AFL Finals Week 3 – Hawthorn v Geelong: Lifting the Kennett Curse

All week I’ve been thinking about the preliminary final between Hawthorn and Geelong. Ever since the Kennett Curse began, these games fill me with a mixture of anticipation and dread, although the last few years have been a bit heavier on the dread.

 

When Jeff Kennett did a radio interview in 2009 and questioned Geelong’s ability to beat Hawthorn, we all laughed it off as just another stupid comment that had tumbled out of Jeff’s mouth. But no one realised what forces he had set in motion. Since that day we lost 11 games in a row to Geelong and eight of those games by less than two goals.

 

Some friends say I take the curse too seriously. I’ve studied the scores to find a pattern that might explain it. After 9 losses I was sure the Curse would end, because we all know cats only have nine lives. When that didn’t work, I tried watching from home and in the last game, I held my seven week old child continuously throughout the match, until my partner decided, late in the final quarter, that maybe it was best for everyone if he was taken away from me.

 

So for the preliminary final I decide to not go with my usual Hawthorn friends. Instead, I invite a friend called Jason, who barracks for St Kilda. I feel it might help to watch the game with someone who isn’t burdened by the Kennett Curse. And if there’s anyone understands long runs of bad luck, it’s St Kilda supporters.

 

When I get to the ground Jase is wearing a St Kilda jacket, a single speck of red in a sea of brown and gold and blue and white. I’m not sure how this is going to look in the Hawthorn Members, so I ask him to wear my scarf.

 

We get to our seats ten minutes before the bounce. As we sit down, Jase mutters out the side of his mouth, “Have a look who’s behind us.”  Sitting directly behind us is Jeff Kennett.

 

He’s wearing brown and gold suede shoes emblazoned with the Hawthorn emblem, and a beige trench coat that looks like it belonged to Inspector Clouseau. But then I notice something else. Jeff Kennett and I are wearing the same hat.

 

The hat is not a piece of club merchandise, it’s a flat cap, the kind worn by old men at the park, or unemployed writers in a North Fitzroy café.

 

Questions run through my mind. Is this a good thing for the Curse? Is this a bad thing for the Curse? And most of all, why I am wearing the same fucking hat as Jeff Kennett?

 

Then I have another panicked thought. In every game against Geelong for the last five years, since the Kennett Curse began, the camera always cuts to Jeff during the game. And we’re sitting directly in front of him. And I’m wearing the same hat.

 

Before I can work out what this all means, the game starts and I stop worrying about cameras and hats. The Hawks start well. We get out to a lead, but Geelong peg us back. Just before quarter time, Buddy hurts himself and disappears down the race, clutching his arm. Terrified whispers hiss around the ground, “Is it a busted shoulder? A broken arm? An injured wrist?” Then from behind us we hear Jeff declare, “It’s a hyper extended elbow, he’ll be okay.”

 

The siren goes and we’re one point down. The cameras haven’t found Jeff yet. And maybe they won’t find him. We’re tucked in the very back two rows on the second level of the Ponsford Stand. We’re undercover and blocked by a concrete pillar on one side. We might be safe.

 

In the second quarter, I lean forward, trying to squash the metal coil in my stomach. Geelong get out by 16 points, but Hawthorn fights back. Gunston goals at the 25 minute mark and we’re back in front by two. Suddenly a man in front of us, who hasn’t said a word for the whole game, stands up, turns around, points his finger directly at Jeff and screams, “Jeffrey! The Kennett Curse is over!”

 

This is a bold statement to make when we’re only two points up and the game isn’t even half way. It’s also very dangerous to mention the Curse during the game. But I know why he said it, because we’ve all been feeling it since the start of the game, because we’re all so close to Jeff, we feel like we’re somehow implicated in this, and we don’t quite know how to deal with it. And then the siren goes and we’re four points up. The cameras still haven’t found Jeff.

 

The third quarter begins. David Hale kicks a goal. We’re ten points up. And it happens. The camera finds Jeff Kennett, beaming his giant face onto the scoreboard and onto TVs around the country. And just below Jeff, is me and Jase. As the image lingers on the screen, loud boos break out around the ground  (although with the Kennett Curse, it’s always hard to tell if the boos are coming from Hawthorn or Geelong fans). Behind us, we hear Jeff say to his family, in a deep, sonorous voice, “They found me.”

 

For the rest of the quarter, every time something happens on the ground, the camera cuts back to Jeff, and there’s Jase with his St Kilda jacket poking out from under the Hawks scarf, and me wearing the same hat as Jeff.

 

Instantly the text messages start coming from friends at home watching the football: “Did I just see you with Jeff Kennett at the football?”; “Why are you with Jeff Kennett at the football?”; “Why are you wearing the same hat as Jeff Kennett?”; “Stop chewing your nails”; “Can you please turn around and punch Jeff Kennett?”; “Doesn’t Jase barrack for the Saints?”; “Seriously, why are you wearing the same hat as Jeff Kennett?”; “You look like Jeff Kennett’s love child”; “Did you and Jeff get a two for one deal on the hats?”

 

While this plays out, Geelong get three quick goals and we go to three quarter time 20 points down. Geelong’s burst stated as the text messages came through, so I decide to stop reading them.

 

The siren goes for the final quarter. Buddy gets an early goal. We’re back to fourteen points. Then Liam Shiels marks thirty metres out. It feels like the energy has swung back our way. But he misses. Geelong rushes it forward and gets another goal. In less than a minute, we’ve gone from possibly eight points down to nineteen points. And like that the momentum is broken. Geelong’s lead lingers at 19 points for the next five minutes, and a gloom sets in. It’s that terrible fourth quarter feeling when fans start gathering their things, and telling their kids to put the jackets on. It’s when you start looking around for which exit will get you out of the ground the fastest. There’s this horrible sense that of all the heartbreak in the last 11 games, this one is going to hurt the most. The scoreboard cuts to another shot of Jeff, who is forlornly staring at his Footy Record, as if he’s reading a book where the main character is about to die.

 

Then something shifts. Buddy kicks from fifty and it’s touched on the line. Jimmy Bartel tries to clear, but makes a mistake (and Bartel never makes a mistake) and his kick is gathered by Bradley Hill who goals. We’re twelve points down and no one is looking toward the exits anymore. Another shot of Jeff on the scoreboard. He’s standing defiantly behind us, clutching his rolled up Footy Record in his hand like a police baton.

 

Cyril scores a point. Then Gunston goals. We’re only down by five. The scoreboard  cuts back to Jeff, but he’s stepped out of shot and it’s just me and Jase, with a giant empty space behind us. When I look back, Jeff is pacing in the walkway behind the seats, still clutching the record. Jeff must be deeply distressed if he doesn’t want to be on TV.

 

Bruest kicks a point and we’re four points down. And then Burgoyne, who has starred all night, goals from a tight angle and we’re two points in front. The crowd explodes, and even though it’s all very blurry, something happens which I can’t really explain. There’s a mess of arms and hands and supporters grabbing each other. Somewhere in the middle of this, I high five Jeff Kennett.

 

I high five Jeff Kennett.

 

The Hawks kick a point, and another point, and another point and another point. There’s maybe a minute left. We’re up by six points. Six a mystical number for Hawthorn against Geelong: The same margin when we won the 1989 Grand Final.

 

Somehow the Cats force it forward. Varcoe gets free. He gathers the ball 35 metres out, swings around and kicks for goal. The ball tumbles through the air and we lean sideways trying to will it through for a point. Everything we know from the last five years, through 11 straight losses, makes it feel like this ball will somehow find a way through the goal posts, and it’ll be a draw and we’ll end up in extra time. Behind us, Jeff Kennett let’s out a ferocious groan from deep inside his guts, like some sort of primal scream. And then the ball fades right, and goes through for a point.

 

Burgoyne takes the kick in. Kennett murmurs, “31 seconds”. The Hawks go forward and the ball sails into Cyril’s arms only thirty metres from goal. Cyril spots Buddy in the goal square, but the siren goes. The Hawks win by five points.

 

Later I’ll see a replay of this moment on Channel Seven. As the siren goes, the camera cuts to Jeff who’s hat has come off somewhere in the celebration. He’s staring down from the grandstand like an emperor who always knew we would prevail. But if you look closely you can see the deep sense of relief. And just in front of him, Jase and I are hugging, because the Kennett Curse is finally over. This moment will be replayed endlessly over the weekend, and the game will be watched for years to come. And I thank God they didn’t get a shot of me high-fiving Jeff Kennett.

dec kennett same hat

Jeff Kennett and Declan Fay in matching hats.

dec jase kennett siren

Sweet relief.

Comments

  1. There was only one problem with this game. It did not have enough quarters! Four quarters were not enough. A game like that one was for the ages and I for one was hoping for a draw.
    Two extra periods of play would have been a suitable highlight to a game that neither team deserved to lose.
    The game does raise a point. In the final four the top two teams had to play each other which does not happen now. The great grand final of 1970 had the stage perfectly set by the second semi where Collingwood had a narrow win in a game that was as good as the grand final
    Imagine if this game was earlier in the final series and these two teams made the grand final. Four more quarters, even more if it was a draw.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Entertaining Write up and I bet Jeff Kennett is telling his mates geez how lucky am I that I high fived Declan Ray and that I have the same hat ! The funny part is that when the cameras kept showing you we all said have a look at the bloke with the same hat as bloody Kennett I fancy if you had lost that had would have found a bin at the G now if you win this week you should get it framed !
    Seriously a well written Piece where you capture the Emotion of The Kennett Curse and The Game in General

  3. Declan – a fine recount of a mighty game. It was one for the ages.

    You weren’t wearing a hat like Kennett, he was wearing one like you.

    BTW – I always hated the curse nonsense. When the Hawks beat Geelong about 400 times in a row in the 70s and 80s no one crapped on about a curse. We (Geelong) still owe the Hawks plenty.

  4. Thank you, Declan – you captured the emotional roller coaster to perfection! What a game and what a night! I was amazed to see that Jeff Kennett needs to refer to the Record the way ordinary people do – and I’ll be looking for you when the camera pans around at the Final on Saturday.

  5. DEclan, thanks for this terrific Hawthorn piece. I am formulating a reply.

    Congrats to the Hawks.

    Btw: Jeff made his comments to Gerard and me on Offsiders. Check out the youtube for a laugh or two.

  6. Great read. What a story and not that you would forget the game in a hurry, with the hat and Kennett it will be a story you can recount for your lifetime.

  7. A Boom Boom Pow!

  8. Great piece Dec!

    I too took went with a long suffering St. Kilda mate, for the first time, so I reckon you’re onto something.

    Try and sit in front of Peter Reith this Saturday, he’s been smashing Dockers for decades!!

    Jocka (off now as I have bigger fish to fry).

  9. Fantastic read Declan.

    I went through all the same emotions and you have beautifully articulated what it felt like to be a Hawks supporter at these cursed games.

    On the Sunday, free of hindering circumstances of ill fate hanging over us, I ventured out to Docklands and saw the Box Hill Hawks play a new form of inspired football against the Cats, not seen since the 3rd quarter of the 2008 GF, to grab a premiership.

    The curse is gone. Paul Chapman will now have to retire.

    Maybe, just like the curse on Sleeping Beauty, it required someone to give Jeff a high five to break the spell.

  10. The highlight of the Geelong v Hawthorn final as far as I’m concerned is that we won’t have to put up with talking about the “……. Curse ” ever again or see his face in the crowd the next time they play.

  11. Shamus-Bloods till I die says:

    Fantastic recount Delcan, evoked all the emotions of a titanic encounter.

    I watched the game in the home of a good friend and die hard Hawk, Tom. His anxiety was evident early as he paced his lounge room floor morosely. My entreaties that staying in touch while you had no possession were met with derision and what I felt was a thinly-veiled desire to glass me.

    It was only when I shouted “Silky Burgoyne!!” as he crucially goaled, that Tom let me into his inner sanctum. When we later celebrated a victory for the ages, he admitted he thought about leaving his own house because of my influence early in the match.

    24 hours later I discovered the hollow, soul-destroying emptiness of an exit the week before the the Big Dance. It very quickly taught me humility…….and a hatred of Crowley and Ballentine.

    Go the Hawks. Take your rightful place.

  12. Terrific piece Mr DF

    Good to see that while all around you people were losing their hats that you didn’t lose yours. I trust you’ll be wearing it again come Saturd’y.

    Cheers & go the mighty Hawks

  13. Nice hat Declan.

  14. Jane Darmon says:

    Awesome article ! Don’t worry about the hat, Geoff’s a style icon. GO HAWKS !!

  15. Superb piece Declan. Pity (from your end) that the ChappieCats are still invulnerable to Hawktonite.. One hopes they sign him on for another couple of years just to keep the hawker heebie-jeebies going.

  16. Declan, I believe you met the curse incarnate that night, ’twas on your shoulder, nay there was a great monkey on your back.
    You established a connection by mimicking headware
    By touching your worst fear you absorbed its power, and nullified forevermore.
    Has your own soul been dammed?
    Do you feel a desire to march, cut your hair very short?
    Thank you for liberating the rest of us

  17. TimF you are absolutely correct. The only way to beat you fear is to become your fear. I don’t know if my soul has been damned, although I have been filled with the inexplicable urge to sack teachers and shut down public hospitals.

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