Easter Monday afternoon. I walk into All Nations Hotel in Richmond which is alive with that something-about-to-happen atmosphere that keeps the nostrils clear and the tears away. It’s an atmosphere that locates you in the cosmos. The place is filled with laughter and raised beers and busy bar staff, the clink of cutlery and the wiping of parma crumbs from chatty lips.
It’s as fresh as any place on the planet at that given moment. Like someone has just opened a new tube of Dencorub.
Old friends catch up. New ones meet. P. Flynn has taken his position at the bar in the way that C. Enright assumes his territory across half-back.
P. Flynn is on a post-Springsteen, pre-Geelong high. Not a bad combo. He has a crew with him including Corka, a bloke who is just he sounds. Corka runs cricket tours out of England. He’s been there for 20 years and has stories about cricketer professionals, insiders whose services he has engaged: both the conscientious and the licentious. A young Dermot Reeves features in one of the two categories.
I spot Jake Norton of the Wandering Eye, of Melbourne Racing Club and Almanac golfing fame, leaning on the mantel piece of the fireplace. It’s a happy coincidence he’s in the All Nations. An Essendon fan he is with Walmsley the Younger. Walmsley the Older is absent, away in Perth as a banker, because they have all the cash over there. Walmsley the Older once engaged me to present to the ANZ Risk Management Team on the very topic of Risk Management on the basis I was a mug punter. I opened with a slide of my big toe-nail and the effect you can have on the tendency for it to in-grow if you have the skills to manage it well enough. I proceeded to explain how The Handicapper decried my shaping technique – one which has worked perfectly for 20 years – as unsupported by the literature. I followed Paul James – son of Bronwlow medallist John, and former Carlton player himself, a solicitor of some law firm with a name like a 1950s half-back line – whose hour-long dissertation was on insolvency. I listened carefully but it was more about financial than marital.
I meet Corka’s brother Shane, a truckie, and establish origins. When I tell him I am from Oakey on the Darling Downs he starts laughing.
“Know it well mate,” he says. “Oakey: best abuse on the CB in Queensland. They have the highest rate of resident fuckwits per head of population anywhere in the country.”
“Really,” I say.
I order the Weiner Schnitzel (with lemon), or the veal schnitzel as it’s called at the All Nations where the chef Chris is rusted on Collingwood. I’ve decided chicken parmas are so 2006 and I’m starting a Weiner Schnitzel movement. Mine is delicious.
The pub’s bus, which prompts the term jalopy to come to mind, is coming and going as fans of both sides head to the ground. We hang around for the Stawell Gift on TV which takes a while because Swain breaks just as we are itching to get away. He’s penalised a metre and goes down by a foot which prompts calls for all betting sheets to be analysed. The bus has gone again and, as we stride to the station, a train leaves North Richmond station in the distance. Crisis.
We do the only sensible thing and head straight back to the pub. Chris, the chef, senses the gravity of the situation – it’s less than 20 minutes to the first bounce – and piles us in his twin-cab ute. Five blokes and a Collingwood chef. That’s the sort of pub it is, although the capacity for P. Flynn to sup there means that this act of kindness could also be strictly a business decision.
We praise the food. Almost. Corka, who has failed to recognise (despite the checked pants and apron) that he is being driven to the MCG by the bloke who has just cooked him lunch, says as we turn into Powlett Street, “I was going to have the schnitzel but I didn’t like the look of that coleslaw. I don’t really like coleslaw.”
There is a pause.
Chris the Chef, forever the diplomat, says, “Neither do I. Don’t like makin’ it. Don’t like eatin’ it.”
We are dropped off and hurry down a path with the Hawthorn hordes.
Thankfully we have taken up the position, standing on the half forward flank at the city end, just in time. A further coincidence: MOC is there with his two lads as well. A Collingwood spy? A connoisseur of footy?
There is no consensus about what will happen. The thinking is that it could be a draw plus or minus seven goals. A fair spread. I think any of those results are possible.
The Cats start well enough, winning their share of the footy but there are numerous skill errors and missed opportunities. They could have a couple on the board but they wrack up the points. The Hawks kick straight and skip away. Buddy, who looks like a felon from an Alabama prison, runs around looking dangerous. Mitchell seems permanently loose. Who is that No. 10? Is he quick? Does he have the loose limbs of the mega-star? Who is he? Who is he?
The last Footy Record anyone bought had Bluey Hampshire on the front (in a Geelong jumper).
“It’s Bradley Hill,” comes the explanation from someone in the general vicinity stage left, a chest-out peptidinal Hawthorn supporter who has already crayoned-in the win.
“He’s trouble,” someone says.
The Hawks thrash Geelong at the clearances and the Cats defenders are copping an onslaught.
Pods looks a little gentler than the average footballer and, for a short time, the average lawn bowler, and just as P. Flynn is drawing breath to point this out Pods takes a beauty. In fact, Pods holds the forward line together for much of the first half, Tom Hawkins suffering from a bout of pour positioning while not being helped by some terrible delivery.
Varcoe draws the eye for all good reasons. “Is it possible to be manic and have poise at the same time?” I ask of the crowd generally.
Forever the theorist P. Flynn chimes in. “Yes it is,” he says in that deliberate way of his, like he’s a professor on an American sit-com. “Travis Varcoe is our first quantum footballer.”
Motlop maybe the second – if he develops poise. Motlop draws the eye because he runs like billeo and eventually that must serve the Cats well, although for a while fans are frustrated with his game. He would do well to sit at the feet of Boris for a while.
After the break, where the players suck in the air after a frantic opening, Chappy works his way into it. Played at such pace, the contest is relatively open and that suits both sides. It’s entertaining footy, sadly just a little more entertaining for the Hawks, who kick clear on the scoreboard even though to the beer-drinker it looks to be an even contest.
The flogging at the centre bounces becomes obvious (even to the beer-drinker). The Hawks seem to run it out at without the threat of any restraint. Buddy gets on the end of a couple. “I hope he goes to Freo,” says P. Flynn.
Corka turns around: “I hope he goes to prison.”
Birchall is also damaging for the Hawks, running off half-back. Burgoyne has plenty of touches. Mitchell draws the applause of all supporters – even us, grudgingly, after a sharp handball and darting (modern-day) stab pass to Shiels (who misses).
Chappy finds himself on the slippery Hill which might prove interesting but reads the game well enough to have an impact and, when he dobs one from 50 there is a hint of W.C. Fields about his follow-up chat with Hill. There was never anything avuncular about W.C. Fields.
At five goals up the Hawks better not get another one. And they don’t. Hawk takes a good mark in the pocket which moves a Hawks fan to say, “Geez, we miss Lake.”
Can you miss a bloke who hasn’t played for you? Quantum? Or more silly?
Hawkins goals and then Varcoe roves spectacularly half-controlling the footy on the tips of his fingers while looking the other way, running at top pace, faking to get three defenders in the air simultaneously, before squeezing an exhausted snap through.
The Cats are 20 points down at half-time and the game is alive.
There is a sense among Cats fans that the boys will come but we are all surprised by what happens.
Joel Selwood takes control.
It’s not the stand-in-the-jeep-and-be-saluted control of a Malthouse or the you-go-over- there control of Nick Maxwell. It’s just a St-Crispin’s-Day-was-for-soft-cocks sort of will.
In the next minutes there are bumps, tackles, gathers, pilferings, a high mark, maulings, and a pass to the leading Hawkins which flies through the air with a neon sign flashing “THIS IS OUR GAME BOYS”. (Thankfully Hawkins snaffles it and slots the goal.) All done with Joel Selwood’s face as stern as Rushmore rock.
The Cats are completely dominant. Hawks fans have vacated our standing room.
But the Hawks fight back after another Mitchell clearance. It is two points the difference at three-quarter time with the Hawks just hanging on.
Which is how it plays out in the final quarter – for a while. The Hawks defenders are under such pressure that the Cats backmen, well-positioned, pick off their hurried clearances. Enright, Mackie and Lonergan are all solid. Buddy is hardly sighted.
Taylor has been very good all day and he is outstanding in the final stanza.
“Harry’s very good at marking opposition kicks in the last quarter,” P. Flynn says.
“It’s a new stat,” I say. “Making opposition kicks in the last quarter.”
On cue Harry lands another one.
“See,” says P. Flynn.
And then another. By this stage he needs to. Although Mitch Duncan, handy all afternoon, appears to kick the sealer to put the Cats 21 points up with about six on the clock, Hawthorn sneak back in with a couple of goals, and the Cats have a fight on their hands.
It’s not quite a Crackers Keenan situation but when Breust marks 25 out it’s about to be. He misses and the balloon is pricked.
Taylor marks again with a few seconds to go and P. Flynn thinks he’s Galileo.
The siren sounds and the Cats have had another win over Hawthorn.
Cats fans are thrilled with the games of some of the younger players – Duncan, Smedts, Taylor Hunt (a quiet achiever), Motlop’s second half, Christensen and even the big steeple-chaser Blicavs. We fans also like that we are less lost in the cosmos when the reliable old-timers are doing what they do best.
Both sides have many contributors, some coming in and out of the game. Both look like serious contenders.
But Geelong have beaten the premiership favourites in the first round.
Malarkey Votes. 3. J. Selwood (G) 2. S. Mitchell (H) 1. A. Mackie (G)
*I have been going to the All Nations Hotel for years, which is why they are one of our sponsors. They host many of our lunches and other events. If you are visiting Melbourne, or just having a beer there, mention The Footy Almanac to the bar staff, and they will give you a free pot. No joke.