has only been with the Western Bulldogs for about 10 months, but you can tell that he has already bought into the culture and the history of the club.
He was excited to reveal that Footscray will be playing in their fightback guernseys against Williamstown – a tribute to all the people who helped the save the club from extinction in 1989.
“It’s good for us to wear that at the VU Whitten Oval in front of what will hopefully be a big crowd of loyal and local Footscray people – and certainly Williamstown people as well,” Cavarra said.
You can not write a story on Cavarra without asking his opinion on Williamstown.
He was a fan favourite at the Seagulls and one who Gulls coach Andrew Collins still speaks of in glowing terms.
“Williamstown is a very special club in the VFL,” Cavarra said. “They’ve been here for a very long time and they’ve got a great history. They’ve been in the finals for the past 15 years consecutively and they’re a very strong outfit. I’ve still got a lot of good mates that still play at the club and have good relationships with them. It’s going to be an exciting game on the weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”
Cavarra is relishing the chance to hone his craft in a full-time AFL environment at the Western Bulldogs.
It is hugely beneficial for him to have Daniel Giansiracusa at the helm as coach, considering ‘Gia’ was one of the best small forwards of the modern era for the Bulldogs.
“He’s had the experience of being that forward at the highest level and he’s passed on his knowledge, which has been amazing,” Cavarra said. “A lot of the boys have helped me out. You get different stuff from each of the different players. The development coaches here at the Western Bulldogs are amazing too. They’re always doing extras with all the boys out on the track and after training.”
Cavarra anticipates a successful VFL finals campaign for Footscray.
“We’re all in it together and we don’t fear anyone,” he said. “We’re always confident that our best footy matches up.”
On a personal level, Cavarra will attack the VFL finals with the same vigour he has with his football in the second half of the year.
You just never know, a spot could open up in the Western Bulldogs side during the AFL finals, and, if it does, he will be ready.
“I’m confident with the body of work that I’ve put in that if an opportunity did arise, I could come in and play my role,” Cavarra said. “For the moment, all I’m focusing on is playing good football in the VFL finals this week first and foremost and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Battle of the west
Qualifying final: Footscray v Williamstown
Saturday, August 31, 1pm
VU Whitten Oval, Footscray