I used to like Brisbane. Loved it. Loved trying to explain its appeal to people. How it’s not really a city you can appreciate in a weekend visit. You have to live there. Experience its languid rhythms, its summer humidity, its winter sunshine. Kick back in its pubs where there is not a care. Laugh at the pollies. Laugh at those who work too hard. Laugh at those who believe in themselves. Sit at Lefkas, the best taverna outside of Olympia.
I used to love the Gabba as well. I loved the huge shady ficas at the East State School end. Loved the balcony of the Cricketers’ Club. Loved the hill and the old scoreboard. Loved the dog track (which we ran a lap of on the last night of the ‘hounds before they went to Albion Park). I loved taking visitors from the south to the Lord Stanley Hotel for a rump and a few ales before getting the pub bus down to the Gabba. Loved the ridiculous asymmetrical pear-shape of the ground, so that it was two kicks along the Stanley Street side (where the good sides attacked) but there was a big bulge in the Hutcheon Stand (it had ceiling fans) flank and bad sides (like the Bears) could get lost in there for minutes.
I remember when Billy Brownless kicked eleven. What a day! Halfway through the last quarter one innocent at his first game turned to his novice mate and said, “I think it helps if you get it out the middle.”
Or the day Mark Bairstow kicked a 70-metre point that bounced its way home to provide the winning margin.
Those were the days. Back when the footy gods toyed with Geelong and we lived in a state of battered uncertainty. How we loved the certainty of that.
Long before the footy gods chose the Lions. Long before they chose Geelong.
Sunday evening and I have the tribe. I engineer a quarter and a half of live watching and make a few notes. I write ‘Johnno. Why?’ I write ‘entertaining’. I write “Selwood – frees. 4 in Q1?’
It looks pretty easy. I let the TV coverage run in the background while I bath the kids and do the spag bog.
Doh. Wrong order. They should have eaten and then had their bath. What will their mother say?
The kids get Sunday night treats: a choice of Freddo or mini-Kit Kat which they eat as Geelong go eight goals up. It’s a smashing. I write another note: “Harlem Globetrotters.”
It’s fun. But I don’t like it. It’s pretty disrespectful, adding the extra over-the-shoulder handball to someone running past when you’ve taken the grab 25 out. Trying to make every goal a dribble-through from a metre out.
I hit the pause button and start with the school-night mantra (“Have you done your reader Theo?”)
I’m now about half an hour behind real time. I hear the first beep of the phone just as we are finishing teeth. Then another. And another. Jeepers?
My first thought is that Selwood has done a knee. Then another beep. And the phone is actually ringing now.
I am reminded of my days in Brisbane when Friday night footy was first broadcast up there in the mid-90s. It started after midnight, so it was media blackout. You’d stagger in just in time for the bounce. You’d see the answering machine flashing (remember answering machines?) and you couldn’t resist. The voice would say in that electronic American drawl: “You have nine messages”. You’d hang up quickly. You then had to interpret the events. Geelong had gone down by 80 or won by 3? That one night I remember in particular Geelong beat North when D. Mensch had a blinder. Yes, the gods are an interesting bunch.
The kids settle down quickly, the potential gravity of the situation generating a considerably sterner approach to discipline than is the Sunday-night custom. (“No, Theo, I am not reading about the ice particles of Saturn’s rings – again.”)
When I return to the lounge-room I do not read the text messages. I pour a red and sit down. With notepad.
As I watch the start of the last quarter I try to predict the root of all this telephonic communication.
Bartel takes a screamer, but it’s not that.
The Cats are still on top. Still flicking it around flamboyantly. Still kicking shamelessly to contests in that our-bloke-will-beat-your-bloke way. We’re 40 points up and killing them. Must be something else.
The Cats break clear off half-back yet again and the end-on shot shows hooped men streaming forward. One of six players is going to kick this goal. Johnno shanks one off his instep which is still going to reach the target. But it hits Umpire Wenn, falls to Zorko, and the little nugget sends one through. At that point, there was nothing much to it.
Then Josh Hunt tries to pick out Joel Selwood, but he too shanks the kick which is to Moloney’s advantage. Moloney’s roost sails home.
The Lions are having a fair crack, but the Cats are about. Redden could have made it interesting but his dribbler is touched. Jimmy Bartel whips around and unleashes a barrel on-the-run which tumbles into the pocket. That would have been a classic. (It will be interpreted differently later on.)
The ever-reliable Corey Enright has his arm pinned in a tackle and is penalised and Adcock goals on the run from centre half-forward. Now that is not a good sign.
Johnno steadies the ship with a goal.
But the waters are naufragous.
Hanley flashes through a hole and snaps. Twenty points. Then Moloney sharks the tap in the centre, gets around an opponent and bombs a massive goal to get the Lions to 14 points. It’s one of the goals of the season.
The crowd is boiling. Like a chemistry experiment. I have been in these Gabba crowds. Willing the young Lions to come back against dastardly foes from far-off Victoria. Imagining that every Lion in a maroon jumper is a product of Kilcoy and Broadbeach and Moorooka. I used to think they were great.
But this is getting pretty concerning (as another message arrives on the phone, well after the game has finished in real time).
They go straight back down and Moloney hits the post. This is nuts. The Cats are static. Except for the coach who has wandered down from the box to stand on the boundary. He’s looking a little like his brother (oddly enough) in that his face asks, “What are these blokes doing to me?”
They’re not doing anything. Brisbane are the actors, the life-force. They are the ones who have taken over. It’s their world, their universe, their cosmos. And they are, for these fleeting moments, at one with it. It is magnificent to watch, but in that way where deep-down you know the Cats are fine.
Zorko (Who is this bloke? Every time I see Brisbane he plays well) goes long when he had a man 20 metres clear. And Golby (Who is this bloke? He’s got some skills, and some go in him) snaps off his left, thereby making himself the best Mitch in Australian sport by the length of the Terang straight. Mitch Golby, the boy from Kilcunda.
Then Jono Brown marks and misses and there’s another contest where the ball falls to Rich who wheels and pulls the trigger from 55 and: scores are level.
This is when you want to be in the crowd.
Instead you’re pouring more red and identifying the champion to get us out of this crazy mess. Jimmy? Joel Selwood? Hawk?
The Cats win the clearance and go to a contest in the pocket. It’s mayhem but Hawkins sets himself and his fingers are sticky. Thank goodness, Hawk. He’s in the pocket. A minute to go. The worst is a draw, but those of us who know the Gabba, know this is the funnel pocket. It all drains towards the goals and he must score. We’re home. Phew.
He sneaks the shot in for a point.
I am thinking that we’ve been lucky to get out of this.
I’m thinking that there will be a fair bit of re-consideration come out of this. But thankfully we got the points.
Blow the siren.
The Lions go straight down the guts, but they blaze and the Cats have set up the wall. They mark and the ball is squared to Selwood. Seconds left. He sees Dawson Simpson who marks.
And plays on.
Dawson Simpson play on, to Joel Corey who could have a bounce and a shot, or go to the pocket, but he squares to full-forward and Merrett marks.
And what was dead is now alive again.
And now they’re away and the 200-gamer is on the lead. And he’s got it. A la Tom Hawkins v Hawthorn 2012. Ash McGrath. He’ll kick from outside 50. And he does. And it’s sailing. Sailing. Through.
The Lions: home in a miracle. One of the great wins. A superb quarter from all of them – especially big Leuenberger and the bloke who couldn’t get a game at Melbourne.
How the mind changes?
We try to interpret events. We’d go mad if we just let things wash over us. Or, then again, we might be foolishly happy.
I have a very simple interpretation of this Brisbane moment, this Geelong moment, one that considers how, in a game of chaos, so many things had to happen with a precision which seemed to defy chance.
That simple interpretation is this: the footy gods have had enough of Geelong. They are sick of us. Bored with us. Let down by us. Fed up with our decadence.
The message is loud and clear from them: if you fail to respect the ability of your opponent while being so confident in your own, if you fail to respect the game, if you go nailing fair opponents for the Clockwork Orange hell of it, then we are going to put Umpire Stuart Wenn, a known shit hurdler, in the vicinity of Johnno and get him to grubber some scrubby kick (which, when still in the world of the chosen, would have had us fawning over his creative genius) in his general direction.
So how do the Cats win back favour?
Well the footy gods have given the Cats another chance. There is no way they have chosen Ross Lyon. There is no indication of even the slightest hint of the Divine in Fremantle. So this Saturday night is the Battle of the Unchosen. We will learn something of the gods’ intentions from the game.
Then the Cats have Hawthorn. Which is a whole new level of interpreting the auguries.
By mid-July, maybe Brisbane won’t be so bad after all.