AFL Grand Final: I went the Corp; 14 days on, Beautiful-Ugly, 11.11 Heaven, Tears, Redemption and Elvis.

 Apologies this is late, there were celebrations and lawn to mow.

I’ll begin with confession. I don’t wish to be led through the village in stocks while the public throws moldy fruit and excrement, but I sat in a corporate section at the 2013 Grand Final. I never do this. Okay I’ve done it once before, but that’s very little form. Allow me to put the matters in mitigation.

The lead up was unexpected. I had my ticket for the match. However, on Wednesday I received a phone call from the lovely but ‘indifferent-to-football’ one, who advised she had secured 2 corporate tickets (for her and I) through her work. Normally this would be agreeable news; three-course-meal, drinks, view and the like. But my superstition was rampant.

The minority part of my brain understands nothing I do bears on the result, but my lunatic majority prescribes a law that ‘routines must not be changed’ (I still consider my badly timed decision to leave the room was responsible for Craig McDermott nicking a Courtney Walsh Bouncer and denying Australia a series win over the West Indies in 1993). I wanted the very familiar, sitting in a Hawthorn section, rain and wind in face, where I could shout impolitic. Corporate seats conjured images of being suited, behind glass, in a too sanitized environment, surrounded by people who were dispassionate, or worse, would watch me squirm and judge me as the man-child I am.

‘Really? You want to go to the Grand Final?’ said I.

“It’s corporate”, she responded definitively.

Silence.

‘Still, it’s a whole day of footy”, I clarified.

Silence.

“I don’t think there’s a decision to make”, she said.

The decision was corporate or doghouse. She would never understand my rituals, superstitions and bizarre beliefs if Oprah sat her down and did a 90-minute special on me.

We were at the ‘G, and in our function room before midday. I started with a glass of champagne (as I hoped I would finish).

The pre-game filler included an enjoyable lunch of fillet of Gippsland Beef and Asparagus, some of the regions finest (along with Jarryd Roughead). There were speeches by various ex-players, commentators and a comedian, but my nerves were beginning to wear. During a conversation, my eyes were observed to glaze over.

“You’re just thinking, Geez I hope they win, aren’t you?’ the Corporate noted.

I walked outside to take in some atmosphere. We were not sitting behind glass, but had good seats behind the goals at the City end of the MCG. The weather was cold and the wind redolent of last year. In the couple of hours before the match I found myself staring at rain uneasily, drinking a couple of nerve-steadiers.

At 2:40 the MCG was the centre of the universe. The opening was intense. There were miskicks and mistakes by both teams, but more by Freo I thought.

3 minutes in, the lively Jack Gunston marked and kicked truly. Then Fyfe took an impressive mark, followed by an unimpressive kick slewing out on the full (he would repeat this 5 minutes later). Ballantyne flubbed a chest mark, recovered and kicked a point – miss after miss.

From a boundary throw-in, Fremantle’s Hill rushed his kick. Franklin marked on 50. Buddy’s set shot never threatened the goal, but McPharlin (on the mark) had apparently overstepped to gift Bud a 50-metre-penalty and goal. I’m a firm believer in luck on Grand Final day and this was lucky break number one.

The rest of the quarter was tense travail. Burgoyne’s curling shot narrowly missed. Rioli was almost released but the ball ran out of bounds. The Hawks looked promising, but hadn’t hit the board in a big way. At least we were on the board. It was too early to draw confidence from 5 Freo misses. But I recall thinking it could come back to haunt them, like us last year when we were 4.5 at quarter time and 11.15 at the end of the day.

From the kick-in, Hawthorn carried the ball the length of the field. It was consummate Hawthorn, precision passing and set up. On the run, Bradley Hill found Isaac Smith. Smith’s set shot in the last 45 seconds could have put the Dockers in early trouble. But didn’t.

Quarter Time:          Hawthorn 2.3 (15)                  Fremantle 0.3 (3)

The match resumed with more ferocious bumping, tackling and Fremantle inaccuracy. Against the trend of possession, Mitchell found Buddy, Rioli, then Gunston. Crossing the 50, Jack scored the most aesthetic goal of the day (to that point). We had a prized 3-goal-lead.

The Hawks pressure was terrific and forward entries flowed from Rioli, Breust and Stratton. Rioli’s tackle on Spurr was called holding the ball. Although exuberant at the time, now I think he was stiff (lucky break number 2). Directly in front of goal, chances are they ball those up.

Ballantyne missed another one, before Mzungu kicked straight to end a purple dry spell. Subsequently, Freo poured numbers around the footy and, for a minute, there were no clean possessions. Imagine no possessions, it’s easy if you try. Their surge was rejected at the tackling hands of Liam Shiels who won the free kick. It typified Hawthorn today.

At this stage the score was 27 to 10; low scoring combat. From successive stoppages, Cyril got the ball moving, stop start and hard fought. Breust found space and kicked to the top of the square where Gunston outpointed Dawson to mark. Jack, more than any other forward, looked like the game breaker.

From there, it was point and counter-point. Pav and Fyfe, Sewell’s poster and a premonitory interception by Lake.

Half time:                  Hawthorn 5.5 (35)                 Fremantle 1.6 (12)

At half time, I had a scone and another nerve-steadier. I took in Hunters and Collectors’ ‘Holy Grail’, but couldn’t allow myself to believe. We weren’t going to kick our average 16.6 goals a game today.

When the 3rd began, Fremantle were decidedly different. Positive. They were running and spreading now, where previously the infantry were in formation, pushing Hawthorn into a corner of the field to engage them on a single battlefront. They looked better. Maybe they weren’t following instructions.

Lake held onto Pav and the Dockers had the early goal they needed. Roughead responded, then a speculative kick from Pearce, bounced badly for Hodge (unlucky break number 1), Clarke to Pav for his 2nd.

This was their chance. They had possession and were now converting. Pav almost marked, before Walters did. Lake giving him an indelicate hit afterward (and got 3-weeks for it). Walters got up and kicked the goal. 41-31 – momentum veering purple. The next attack resulted in a point to the inspired Mundy. Hawthorn tried a counter, but Cyril’s handball missed our Hill and was netted by theirs. Mayne marked and kicked truly – they were within 3 points.

Cyril won a holding the ball in the forward line (and got 1-week for it). Point. Soon after, Cyril marked and passed to Roughead, who received a free for ‘in the back’ (maybe lucky break number three). Roughy converted at a vital time, then Walters took a contested mark over Birchall – 3 points again.

Hawthorn won the next clearance. Bradley Hill’s kick was deep and Gunston used his body well to scramble a goal on the line. It was another pivotal goal for the Hawks. Subsequently he marked again, but the banana bent too far for a 5th (and Norm Smith). At three-quarter-time, the margin was 10 points.

Three-Quarter-Time:         Hawthorn 8.8 (56)     Fremantle 6.10 (46)

A Grand Final is a nervous breakdown divided into 4 quarters. My little optimism was founded on the fact that, in 2013, our final quarters were usually good. Shamelessly I prayed.

The final quarter began with a crush around the ball, Freo back to plan-A. Roughead missed low hanging fruit and the Dockers came out of defence – three times – and were headed off by Hodge, Birchall/Lake and then Hodge again. Hawthorn’s brick wall was denying the horde.

Then it was Hodge to Sewell and onto Smith, outside 50.

I would have liked Smith from there, on the run. He wound up on a set-shot that went up, up and away – like a bases-loaded, home run. Hawthorn led by 17-points and were peppering inside 50. ‘Give us goals’. Goals were like giving a litre of blood today.

From a ball up, Hodgey’s spiral went out of bounds. It led to a memorable boundary throw-in. Reading Sandilands, Luke Breust glided though for a beautiful goal. I jumped up and made a guttural sound – joy, relief and belief. I was 10 again.  Slumping back in my seat, body jelly-like, the 10-year-old’s tears began to flow (Get a hold of yourself man, what will the Corporates think?)

Fremantle went forward and Lake intercepted, he had become a colossus down there. Hawthorn advanced and Puopolo was a street fighting man. Duffield ran the Southern wing, but again his kick was picked off by Norm Lake.

From a boundary throw-in, Sewell went long to Puopolo, whose second effort – a scrubby kick – bounced perfectly for Bradley Hill running into goal. The Hawthorn roar was booming. More tears (You’ll never be head-hunted this way), Hawks by 30.

As Hawthorn attacked from the next bounce, there was the prospect of finishing with a flourish. But it was never that sort of Grand Final. Later, a neutral friend said it was an ugly game. I replied, ‘Beautiful-ugly’.

Rioli marked inside forward-50. Cyril deserved a second, but looked too sore to kick. He handballed to Franklin who launched a ball that didn’t quite curl as it usually does. Poster. At this point, I didn’t know there was 10 and a ½ minutes left! A long count down and that was our last score. Freo could have folded but, to their credit, weren’t going down by 5 or 6 goals. They kept at it and kept my blood pressure at dangerously high levels.

Pearce goaled and then Mundy cut though the middle to set up Ballantyne. The kick was another stinker, out on the full. Pav goaled, but it would be their last. Crowley marked and played on, Stratton ran him down. Point.

The Grand Final was in its dying throes, but I was clueless of time remaining. That is until I heard a Hawthorn supporter, a few rows ahead, counting down from 10. I joined him at ‘6’, hoping he knew. We reached zero. God, let him be right. Siren.

More shouting and tears, we’re Premiers.

Final Score:              Hawthorn 11.11 (77)                        Fremantle 8.14 (62)

All your life, you are waiting for this moment to arrive. I hugged and high-fived strangers, the champagne flowed and I floated to the harmonies of ‘We are the Champions’.

Hugh and I caught up at the ‘G and looked at each other with surrealism. We chatted and drank into the wee hours – well, 10:45pm  – when we were overcome with, ‘What do we do now?’

The ‘replay’ at home. It took us to 2:00am when Hugh floated back to his home to re-introduce himself to his wife.

In the morning, head rocky and still in my Hawthorn jumper, I strolled to my local café with the lovely, indifferent one and had the best eggs of my life. The owner of the Cafe proposed a Hawthorn tax on the bill. Not one of us.

(Disclaimer – next paragraph is a Hawks fan’s perspective only. Neutrals should skip for lack of interest.)

It was pleasing to see Hawthorn win the tackles (80 to 65) and conversion as well. With respect to conversion, the 2012 & 2013 GFs were a forceful application of the law of swings and roundabouts. In 2012 we missed the ones we needed to kick (our conversion a tick over 39%. I have added 2 out of bounds on the full that are seared in the memory. Our opponent’s conversion was 66%). In 2013, we were more efficient. 11.11 was Heaven (50% conversion), while our opponent had evident difficulties with that swirling MCG wind (Fremantle’s conversion was 36.4%. I have added 3 out of bounds on the full I can recall). Tackling and kicking efficiency were keys to the Hawks 2013 redemption.

It was the ‘Aldi’ no-frills Grand Final, but the Hawks defensive efforts, tackling and endurance were exceptional. In 2013, Hawthorn earned another chance, grabbed it and refused to let go. Fremantle will feel unlucky. It felt tight all the way. They just couldn’t get the lead. Hodge gave encouraging words. They will kick on.

I seem to have gone on a bit.

Postscript – Buddy has left the building.

On the 4th day of celebrations, Buddy lowered the cards and played his hand.  Nobody was surprised. Even the Swans weren’t a surprise. A 9-year contract was a surprise.

He’ll always be a Hawthorn favorite. 182 games, 580 goals and the things he could do, the pleasure he gave. Personally, it was the anticipation of going to games, thinking of what he might do. From 2005 to his last poster in the 2013 Grand Final he made you believe his raw brilliance would win you the game and give you something to talk about all week. The name Franklin will sit alongside the great names at Hawthorn. It has been a privilege to watch him.

It happens all the time abroad. Big clubs covet big talent. Real Madrid and Gareth Bale.

Reading Peter Guralnicks’s biography of Elvis, I was struck by someone who was so big he turned his nights into days and so wanted he didn’t need to tour the world, he played Vegas and the world came to him. Another stratosphere. My old dream of Buddy playing 5 more seasons, then carried off by Roughead and Gunston, is like expecting Elvis to buy a 4-bedroom home in Glen Waverley.

I feel gratitude and relief, for his contributions over the years and helping Hawthorn win the 2013 premiership.

And after this, when Bud’s highlight goes by on the news, it will be like seeing older Elvis in the white jumpsuit with red rhinestones. Might appreciate it but will shrug and say, ‘I preferred his earlier stuff’.

 

 

 

 

About Paul Campbell

Lawyer, left footer.
Loves the Hawks and follows a few U.S sports.

Comments

  1. Paul, I approached your piece with the enthusiasm of a man handling rotten fish. Another Hawk gloat. How wrong can you be? You are my Norm Smith medal winner. Speaking of Norm – is Norm Lake the ‘Life be in it” bloke or Norm Peterson from Cheers?
    Spot the cultural reference – the John Lennon zinger from Imagine is the best line I have read all year. Sums up Rossball to a tee. And you snuck in a little “Blackbird” too?
    “A nervous breakdown divided into 4 quarters.” Genius. Thanks.

  2. Paul Campbell says:

    Thanks Peter. Good spotting of ‘Blackbird’. Was listening to Beatles while writing, heard that line and thought, ‘That’s it! That’s exactly how it feels’. The long build up, then it flashes by like a wedding. Want to hold onto it.

    If Gunston had won Norm Smith, would he be Norman Gunston?

  3. Fantastic read Paul. I have been soaking up all of the “gloat” pieces on this site since the Grand Final and this has to be up with the very best of them. I loved your perspective on Buddy, it really was a privilege to have him for 9 years and he was a joy to watch. I just hope we have seen his best years already!

  4. Grant Fraser says:

    Paul – was with you. Big boys do cry.

  5. Dear Mr PC

    A couple of things. First, never apologise for landing the corporate box. You got it, ipso facto, you deserve it!. Second, my favourite line: “At half time, I had a scone and another nerve-steadier.” A scone!

    Can I call you on a technicality? When you say, “Cyril’s handball missed our Hill” it implies it was Cyril’s fault. I think this passage in the game highlighted how much quicker Rioli mind is than most other footballers. If Hill had caught Rioli’s pass and intention the ball would have swept goalwards in the blink of an eye.

    Next fave line: “joy, relief and belief” – game hasn’t finished but I know where your at.

    Sorry, this is the best passage: In the morning, head rocky and still in my Hawthorn jumper, I strolled to my local café with the lovely, indifferent one and had the best eggs of my life.

    50 more weeks to celebrate!

  6. Wonderful rollicking piece which has opened old wounds.

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