• Published 28th Nov 2023
  • 1,071 Views, 69 Comments

All Day, Everyday. - Penanka72

Follow the journey of a little girl who takes her football to the next level!

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Chapter 8 - Half-Time.

Chapter 8.

Applejack’s journey into the world of Hoofball started amidst the sprawling orchards of her youth, where she first felt the thrill of the sport pulse through her veins. Her childhood was filled with dreams of glory on the field, dreams that she pursued with the same tenacity she brought to her work in the apple orchards. The physical strength and endurance she built from her daily chores translated seamlessly into her early athletic endeavours, setting the stage for a passion that would define much of her life.

It all changed the day Applejack happened upon a group of fillies and colts improvisively playing Hoofball in the local park. The makeshift goal they had created from swing bars and seats caught her eye, but it was the sheer joy and laughter emanating from the game that truly captivated her. Watching the young players, Applejack felt a magnetic pull towards the field, an irresistible urge that saw her join the game on a whim. That day, her casual appreciation for Hoofball transformed into a profound love for the sport.

With Granny Smith’s full support, Applejack joined an amateur team, initially playing as a Centre Back where her height and physicality were seen as major assets. However, her journey through various positions on the team was met with mixed results. Her stint as a goalkeeper was short-lived, and soon she was moved back to a defensive role. Yet, it wasn’t until she was placed in midfield that Applejack truly found her calling.

In midfield, Applejack’s natural leadership qualities came to the forefront. Her voice, strong and clear, could be heard across the field, directing play and inspiring her teammates. Her ability to carry the ball under pressure and her knack for breaking up opposition plays made her an invaluable member of the team. Under the coach’s guidance, she honed these skills, becoming not just a participant in the game but a dominant force to be reckoned with.

As Applejack’s reputation grew, scouts from cities like Canterlot and Manehattan began showing interest, offering her spots in prestigious academy-level programs. Despite the allure of playing for top-tier teams, Applejack’s deep-rooted connection to her family and her home in Ponyville held her back. She declined these offers, choosing instead to stay close to her roots.

The opportunity with The Toffees, however, was different. Here was a chance to play competitive Hoofball while staying within the comforting proximity of her family and the familiar orchards of her childhood. Joining The Toffees marked a pivotal moment in Applejack’s career, propelling her into new levels of athletic achievement and personal growth.

Her impact on the field was undeniable. As a leader, teammate, and formidable midfielder, Applejack helped shape the trajectory of The Toffees, leading them through countless matches with a blend of skill, courage, and unwavering determination. Her legacy as a club icon was not just in the goals scored or games won, but in the spirit she brought to the game and the inspiration she provided to those who watched her play. For Applejack, Hoofball was more than a sport—it was a journey of heart, challenge, and boundless passion.

As Applejack's career with The Toffees reached a critical juncture, the retirement of Granny Smith, the cherished manager and pillar of the club, marked the beginning of a tumultuous period. Granny Smith's departure was more than a mere change in leadership; it symbolised the end of an era that had defined the club for years. Her decision to step down was influenced by a desire to infuse new energy into the team's management, but the transition was anything but smooth.

The fallout from this shift in leadership was immediate and deeply personal for Applejack. One by one, her closest teammates, friends with whom she had shared both triumphs and defeats, began to transfer to other teams. These moves were driven by career ambitions and the lure of new opportunities, but they left Applejack feeling isolated and somewhat betrayed. The camaraderie that had once been the team's backbone, lending strength and unity on the field, began to dissolve. Relationships that had been built on mutual respect and shared goals turned strained, the sweetness of past victories overshadowed by current tensions.

As the core group of players dispersed, the team's performance inevitably suffered. The Toffees found themselves lacking the cohesion and synergy that had once made them formidable opponents. Without key players who had not only skill but also a deep understanding of the team's dynamics, the remaining members struggled to maintain the club's competitive edge. The rhythm of play that had once been intuitive now seemed disjointed; passes went astray, strategies failed, and the once tight-knit defence became porous.

The losses began to mount, each defeat chipping away at the team's morale and standings in the league. For Applejack, who had invested so much of her heart and soul into the club, this decline was especially painful. It wasn't just about the games lost or the slipping ranks; it was about watching the legacy that Granny Smith had built, and that she had helped to sustain, start to crumble around her.

Caught in this whirlwind of change and challenge, Applejack faced a daunting task. As one of the senior players now bearing the brunt of leadership in a struggling team, she had to find a way to rally The Toffees. The question loomed large: Could she inspire a resurgence, or was the downfall too great to overcome? With her own passion for the game tested by these trials, Applejack's resolve was put to the ultimate test. It was a pivotal moment that would define her legacy and shape the future of the club.

Applejack's transition from a seasoned player to the manager of the Toffees marked a bold new chapter in both her career and the club's history. Her decision to step into this role was met with surprise and skepticism across Equestria, as few could envision the hardworking midfielder taking on such a significant challenge. Yet, for Applejack, the move was driven by a deep-seated loyalty to the club and a determination to uphold the legacy left by Granny Smith.

Embracing her new role with characteristic grit, Applejack dove headfirst into rebuilding the team. She poured over game tapes, studied different formations and strategies, and began to shape the squad according to her vision. Her approach was methodical and thoughtful, choosing players not just for their skill but for their ability to fit into the team dynamic she envisioned. She focused heavily on the defensive and offensive balance, ensuring that each player she scouted and brought in could meet the demands of her tactical setup.

Applejack's commitment extended beyond the senior team. She frequently visited the academy, where she watched the young colts and fillies train, providing guidance and encouragement. Her presence there was not just about scouting the next big star but about fostering a nurturing environment that valued hard work and dedication—traits that she embodied.

Despite her efforts and dedication, Applejack's tenure as manager was fraught with challenges. Just as the team would begin to find its rhythm and start climbing the standings, unforeseen circumstances would throw them off course. Injuries were an all-too-common setback, robbing the team of key players at critical moments. Transfers and departures of promising talent also disrupted the team's development, while internal frictions sometimes led to frustration both on and off the pitch.

Yet, through each setback, Applejack's resolve never wavered. Her commitment to the Toffees was unwavering, driven by a desire to not only bring success to the team but also to honour the memory of Granny Smith, who had built the club from the ground up. Applejack knew that what the Toffees needed was stability and a spark of brilliance—a standout player who could change the game, somepony who could carry the team when the going got tough.

Applejack's keen eye for talent had always been a defining trait of her management style, and it was this knack for spotting potential that led her to Scootaloo. Over the years, she had watched the young filly at the academy evolve into a player with exceptional qualities. Scootaloo's ability to pass the ball with rhythmic precision, combined with her acute awareness and remarkable speed, made her a standout among her peers. Applejack nurtured this talent with care, providing guidance and support that allowed Scootaloo to flourish under her tutelage.

The discovery of Scootaloo’s talent was a significant boost for the team, but Applejack knew she needed more pieces to complete the puzzle. That's when Amelia came into the picture—a pegasus whose aspiration to be a goalkeeper was as unique as it was unheard of in Equestria. Initially, Applejack harboured doubts; the idea of a pegasus, typically known for their agility and speed, opting to guard the goal was unconventional, to say the least, when Applejack saw her hands however, she knew she found another spark in those hands, the hands of a true goalkeeper. Applejack had to take her in to nurture her the same way she did with Scootaloo, to make the future brighter for the club. But for that to happen, she needed to get Grind Duster on board to help Amelia develop into something more.

Applejack's march up the hill was brisk and determined, bypassing rows of familiar apple trees she had cared for over the years, her boots pressing deeply into the soft earth. Today, however, her attention was not on the orchard, but on a more pressing matter.

As she neared the summit, her eyes immediately locked onto the figure of Grind Duster. He sat nestled between the gnarled roots of an old apple tree, the natural seat moulded by years of use. His gaze was fixed on the sweeping view of the training grounds below, a tranquil setting that belied the tension Applejack carried with her.

Grind Duster’s posture relaxed as he absorbed the peaceful scene, but he shifted slightly, sensing somepony’s approach. He looked up, his expression shifting from contemplation to a steely gaze as he recognised Applejack. Despite their recent disagreements, this was their spot—a neutral ground for airing grievances and seeking advice.

Applejack paused a few feet away, catching her breath and gathering her thoughts before she spoke. "Grind Duster." she said, her voice firm yet tinged with urgency, "I need to have a word with ya. It's 'bout Amelia."

Grind Duster raised an eyebrow, intrigued by the seriousness in her tone. He patted the ground next to him, a silent invitation for her to sit. Applejack took a deep breath and moved closer, sitting down beside him, her posture mirroring his as they both looked out over the fields.

"It's a long shot, and I might end up the laughingstock of the league if this don't pan out, but there's a whole lot ridin' on this." Applejack continued, her hands gesturing toward the distant figures on the training field. "She's got potential—real potential. I seen what those hands can do when I looked at Amelia's—they're just like the ones you had—like what Pinkie Pie had." Applejack reminisced.

Grind Duster’s response was succinct, punctuated by the deliberate action of drawing a slow puff from his cigarette. He exhaled a plume of smoke before continuing, his voice flat and resolute. “No. It won’t work.” he said, shaking his head slightly as he looked out over the field. “She’s a pegasus, and her body isn’t meant to play in goal.”

Applejack maintained her composure in the face of Duster’s skepticism. His traditional approach to coaching had prepared her for his initial resistance. She leaned in slightly, her voice steady but infused with a hint of challenge, "Even with them hands? Hands of a goalkeeper, no less?"

Her question hung in the air, pointed and probing, designed to make Duster reconsider the assets Amelia could bring to the team. Applejack’s eyes locked onto his, searching for a flicker of concession, her belief in Amelia’s potential unwavering. However, Grind Duster’s belief didn’t falter, he looked back at the view, sighing smoke.

Duster leaned back against the sturdy trunk of the apple tree, a wry smile crossing his features as he shifted the conversation with a touch of levity. “Ever think about having a vacation? I hear Cyphorse is a nice place to visit, to relax, a place where you can stop overthinking everything, hell, maybe even hook up with a stallion that can satisfy your needs.”

Applejack frowned slightly, unamused by the diversion. Her focus remained unshaken, her response sharp and immediate. "I ain't needin' no time to relax or to be foolin' around with any buck. I need to focus on the team, to get 'em out of that relegation battle."

Duster sighed, picking up a fallen twig and twirling it between his fingers. “Then stop overthinking things. Sure, Amelia has an extremely rare gift but, it’s just unfortunate she has wings. You cannot keep saying ‘what if’ when it’s not even guaranteed to work.” His tone was serious now, pressing the point that while innovation was valuable, it needed to be tempered with realism.

Applejack’s gaze hardened with determination. "Sometimes y'all forget that 'what if' is all we got." she countered. "It's them 'what ifs' that change the game, find us new ways to win. I ain't ready to give up on her or the idea just 'cause it's unconventional."

Duster's words cut through the air with a sharpness that momentarily silenced the gentle rustle of the leaves around them. “Then you will be the first to try and fail.” he stated flatly, his tone final, as if sealing the fate of her endeavours with his.

The statement hung heavy between them, the quiet suddenly more pronounced, filled only by the distant sounds of nature and the occasional creak of the tree that sheltered them. Applejack’s expression hardened, her jaw setting with the kind of resolve that had defined her both on and off the field. She met Duster's gaze steadily, unflinching in the face of his blunt prediction.

After a moment, she spoke, her voice calm yet firm, laced with the undying spirit she was known for. “Maybe so…” she acknowledged, allowing the possibility but not succumbing to it. "But if I don't give it a shot, I'll never know. And that's a failure I can't abide by. We gotta innovate, adapt. If not, we're already licked."

Applejack rose to her feet, standing tall in front of Duster, her sudden movement forcing him to crane his neck upward to meet her gaze. The intensity in her eyes was palpable, her voice thick with emotion as she poured out her heart.

"When I played hoofball, back when I was younger, I remember feelin' free... I remember smilin', holdin' everything in my hands. All I needed was a ball at my feet." Her hands gestured expressively, emphasising the emptiness she felt now. "But... look at my hands now... they're empty... I'm startin' to lose everything I hold dear all 'cause I can't keep this club together."

She paused, her voice breaking slightly as she confessed her fears and frustrations. "I admit it, okay, I'm desperate, and I'm willin' to try anything to get this club back on track."

The vulnerability in her admission struck a chord in the air between them. Duster, usually so steadfast and stoic, could see the toll the situation was taking on Applejack. Her usually unshakeable demeanour was frayed by the weight of her responsibilities and the fear of losing what she cherished most.

He looked up at her, his eyes softening as he absorbed the depth of her distress. In that moment, any remnants of his skepticism dissolved, replaced by a renewed sense of partnership and support. He understood now more than ever how much this meant to her and how crucial his support was.

Duster’s tone shifted as he took in the gravity of Applejack’s commitment, a mix of realisation and respect colouring his voice. “You’re serious about this…” he stated, the simplicity of his words underlined by a newfound understanding of her determination.

Applejack met his gaze squarely, her resolve clear. “Yes, I am,” she affirmed, her voice steady and strong. "This ain't just about winnin' games or bein' at the top. It's about savin' our club, preservin' what Granny Smith built, and provin' that we can adapt and overcome. If Amelia and her unique hands can be a part of that solution, then I owe it to the team—and to myself—to try."

The silence that followed was profound, filled only by the gentle sounds of the surrounding nature—the distant calls of nocturnal creatures and the rustle of leaves stirred by a soft breeze. Applejack and Duster remained locked in a quiet contemplation, each lost in their thoughts as they weighed the conversation's gravity. Duster, his gaze lingering on Applejack, seemed to be wrestling internally, balancing his skepticism with her unwavering determination, trying to decide which deserved his faith.

Finally, breaking the moment's stillness, Duster reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out for himself and, holding the pack toward Applejack, offered her one as well. She accepted, a silent acknowledgment of the shared moment of reflection. Duster lit her cigarette first, shielding the flame with his hand against the gentle night wind, then lit his own.

Applejack settled back down against the tree, the flickering of the cigarette end briefly illuminating her thoughtful expression. Neither felt the need to fill the silence with words. Instead, they sat together under the vast, starry sky, the quiet offering a rare peace amidst the storm of challenges they faced. The smoke from their cigarettes mingled with the cool night air, each puff seeming to carry away a bit of the tension that had built up over their discussion.

The night stretched on, the timeless dance of fireflies beginning around them, adding a layer of magic to the scene. It was a moment of reprieve, a chance to just be, before the demands of the world would inevitably pull them back into the fray. For now, though, they could enjoy the simple companionship and the beauty of the night, each finding comfort in the presence of the other as they prepared for what was to come.

Duster's voice broke the contemplative silence, soft and reflective. “It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it.” He exhaled a slow stream of smoke, his eyes drifting upward to admire the expansive night sky, where stars twinkled like scattered jewels against the dark canvas.

Applejack followed his gaze, taking in the serene beauty above them. “It sure is,” she agreed, her voice equally hushed, infused with a sense of wonder and a brief respite from her earlier anxieties. The calmness of the evening and the gentle shimmer of starlight seemed to lend a tranquil quality to their surroundings, providing a stark contrast to the heavy discussions of earlier.

She took a deep breath, the cool night air mingling with the smoky aroma of her cigarette, and felt a momentary ease settle over her. This natural backdrop, unmarred by the complexities of their daily lives, reminded her of the bigger picture, of the world's enduring beauty despite personal trials and tribulations.

Duster's gaze shifted back from the stars to Applejack, his demeanour serious as he laid out his terms. "I’ll help, Applejack, but on one condition. She has one chance to show me that she is worthy to call herself a goalkeeper." he declared, the firmness in his voice underscoring the gravity of his offer.

Applejack's eyes widened slightly at the condition, understanding the stakes that Duster was setting. Yet, the opportunity to prove Amelia's potential was all she needed. A mixture of relief and gratitude washed over her as she responded warmly, "Thank you, gramps." She reached out, pulling him into a closer embrace, her actions conveying the deep appreciation and respect she felt for his willingness to support her, despite his reservations.

Duster responded to the embrace with a slight nod, acknowledging her thanks and the challenge ahead. Their partnership was sealed under the night sky, with both understanding the significance of the task before them. This was more than just training a player; it was about testing the limits of tradition and capability in the pursuit of something greater for their team and for Amelia.

As they sat back, their shoulders touching in silent camaraderie, the weight of the decision seemed to blend into the tranquility of the night around them. There was a road ahead filled with potential and pitfalls, but for now, they had each other's support, and that was a formidable start.

After the playful chase around the field, where Amelia tried to tag Applebloom with her notoriously 'dodgy' fingers, the scene shifted to a more serious tone. Applebloom, taking on a role that seemed beyond her years, had prepared a series of drills for Amelia. It was time to put the pegasus’s potential as a goalkeeper to a rigorous test. They focused on enhancing her endurance, stretching her flexibility, and sharpening her reaction time and agility. Applebloom also meticulously observed Amelia’s footwork and her diving ability, crucial for her role between the posts.

With a clipboard in hand, Applebloom moved around the training area, her eyes rarely leaving Amelia. She made notes diligently, capturing every detail, every strength, and every area that might need improvement. The seriousness with which she approached this task was a reflection of the responsibility she felt, wanting to ensure Amelia was given every chance to succeed.

By the end of the session, Amelia was visibly exhausted. She leaned forward, resting her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath. Despite the fatigue that rippled through her body, there was a glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes. She had pushed herself to the limits, adhering to Applejack's advice to give everything she had. This wasn't just about proving her capabilities to Duster or Applejack; it was also about proving to herself that she could meet the physical demands of this new role.

Amelia’s dedication and the sheer effort she displayed didn't go unnoticed. Applebloom, though still jotting down notes, looked up occasionally to offer words of encouragement or a nod of approval, reinforcing the positive atmosphere of the training session.

Applebloom, clipboard still in hand, lowered it with a nod of satisfaction as she surveyed Amelia’s final efforts. “Not bad, not bad at all, Amelia. You passed the fitness program with flying colours, I’m impressed.” she announced, her tone laced with genuine admiration.

Stepping closer, she extended a bottle of water toward the exhausted pegasus. Amelia, still bent over and panting heavily from the exertion, gratefully accepted the offered bottle. She unscrewed the cap with slightly trembling hands, a clear sign of how hard she had pushed herself during the drills.

“Thanks.” Amelia gasped, her voice hoarse from the intense session. She lifted the bottle to her lips and drank deeply, the water clearly a welcome relief. As she paused from her gulps, wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, she caught Applebloom’s expression.

Applebloom’s smile broadened as she observed Amelia’s determined efforts, a clear sense of pride shining in her eyes. She was genuinely pleased with Amelia’s performance and resilience, seeing the fruits of their labour come to life in such a tangible way.

Catching her breath, Amelia paused from her hurried sips of water and noticed Applebloom's persistent smile. A mix of curiosity and mild exhaustion coloured her voice as she asked, "What you smiling at?" Her gaze, though tired, held a hint of amusement and confusion, wondering what could be prompting such a pleased expression from her coach after such a gruelling session.

Applebloom's smile grew wider, her eyes twinkling with a mix of admiration and excitement as she watched Amelia catch her breath. She took a step closer, her posture relaxed and open, indicating her genuine approval and enthusiasm. "I like you, Amelia." she began, her voice warm and encouraging. "Your body is in peak condition, your work ethic is admirable."

With a gentle gesture, she placed a reassuring hand on Amelia's shoulder, giving it a light squeeze to emphasise her point. "Not only does that make my work easier." she continued, chuckling softly, "but it also gives me the opportunity to study you more. I’m really looking forward to working with you, you know."

Amelia, catching her breath and visibly invigorated by Applebloom's praise, flashed a grateful smile and gave a nod of acknowledgment. She straightened her posture, pulling together a burst of strength, inspired by the supportive words, even as her muscles ached from the drills. The fatigue that had threatened to overwhelm her seemed to ebb away, replaced by a renewed sense of purpose.

However, a shadow crossed her features, a hint of uncertainty clouding her expression. She hesitated, then spoke with a mixture of regret and realism tinting her voice. "That means a lot to hear, Applebloom, but, I don’t know if I’ll be here after this night. This could be the first and last time we’ll work together.” Amelia shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her gaze drifting off towards the field as if searching for answers in the grassy expanse.

Applebloom's expression softened as she listened to Amelia's concerns. With a reassuring smile, she placed a comforting hand on Amelia's shoulder, guiding her gaze back from the distant field to meet her own. "I wouldn’t worry about that, Amelia." she said gently, her voice imbued with confidence. "Applejack speaks highly of you."

Her words seemed to carry a weight of sincerity that was designed to bolster Amelia's spirits. "She sees a lot of potential in you, and so do I. We both believe you can make a big impact here." Applebloom continued, her tone encouraging.

Amelia's brow furrowed in confusion at Applebloom's assurance. Although the words were meant to comfort, they stirred a wave of doubt within her. It was true that Applejack had never actually seen her in action, and Applebloom's observations were limited to her recent fitness exercises. How could they be so sure of her potential? She glanced down at her gloved hands, a thought nagging at her. She suspected that their faith in her might have something to do with these hands, often remarked upon for their unusual dexterity for a pegasus.

"What makes you think I’ll be good enough to be a goalkeeper?" Amelia asked, looking back up at Applebloom with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. "I hear goalkeepers and pegasus don’t go together well."

Applebloom met her gaze steadily, understanding the root of Amelia's hesitation. "It's true." she acknowledged, "that it’s uncommon. But sometimes, the best opportunities lie in the unexpected. Your hands, Amelia—they’re not typical for a pegasus. They’re strong, coordinated, and you have an instinct for the ball that can’t be taught."

She stepped closer, her voice dropping to a more intimate, persuasive tone. "You're right that most pegasi don't end up as goalkeepers, but you're not most pegasi. Applejack doesn’t just throw words around. She sees something in you—a knack for anticipating where the ball will be, a fearlessness in your dives, and a level of control that’s rare."

Applebloom's confidence was palpable, and it was clear she believed wholeheartedly in Amelia's potential. "Give yourself a chance to prove that you can redefine what it means to be a goalkeeper. We believe in breaking moulds, not fitting into them. Let’s show everypony what you’re capable of."

Redefine? My hands are not typical for a pegasus? What does that mean? Why do they have so much faith in me?

Amelia's confusion grew as Applebloom gently removed one of her gloves, holding up Amelia's hand for both of them to examine. "Do you see it? Do you see what I mean?" Applebloom asked, her eyes eager and expectant.

"No… All I see is my hand," Amelia responded, her voice tinged with uncertainty as she looked down at her own palm.

"Okay, then look at my hand and tell me what’s different," Applebloom instructed, offering her own hand for comparison.

Amelia observed closely. Applebloom's hand was pristine, unmarked by any physical trials. In contrast, Amelia's hand bore the telltale signs of a sports career filled with hard knocks—scarred, with fingers that had been broken and healed imperfectly, a palm lined with the evidence of stress. This stark difference made her pause, a realisation dawning slowly.

Applebloom noticed the shift in Amelia's expression and nodded, "Yes, that's it. You’re starting to understand, aren’t you?"

Amelia's mind raced. Was this rugged history of her hands what Applejack and Applebloom saw as potential? Did they view her past injuries not as drawbacks?

"What does all this mean?" Amelia finally asked, her curiosity piqued but still clouded with doubt.

Applebloom’s expression turned serious, almost reverent as she began to explain. "Don’t you know about The Legendary Hand of Karma? One of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in the history of hoofball?”

Amelia shook her head, her ignorance in this regard evident.

Applebloom sighed slightly, then continued with a hint of excitement in her voice. "Karma was an earth pony who became a legendary goalkeeper. He started playing at the age of 6 and didn’t retire until he was 45. He was known for his precision, his fearlessness, and his acrobatic saves. He led his team to a league title with an invincible season because he didn’t let a single goal pass him. But what ponies remembered most were his hands—they were deformed, broken, and scarred, just like yours."

She paused to let her words sink in. "There’s a tale that during his games, Karma’s hands had a mind of their own, saving shots that seemed impossible to reach. It was like his hands developed an instinct, a kind of muscle memory, from all those years of play and injuries. His hands knew what to do even before his mind did."

Amelia listened, captivated by the story, her own hands suddenly seeming not a sign of her limitations but a testament to her potential. "You see, Amelia, your hands—they tell a story of experience, of enduring in the toughest spots. That's not just experience; it's instinct. And that's what we see in you. You're not just enduring; you're adapting, learning, and possibly, you could become one of the greats, just like Karma."

Amelia's reflection on the tale of Karma was abruptly cut short by the sharp blast of a whistle, slicing through the chatter and activity on the pitch. She looked up to see Applejack, standing commandingly at the centre of the field, Grind Duster by her side lending an air of seasoned experience to the scene.

As the players gathered, jogging and walking from different parts of the pitch, the atmosphere shifted from casual to charged. Applebloom, breaking away from their deep discussion, gestured to Amelia encouragingly. "Come on, Amelia. It’s time to get the training match started."

Feeling a surge of adrenaline, Amelia quickly followed, her thoughts transitioning from the historical greatness of Karma to the immediate challenge ahead. Her nerves tingled with anticipation and a renewed sense of purpose; this training match was an opportunity to start proving her potential.

As Amelia and Applebloom reached the group, the energy was palpable. Applejack, with a firm tone that commanded attention, began to address the eager squad. "Alright, folks. It's time to get a little match started." she declared. The announcement was met with enthusiastic cheers from the players, clearly relieved to break away from the monotony of drills.

"I've already organised the teams, so if I call your name, please pick up one of them blue bibs from the pile over there." Applejack continued, her hand gesturing towards a stack of brightly coloured bibs as she consulted a list she held.

“Caramel, Bon Bon, Meadow Song, Cherry Fizzy, Noteworthy, Big Mac, Thunder Lane, Carrot Top, Vinyl Scratch, Octavia, and Scootaloo, you’ll all be on the bibs team.” she announced, reading off the names with a steady pace.

Amelia's heart sank a little as she listened to the lineup. Her team's defense was up against some of the most formidable players like Vinyl, Octavia, and particularly Scootaloo, whose skills on the field were well-known. Glancing at Applejack, she noticed a deliberate grin on her face—clear evidence that this setup was a challenge meant specifically for Amelia.

Just then, a reassuring touch on her shoulder snapped Amelia out of her apprehensive thoughts. Turning, she saw Applebloom beside her, offering a warm smile and a thumbs up. "Good luck!" Applebloom said with genuine encouragement before she headed off to the sideline.

As Applebloom walked away, Amelia's gaze inadvertently followed, crossing paths with Scootaloo, who was already gearing up for the game. The look Scootaloo gave her was intense, a mix of competitive zeal and what seemed like personal vendetta. It was a stare that promised a challenging match, filled with nothing less than fierce determination.

Meeting Scootaloo's gaze squarely, Amelia's own eyes narrowed, a silent vow forming within her to rise to the challenge. Her stance solidified, ready and resolved; no matter the reputation or the intensity of her opponents, she was there to prove herself. Today's match wasn't just about playing—it was about asserting her worth as a goalkeeper, her resilience in the face of direct challenge, and her unyielding spirit to excel against the odds.

Applejack continued with her organisational efforts, her voice carrying clearly over the murmurs of excitement from the assembled players. "As for the none-bibs team." she said, scanning her list to make sure no one was missed, "Amelia, Lyra, Daisy, Cherry Berry, Comet Tail, Dr. Hooves, Minuette, Apple Cobbler, Braeburn, Derpy, and Berry Punch." She paused to let everyone take in their assignments, her eyes briefly meeting Amelia's with a nod of encouragement.

"When y'all are ready, get in shape, sort positions, do them last-minute stretches before I blow the whistle to start." she instructed, her tone shifting to that of a coach gearing up her team for a serious effort.

The players dispersed to their respective teams, the air buzzing with the quick exchange of strategies and positions. Amelia felt a surge of focus as she took her place by the goal, her teammates gathering around to discuss their defensive setup.

Lyra approached Amelia, offering a quick grin and a pat on the back. "We've got this, just stick to what you know and keep your eyes on the ball." she advised, her confidence reassuring.

Amelia nodded, feeling the weight of the responsibility on her shoulders but also the support of her team. She bent down for a few last-minute stretches, flexing her fingers and rolling her shoulders to loosen up. The rest of her team was similarly engaged, with Dr. Hooves and Braeburn discussing midfield tactics while Cherry Berry and Derpy went over their communication on the field.

As Amelia stood up, she scanned the opposition, her gaze locking once more with Scootaloo’s, who was already in a sprinter’s stance, ready to dash at the first blow of the whistle. The competitive atmosphere was palpable, each player mentally preparing for the imminent clash.

Applejack walked to the centre of the pitch, whistle in hand, ready to start the match. Amelia took a deep breath, grounding herself in the moment. Her team looked to her, ready to defend their goal under her lead. As the whistle’s sharp sound pierced the air, the game kicked off with a burst of energy, and Amelia’s focus narrowed to nothing but the game at hand.

Let’s see what these hands can do then…

5’ GREAT STOP! The game was off to a quick start, with Noteworthy orchestrating a smooth play from the midfield. With a keen eye and an understanding of his teammates' positioning, he fed the ball to Vinyl. Her agility shone brightly as she spun effortlessly through the middle of the pitch, dodging defenders with a grace that underscored her reputation.

Vinyl, sensing the right moment, executed a precise pass through the defence, setting up Scootaloo for a potential strike. The young forward, always ready to capitalise, took the pass in stride. With one deft touch, she positioned the ball for a left-footed lob, aiming to catch Amelia off guard with a chip over her head into the net.

Amelia, however, was fully alert and demonstrated her readiness and agility as the team's last line of defence. Her eyes locked onto the trajectory of the ball as Scootaloo made her move. In a fluid motion, Amelia leaped upwards, her arms extended to their fullest. With a well-timed jump and a strong hand, she managed to parry the ball, pushing it just over the crossbar and behind for a corner.

As the team regrouped after the near miss, Amelia wiped the sweat from her brow, her mind racing with the play that had just unfolded. She glanced at her defenders, a mix of frustration and determination in her eyes. “That was too easy.” she called out to them, her voice firm yet encouraging. “You all know how dangerous Vinyl and Scootaloo are. We can’t let them do that again, or I’m going to have to work overtime here!”

The defenders nodded, acknowledging her point. They huddled briefly, discussing how to tighten their coverage and adjust their positioning. The lapse had been a wake-up call, and they were quick to strategise a more robust defensive approach. They agreed on closer marking and better communication, recognising the need to disrupt the Bibs’ attacking flow before threats could develop.

As the players dispersed back to their positions, the sense of urgency was palpable. Amelia set herself back in goal, her gaze sharp and alert, ready for the next play. Her defenders took their places with renewed focus, each one mentally preparing to step up their game.

The match resumed with the corner kick. Amelia watched intently as the ball arced into the air, her body tensed for action. This time, her defenders were quicker, more aggressive in their approach. They managed to clear the ball effectively, pushing it out of the danger zone.

11’ ANOTHER GREAT STOP! The game intensified as Thunderlane found space, slicing down the left flank with remarkable speed and agility. His movement was fluid, almost ghostlike, as he effortlessly latched onto a beautifully chipped pass from Vinyl. With the defence stretched thin and scrambling to regroup, Thunderlane capitalised on the moment, sending a lofted delivery arching towards the far post.

Scootaloo, anticipating the cross, positioned herself perfectly. The ball seemed destined for her, hanging in the air like a promise as she timed her jump. The crowd held its breath, and for a split second, it seemed inevitable—a goal was surely on the way. Scootaloo met the ball with a powerful header, directing it towards the target with all the confidence of a seasoned forward who believes the net is theirs.

But Amelia was not to be beaten easily. Her anticipation and agility shone brightly as she made a split-second decision to launch herself across the goal. With a spectacular dive, she stretched her body to its limits, her gloved hands reaching out to meet the ball, sending it passed the goalposts, making it another corner.

Scootaloo, visibly agitated, turned away from the goal, her frustration boiling over. She had been so sure of scoring, the opportunity had seemed like a sure thing, and her inability to convert it into a goal grated on her. Clenching her jaw, she kicked at the ground, her ears pinned back as she replayed the moment in her mind. It wasn't just a missed opportunity; it was a challenge to her skill and precision, both of which she prided herself on. She shook her head, trying to dispel the disappointment that threatened to affect her focus for the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, back at the goal, Amelia was surrounded by her teammates, their cheers and enthusiastic pats conveying their admiration and relief. "Great save, Amelia! You really saved us there!" one exclaimed, while another added, "That was incredible, way to keep us in this!" Their voices filled the air with a mixture of relief and excitement, boosting the team's morale significantly.

Amelia's heart swelled with the support and accolades from her teammates, each shout and pat reinforcing her role as a crucial player on the team. The intensity of the moment had amped up her adrenaline, and now, with the immediate pressure eased slightly, she took the time to absorb the scene around her.

Off to the sidelines, Applebloom was practically vibrating with excitement, her movements animated as she chatted with Applejack, who was grinning broadly, obviously pleased with the performance of the team—and particularly with Amelia's standout save. Their expressions were a vivid contrast to Duster’s, whose stern demeanour hadn't changed. His arms remained firmly crossed, his gaze sharp and unyielding as he watched Amelia closely, assessing every nuance of her performance.

Amelia caught Duster’s eye for a moment, and despite the lack of expression on his face, she felt a challenge emanating from him. It was clear that Duster was still reserving judgment, his high standards and critical eye pushing her to prove herself further. This recognition didn't deflate her; rather, it fuelled her desire to demonstrate her capability, not just as a goalkeeper but as a resilient competitor under scrutiny.

23’ GOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLL! The game escalated quickly as the Bibs team executed a stunning display of teamwork and precision, taking the lead in the match. The None-Bibs defence struggled to keep up with the swift movements and clever plays of their opponents.

Octavia, known for her tactical awareness and precision, initiated the play with a sharp diagonal pass that cut through the midfield, finding Vinyl on the move. Vinyl, always aware and ready, deftly offloaded the ball to Thunderlane who was charging down the flank in an impressive display of speed and timing.

Thunderlane, with his signature agility as a pegasus, dashed toward the byline, his eyes scanning the situation ahead. Without slowing down, he managed a skilful left-footed cross into the area, arcing the ball towards the far post where Scootaloo was perfectly positioned to meet it.

Scootaloo, timing her run with precision, leapt up and met the cross with a decisive header. Amelia, the goalkeeper, who had been anticipating a different play, found herself too far from the post to intercept the ball. The header sailed past her, landing securely in the back of the empty net. The Bibs erupted into cheers as Scootaloo celebrated her goal, her teammates rushing to congratulate her on the well-executed finish.

Amelia quickly set the ball back at the centre spot, her voice loud and clear, carrying across the field as she rallied her team. "Come on! Let’s get our heads up! We still have time!" Her tone was firm, imbued with the urgency and leadership needed to refocus the team. As her teammates regrouped, their faces reflecting the mix of frustration and renewed determination, Amelia continued to offer quick nods and pointed gestures, signalling tactical shifts and positioning adjustments.

Her resolve was palpable, visibly infecting her team with a much-needed jolt of confidence. She paced briefly in front of her goal, her eyes scanning the field and her teammates, assessing their setup and mentally preparing for the next Bibs assault. Knowing the Bibs' capability for swift, incisive attacks, she shouted instructions to her defenders, emphasising tighter marking and better communication.

"Stay tight on them! Watch the overlaps!" she instructed, pointing to areas where the Bibs had exploited their defence. Her defenders nodded, adjusting their stances and positioning, ready to intercept or challenge more effectively.

As play resumed, Amelia's heightened vigilance was evident. She adjusted her stance, staying on her toes, ready to spring into action. Her eyes constantly moved, watching not only the ball but also the players' movements, predicting possible plays, and preparing herself to counter them.

The game's pace intensified, with the None-Bibs pushing forward to equalise and the Bibs looking to capitalise on their momentum. Amelia's voice was a constant, guiding her team, her calls clear and commanding. Every save she made now was met with cheers from the sidelines, her earlier save not forgotten, adding to the team’s motivation.

27’ SAVE! The Bibs were relentless in their offensive strategy, and their third corner of the game came about after a slick maneuver from Vinyl. She made a smooth, gliding run along the left flank, skillfully navigating through the None-bib's defense. Her agility and control over the ball were evident, keeping the defenders at bay and eventually forcing them to block her path, resulting in the ball going out for a corner.

Opting for a tactical variation, Octavia and Vinyl executed a short corner routine. Octavia tapped the ball to Vinyl, who had positioned herself cleverly just outside the box. Vinyl took the pass in stride and immediately fired a right-footed shot towards goal. Her attempt, however, took a deflection off a defender, altering its trajectory slightly.

Amelia, vigilant in her goalkeeping duties, reacted swiftly to the unexpected change in the ball's path. Her anticipation and reflexes were put to the test as she dove to her right, managing to get her hands on the ball and parry it behind for another corner. Her save was not just a display of her skill but also a critical intervention that kept her team in the game, preventing the Bibs from capitalising on their strategic play.

The crowd and her teammates acknowledged Amelia's prowess with shouts of encouragement and applause, recognising the pressure under which she was performing, especially given the tensions with Minuette that could potentially distract from her focus. Despite this, Amelia remained composed and ready, adjusting her stance and preparing for the next corner, her eyes scanning the field and communicating quickly with her defenders to organise them for the upcoming set piece.

31’ SAVE! As the match continued, Thunderlane showcased his agility and tactical awareness on the field. Despite being faced with three defenders from the None-bibs, he skillfully managed to maintain possession and find a sliver of space. With a deft touch, he squeezed a precise pass through to Octavia, who was positioned near the midfield, before darting forward, drawing the attention of the None-bibs defenders towards him.

This strategic movement by Thunderlane effectively disrupted the defensive setup of the None-bibs, pulling players out of position and creating a valuable opening. As he drew defenders away, he opened up space for Big Mac, who had smartly positioned himself just outside the penalty area, ready to capitalise on any opportunity.

Seizing the moment, Big Mac received a quick pass and took a chance with a powerful low shot aimed at the goal. His execution was clean, and the shot was well-timed, but Amelia, the None-bibs goalkeeper, was prepared. Demonstrating her keen sense of positioning and quick reflexes, Amelia got down swiftly to her right, her gloves securely wrapping around the ball to make a crucial save.

Amelia’s hold on the shot prevented a rebound, ensuring that the play ended with her control. After securing the ball, she quickly rose to her feet, looking to restart play. Her save not only thwarted a scoring opportunity but also provided a momentary reprieve for the None-bibs to regroup defensively.

36’ CHANCE! As the game's intensity mounted, Big Mac seized a pivotal moment to exploit the space behind the None-bibs' defence. He noticed Scootaloo signalling for a deep pass and, with precision, sent a ball arching over the top, aimed perfectly for her well-timed run.

Scootaloo, with her eyes locked on the descending ball, accelerated, her strides quick and determined, as she prepared to engage in a one-on-one showdown with Amelia, the None-bibs goalkeeper. Amelia, recognising the imminent danger, swiftly evaluated her options and decided to confront the threat head-on. She dashed out of her box, her focus razor-sharp on intercepting the ball before Scootaloo could turn it into a scoring opportunity.

As the ball started to dip within reach, Amelia leaped forward, stretching her body to execute a header, since using her hands outside the penalty area would result in a foul. She connected solidly, sending the ball sideways towards the touchline, effectively thwarting the attack.

However, the intensity of the moment didn't end with the clearance. Scootaloo, running at full tilt and perhaps frustrated by the missed opportunity, arrived a fraction of a second later. Instead of pulling up, she leaned into Amelia with a firm shoulder shove, an act of frustration more than aggression, which knocked Amelia off balance.

The two collided heavily on the pitch, the impact echoing the competitive tension of the match. They both hit the ground, and a tense moment followed as they untangled themselves. Amelia, feeling the brunt of the shove, quickly got to her feet, confronting Scootaloo with a mix of frustration and defiance.

"What was that for?" Amelia demanded, her tone sharp, her hands gesturing to emphasise her irritation.

Scootaloo, still seething from the denied chance, shot back, "You gotta watch where you're going! This isn't just your pitch!"

Their teammates, sensing the rising tension, quickly intervened. Some pulled Amelia back slightly, urging her to cool down, while others approached Scootaloo to do the same.

44’ CHANCE! During a critical phase of the game, Minuette found herself under intense pressure, positioned in a challenging 2v1 situation. Vinyl, with her known agility and flair, was charging down the left side with the ball at her feet, while Carrot Top lurked dangerously close, ready to exploit any opening. This setup posed a significant threat to the None-bibs’ goal, which was currently under the vigilant guard of Amelia.

As Vinyl advanced with a determined run towards the goal, her intent clear, Minuette had to make a split-second decision. Calculating her position and the potential risks, Minuette opted to press Vinyl aggressively, hoping to force an error or at least disrupt her rhythm. Her approach was tactical; by closing down the space quickly, she aimed to cut off Vinyl's angle for a clean shot.

Vinyl, feeling the pressure from Minuette, attempted to manoeuvre around her, looking for just enough space to unleash a shot towards the goal. With limited options due to Minuette's tight marking, Vinyl fired off a powerful strike. However, the shot, although well-intended, struck the crossbar with a resounding clang, ricocheting over the goal and out for a throw-in to the None-bibs.

From her position in goal, Amelia had been tracking the play closely, ready to intervene if Vinyl's shot had been on target. Witnessing Minuette’s effective handling of such a high-pressure situation, Amelia couldn't help but shout her praise, "Well done, Minuette! Great pressure!"

However, the moment of team camaraderie was short-lived. As Amelia's commendation echoed across the pitch, Minuette turned sharply towards her, her expression cold and eyes narrowed. Her glare was a clear signal of the unresolved tension between them. The silent message was unmistakable: Minuette was not there to make friends, especially not in the middle of a heated game where every play could turn the tide.

The glare sent a chill through the air, momentarily silencing Amelia. Taken aback by the hostility, Amelia’s initial impulse to continue cheering faltered, and she quickly refocused on the game, her expression turning serious. The exchange, though brief, was a stark reminder of the personal issues that lingered beneath the surface, adding an extra layer of complexity to their teamwork.

As play resumed with the throw-in, both Amelia and Minuette returned their attention to the game, each aware that despite personal grievances, the team’s success was the priority. However, the incident left a palpable tension, a reminder that their team dynamics were still a work in progress.

Watching Minuette in action during the first half also shifted something in Amelia's perspective. Though Minuette often came across as brash and impatient, her play on the field told a different story. As a Defensive Midfielder, Minuette exhibited a patience that belied her outward demeanour, timing her tackles with a precision that was crucial for their defence. "She’s amazing too." Amelia admitted quietly to herself, recognising the skill and calm strategy Minuette brought to their game, crucial elements that often went unnoticed amidst her more visible intensity.

Half Time!