It’s late Wednesday night. Preliminary final week. I am sitting at the dining room table by myself – as my father used to. He’d pour himself a (Vegemite) glass of port, lay The Bible out in front of him, and read. The corgi, Susie, would sit quietly and lovingly at his side, knowing at some stage she would be given a Nice biscuit or two. It was a nightly Monday-to-Thursday, post-Lateline, dressing-gowned ritual.
I often think of Dad. But this is a particularly poignant time. He loved his footy but he didn’t much like the Pies. He didn’t handle the loss to Collingwood in the 2010 preliminary final very well: he died at midnight.
So preliminary final weekend – especially the Friday night – features strongly in our family mythology.
It’s also there because of some magnificent victories to the Geelong Football Club – our club. And some tragic losses as well.
So, here I sit, alone for the moment, with a glass of red and no pooch, at once melancholy and joyfully expectant, as the we Catters (the whole Geelong tribe) prepare to take on Hawthorn. What an opportunity! What a contest! What a story it provides!
It’s been a funny old few weeks for Geelong but, in a way, it is typical of the 2013 season. The Cats have been patchy all year. It hasn’t been a match-to-match inconsistency as the win-loss record suggests, more a quarter-to-quarter inconsistency, and an inconsistency across even smaller units of time.
But we have found a way to win, often with short bursts of football, the flow of which brings a tear to the true Catter’s eye. How can you not feel alive when watching this football club – in all of its manifestations?
Four weeks ago, and the Cats are very good against the Swans at Kardinia. The visitors suffer some injuries early – Shaw and Hannebery – which affects their run, but Geelong shut down the key ball-winners. Big Mummy and Mike Pyke control the ruck, but we still have their measure, winning the footy at ground level and using it reasonably well. Chappy returns to much approval and applause. He is sure-handed. Hungry. He is so reliable.
Final round, and the Cats are all over the shop in the final quarter against a fast-finishing Brisbane team. The Lions are able to find space and the situation gets fairly hairy until Jack McBurney saves the day with a lawyer’s interpretation of a holding the ball decision. He spots three arms pulling the footy under Chappy and, as he can’t recognise whose is whose, and which arm did the pulling under, he crosses his own arms. Geelong fans cross themselves around the nation. Not that the match meant too much.
Election day, and the mood of Geelong is magnificent. We are lucky to have a home final, and celebrate the anticipated advantage that brings. It’s a crook decision from the AFL, citing poor attendance at the Geelong-Dockers semi at the MCG the week before as its basis. Oranges were not being compared with oranges. What the AFL failed to mention was that it was raining sideways that Saturday afternoon and Geelong folk, wherever they lived, chose to stay in front of the fire. They believed the win was formality anyway. It wasn’t. The Dockers were hot. And that provided another chapter in the Ross Lyon v Geelong saga.
But the decision allows people to do what they have been doing in Geelong since the 1870s (and before). To come from all around to meet and eat and drink before wandering across to the footy. This is a fantastic tradition which sets the historical imagination in motion, which links all Catters to a wonderful past (irrespective of results).
We stand on the Terrace, glad to be in the finals, but suggesting the Cats are well under the odds. J. Dunne, who single-handedly turned the Geelong Cup into an international event, has not backed Freo – which is unlike him. P. Flynn chirpiness is down a chirp or two. C. Down, usually behind glass, is making sense of the experience of us commoners. The Dockers start physically. The Cats control the footy and get out to about 1.5.
Bodies fall here and there. The Cats do enough to suggest the result will ultimately be favourable, but very hard-fought. But the Dockers don’t fall away. In fact they are right in it at half time. J. Dunne cannot resist the $3.65 still on offer and, while P. Flynn and I share ear-pieces to hear the Memsie, he is on the blower getting set.
The Dockers still won’t go away. They are relentless, and they win a fine contest. They are victorious in the true sense of the word. The struggle goes on and on, with the Cats still there, until at the end Fyfe, Hill and Pearce play as victors.
We have a couple of beers at the Lord of the Isles before wandering off to the South Geelong Station. C. Down is giving election updates, and that’s all over as well. Can the day get worse? The Pies winning won’t help matters.
The trains don’t arrive and we’re told there’s a bingle down Warrnambool way. Buses will eventually come. Until then, it’s kick-to-kick in the car park, P. Flynn impressing the participants with a running barrel (although they have had more beer than him, even). The bus trip home is a litany of lost seats, the news conveyed by the election-app (whatever that is) while we’re also listening to Port take it up to Collingwood. (Hooray!)
We are stopping at all bus-stops, and although being in Werribee at 9.30 on a Saturday night is not ideal, the trip is entertaining. We eventually reach Southern Cross and head straight for a TV set in that downstairs bar across the road. The final quarter of Port and Collingwood is a study in Australian life. Those who are not genuinely addicted to poker machines congregate around the TV and participate in the game. The gathering grows and includes bar staff and a bouncer with the girth of a sequoia, who tells us he is a Geelong supporter (at 155kg, possibly the biggest I have ever seen). He has abandoned his post which absolutely no-one on the planet could begrudge at the moment because it is one of those games where every second is charged with possibility, and hence, emotion, and being. Port are in tune with possibility: their coach, Ken Hinkley, lives for possibility. (Ken Hinkley played with that I-might-be-able-to-mark-that-over-Wayne-Carey approach.) They take their chances. Every little win is a victory for humanity in a way that Ryan Crowley’s this afternoon game just wasn’t. We are cheering like Port supporters. They are Port cheers, not anti-Collingwood cheers, for who can’t empathise a little with Bucks.
Port win a beauty. The Cats dodge a bullet because they will now play young Port at the MCG, instead of the Pies.
I am flat out all week. Footyalmanac.com.au is on fire with fantastic pieces about a cracking first week of the finals which makes The Wrong Dreams of the dullards and egotists and meglomaniacs of footy look even further from the mark than they already do.
Our editor Cookie asks people to tell the story their favourite footballer as a child and I think immediately of Ken Hinkley (when I was a 27 year old child). Can I write something about him, and why I have loved him for so long in the week Geelong is playing Port, and expected to win?
I hold off.
But I can mention it now. Here is what I wrote in Loose Men Everywhere, penned at the kitchen table in Highgate Hill, Brisbane, during the season of 2002, when to follow footy meant watching delayed telecasts in the wee small hours:
“It’s probably a good thing that you can’t see yourself watching footy on TV at 3.30 in the morning…..You act strangely, occasionally jumping off the couch, the doona flying into the air. And you yell. Loudly. You don’t mean to yell but the sublimely skilful Ken Hinkley (whom you love), a great backer of his own (outstanding) judgment leaves his opponent (which worries you because you lack faith) to make a contest on the wing. He flies, takes the grab brilliantly (which delights you), hits the ground running, turns into trouble (which infuriates you), beats one opponent with an exquisite dummy and another with a blind turn (which delights you even more) has a bounce and hits G. Ablett lace-out forty from goal. Which makes you yell. That’s precisely why God gave us the gift of yelling – because he knew he was going to give us Kenny Hinkley as well.
He remains one of my all-time faves – and is adding to his legend as a coach. What a good man to be coaching Chad Wingard and Travis Boak, big Lobbe et al. The right man.
Friday night and the Cats should be OK, although losing Boris Enright is a major concern, and the Cats did cop a belting from the Dockers.
I have a beer with P. Flynn and Dom Fortuna, to settle the nerves and the curry I have purchased from the new Curry Cart. Most Catters are confident.
I watch by myself, yet in the company of strangers. It’s something I don’t mind doing from time to time.
Chappy kicks the opening couple of goals but then things go awry. The Power get back, and then race forward. The Geelong grid is easily penetrated with the pacey, young Port side finding space everywhere. They kick six of the next seven and at half-time a silence descends on the ground. This is serious. It can go two ways: Port keep it up as they had the previous week, or the Cats get back on track.
Thank the Lord it’s the latter. The Cats start winning the footy in the centre and streaming forward in one of those seven-minute Geelong frenzies which typify the generation. They also sort a few things out defensively, playing sweepers a little deeper (to my eye) so that Port don’t get over-the-top and out-the-back just as Freo had done. The pressure in the forward line is more intense as well.
Their form in the second half is much better, and it’s heartening to feel that there is still much improvement in them. They had become stop-start in their attack. One of the great strengths of the Cats has been their rapid-fire ball movement. Get it – and go. Straight away. Hence, good decision-making has created an illusion of pace. (Cameron Ling is not quick). It’s more than an illusion. But you have to have the belief in your teammates to take the game on like that.
That was back in the second half, the intentions flagged in the opening seconds when Johnno handballed to Travis Varcoe, rapping around. There is nothing illusory about Varcoe’s pace – nor Motlop’s. They are big pluses for Geelong against Hawthorn. Varcoe and the Universe are just out of kilter at the moment. He’s getting it, but butchering it. It’s fractional. If they are re-connected, re-coordinated, look out.
So we win. I enjoy an ale with some Costellos and, as I sit on the train going home, I find myself contemplating another prelim. We’re in it, against the faves.
Yes, Dad, we can win this.