I’m on a boat, on the high seas, some time near midnight. There was footy on the telly. Most of the passengers watched, myself included, rolling on a comfy 4 metre swell, into darkness.
Hawthorn v Crows had a lot to offer. Gunston, in the first, was electric. So crisp. Some big donk ruckman for the Crows played the small forward beautifully, kicking two or three, and eventually five, by sneaking back towards goal. Pod was on fire. I know. The commentators told me.
Above all else they mentioned who had how many touches this early in the piece. That was important.
Watching with my fingers in my ears, I thought Dangerfield was getting a lot of short ball, but Mitchell was brilliant. Yes, I blow a lot of trumpet for him, but damn those handballs! The way he uses it in close is so freakish.
Dangerfield gave off handballs, too, but Mitchell would ignore the easy options, holding onto it, easy, using his torso, not leg speed, to get space. It looks less obvious, doesn’t get him the fans or votes of a raging bull or arm-pumper, but so what? They punched out like lasers, or looped into the path of its target, or bent through the air to someone pushing wide. The player receiving never has to adjust, just attack. Every time, he held onto it until they were running at top pace. It’s a subtle, huge difference.
The sea kept steady. It rolled and rolled, damn it. If I’m going to be on a boat I want to hear the THOOM of monster waves hitting its bow, to rise and fall and look out the window and see lightning hitting water. Imagine that as a backdrop to watching football!
Anyways, soon I went back to listening to the commentary.
The big donk was called Jenkins. Good on him. Sloane, I thought, was having a bottler, getting a lot of hard ball, running hard, playing with solid thighs. Eddy was barely getting a touch in his 200th. A quiet night, all the commentators agreed. And there’s the rub. None of them even considered he had an opponent. This thing called a backman? Maybe it wasn’t Eddy? Maybe his man was playing well?
Out on the wing the Crows’ Smith was tackled by the Hawks’ Smith, but simply refused to go down. He kept his feet through sheer will, breaking free, sending the pill forward for a goal. It was a part of a surge that had no right. Adelaide got within a point on a few occasions. Hawthorn replied each time. It all came down to centre clearances. A shootout, the commentators told us.
Goal for goal, hell yeah! Let them rain! Old School!
Gunston lead out from full forward, sliding sideways across a half-volley, handballing the pill, tucking in his shoulder, to a runner for an easy goal, all in the one motion.
Around about then I noticed I hadn’t noticed Roughie.
Hawthorn went in at half time one goal up with Adelaide pressing, but responded brilliantly in the third. Hodge stepped up. Not a lot. Just got tough clearing kicks when it mattered.
Breust was terrific entertainment. He avoided any hard shots so he could level Plugger’s record of 29 goals straight, then absolutely rushed his 45 meter kick at immortality. It was Hudson, it was Norman, Taylor equalling Bradman, something human. Good on him. But he wanted it too much. It was like watching Scotty West at the Brownlow.
Hawthorn played the entire quarter in their forward fifty. It came in long, it came on passes, it came in crisp, with some of the best delivery you’ll see.
Roughie still didn’t get a kick. His opponent wore him brilliantly, spoiled high, got in front when it came down low, stayed too close to let him get it short, wouldn’t let him run back on goal, either.
The bloke killed it on one of the best two or three forwards in the league, on a perfect deck, against a team constantly banging it in to him.
Not sure who he was. He didn’t rate a mention.
Finally, when Roughead went looking for kicks in the middle, the Parrot ventured out from simply repeating what the other commentators say.
“Roughie seems to be having a quite night. But he’s still doing the team things, maybe?” Bruce tentatively ventured. “The smothers, the handballs, the small, important team stuff that goes unnoticed.”
No he wasn’t.
If I was his opponent I’d go home and watch the replay just so I could throw my shoe through the telly.
When your playing, often it doesn’t seem like game is over, but heading into the last the game was over. Then, 30 minutes later the siren went.
Betts still hadn’t had a kick, other than a soccer goal. I like him, he’s a great, exciting player who both lays a lot of tackles and has his tackles brushed aside way too easily. Never dull, full of personality. But he was thrashed. Who played on him, anyway?
Roughie was thrashed more so. The big Hawk didn’t bother the scorers. Didn’t take an overhead. He was unseen in a team that, really, killed it. But for easy misses they Hawks could have won by zillions.
The passengers all left as if watching footy’s the only reason to stay awake. As they shuffled off into their sardine cabins to snore amongst strangers, the commentators talked, framed by empty grandstands. About on-ballers mostly. Comparing stats and effectiveness. About a few of the Adelaide forwards, too – the talls that did well. A few of the Hawthorn forwards – the mid-sized ones that shone. No mention of Roughie, Eddy, or their opponents.
I went out on deck. It was good and cold out there, the high seas meeting ocean rain in endless Arctic winds, as if that’s all there is and all that matters. I tuned my phone into the radio.
The wireless commentators were doing what they do every game these days, mentioning their top three players by announcing their surname and their stats as if the two are one. The blokes who got the most touches got the most votes.
When did this shift happen? What changed in our national psyche? Was it a Gridiron thing, from when the often boring game obsessed with stats had a spurt of popularity in the late 80s? Ever since statistics started mattering over blood and bone and instinct we’ve lost something, I reckon.
I’ve worn No.20 most of my career because Jimmy Jess was my hero. To this day I don’t know his kicking effectiveness ratio. Only that his torps were things from Heaven.
It would be easy to give backmen their due at the Brownlow. Let goal umpires give votes, too. They know what’s going on. They see more than the midfield. But I’m sick of commentators saying power forwards “just had a bad day” when they were spanked by a great backman, then get on with talking about kicks, inside 50s, goal assists and contested ball counts.
I’m sick of the way we all tow the line on it.
The first half of Crows v Hawks was brilliant. The heavyweight and the underdog, toe-to-toe. Then, in the second half, the ladder re-asserted itself. Maybe I should have watched the game backwards.
My best three were.
- Hodge (half the stats, but so much influence)
- Whoever stopped Roughie.
Unlucky Dangerfield. You tried your guts out for four solid quarters. Got 40 touches. Just didn’t quite have the same influence.
The seas are still rolling. I’m the only one still up, the commentators seem to just keep on talking, even though, come game’s end, I think, they’ve become superfluous. Apart from Bruce. Stats are his forte.