It is Saturday afternoon. I am driving down the Geelong Road. Peter J. Flynn is in the passenger’s seat. As we look to the south and the west P. Flynn claims he hasn’t seen skies like this since being in Western Australia.
Big sky and a warm afternoon. Good for footy.
We are running late, thanks to me. I have tried to walk the tight-rope of keeping all and sundry happy, especially The Handicapper (who continues to show surprise when I say, some time late in the week, that I hope to see Geelong play on Saturday). I haven’t walked it overly well. Actually I have fallen, and I lie in that marital abyss where one is left grappling with the very concept of the right thing to do.
Blessed with a strong, independent mind (and a license to use it) The Handicapper has a clear sense of the right thing. The right thing is introducing our children to snow.
“Really,” I said, when this was first mooted deep into the winter. “Aren’t they a little young for snow?”
I can inform you now that our children are not too young for the snow.
The Handicapper has been keeping an eye out for the perfect combination of snowfall followed by sunny day, and she’s spotted the sequence. Friday snow, into Saturday sunshine. She has heard that there will be 18cm of snow at Mt Donna Buang (“It’s the closest snow to Melbourne”) on this very day. And she is concerned that, in that sunshine, all the snow will be gone by mid-afternoon.
Snow has not featured heavily in my planning for the week. That planning has revolved around things like the return of Joel Selwood and the normal rituals at the Sawyers Arms, and the prospect of beating a visiting premiership contender.
I’ve been thwarted by many things, but snow is a new one. Does The Handicapper not understand? This has turned into a classic season where a whole raft of pretty good sides have been jockeying for position, and fans have been trying to make sense of it all. The Geelong-Sydney game could go either way. And I need to be at it.
So I do what any sensible footy fan and snow-sceptic would do: I ring the servo attendant at Warburton and ask him whether the snow will last until Sunday.
He says it will last for days.
I am relieved.
I get off the phone and negotiate a snow deal, and soon after I am in the car.
P. Flynn and I make our way into Kardinia Park (unparma-ed) with just minutes to spare. Even with a huge construction site at one end, the ground is a picture. The sun is quite strong. The grass is very green. The faithful on the terrace are quiet.
I suspect that quiet has an element of confidence about it. I reckon this will be tight for a while until the Cats get away. I nominate 13 goals to 8, convinced the Swans will try to bottle it up.
Although I am not feeling as bullish about the flag as last year, I know we have a ripping good side; a team of players who, individually, remain under-rated; saggy-arsed nobodies like Boris Enright and Harry Taylor who continue to puzzle the footy community; quiet achievers like Jimmy Bartel, as disarming a sportsman as I have ever seen; and angry little men refusing to concede a thing to mortality, like Chappy. And Joel Selwood and Hawk. Stop.
Yet the Swans also have a lot of talent, tremendous system, and the will and discipline to make the most of it. They have the boy from Bunyip, Shane Mumford, who knows the ground and the opponent only too well. They have Adam Goodes and a stack of rough and tumble maulers. (Are Bird, Hannebery and Jack really three different people?)
We are in a good place, in the perfect sunshine at the back of the terrace; one of those spots where, from the outset, you feel you are a big part of a micro-universe, and a tiny part of something which is being played out at a distance just observable, by players just recognisable, in a macro-universe that also has hold of you. A bit like the Beatitudes scene in The Life of Brian.
As the ball is bounced I am loving the world and its people.
And just when I think my heart can swell no further , it does. In the busy-ness of my anti-snow campaign and its guilt-ridden legacy I have completely forgotten that Geelong have made more than one change. So, when Nathan Vardy climbs over Mumford at the opening bounce, it comes as a genuine surprise. It also comes as a revelation.
If ever you have doubted the fans’ knowledge of the game, this was a moment to set you straight. Because people knew exactly what they had witnessed. Nathan Vardy. Wow! “We can really win this.”
At the next two bounces, Vardy jumps with perfect timing. High into the day. PJF (I think) says, “He’s channelling Polly Farmer.”
The he does it again.
“That’s six in a row,” I say of the contest way off at the river end.
“That was Trent West,” says PJF, deadpan.
Although this is a straightening of the record, I am encouraged by it. Because if Trent West is also dominating, we really, really can win this.
The Swans don’t bottle it up. They keep players away from the stoppages, initially, and this serves them well. They put together three goals, and late in the quarter the signs are not good for Geelong. A number of times there are loose Swans everywhere.
Chappy has kicked a couple, and Hawk has given one to Johnno. It’s a good game, although you don’t have to wander far to hear the hypothesis that the umpies are keeping the Swans in it. Harry Taylor is keeping the Cats in it with some timely marks.
Our micro-universe narrows. We are surrounded by true lovers of the game – in that way you are every time you stand in the outer at the footy. In front of us are two Swans supporters on tour (they have on-tour polo-shirts). They provide balance. Behind us are a number of fine Geelong analysts. When Scarlo marks one yells, “Have another year Scarlo.”
But the highlight of our micro-universe is a tall 27 year-old who answers to the name of Simone and the call of Smirnoff. She has done time in Earls Court. Tall and raven-haired, she is happy for us all to know that she’s a player. When Vardy kicks one she says (to her credit, to no-one in particular): “The things I could do to that boy.”
This is how we find out she is 27.
“You’re too old for him,” says her mate.
“Jee-zus,” she says, “I’m only 27.”
She has an eye for the game (footy). And a good turn of phrase. Her favourite is a response to a Cats goal. “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” she calls.
P. Flynn laughs. “Winner. Winner. Chicken Dinner,” he says, slowly.
The crowd is quiet for a lot of the first half. It’s a balmy afternoon, a little like conditions in an episode (all episodes?) of The Flowerpot Men. The most animated the crowd becomes is when Boris hobbles off holding the back of his leg.
The atmosphere changes after the break. The Swans are fierce and there is a stirring of olde-worlde Geelong concern when Kieren Jack slices one through from the tough past-players pocket.
But Joel Selwood has had enough. He wins the tough footy. He streams forward, and kicks long to Mitch Duncan who goals. He wins a centre clearance. He throws himself into packs and emerges somehow.
The Cats are carried along in the frenzy Selwood has created. Taylor Hunt gets going. Kelly keeps winning the hard ball. Corey Enright, whose injury must be minor, controls things from the back. Stokes and Christensen are lively. The goals come, to Christensen and then Chappy bags his third. Hawkins launches one from 50. And suddenly the Cats have bolted.
Vardy keeps catching the eye. He has the stride of Michael Holding, and ball skills which will carry him a long way.
Before long the Cats have kicked about ten unanswered goals and The Terrace turns off. This suits Simone who sparks up and puts herself in the running for the votes.
The game is over, but not before P. Flynn asks if he can second the “Winner, winner, chicken dinner” call. He gets permission.
The Cats win comfortably despite a few consolation goals to the visitors. The Swans will be disappointed with their effort. I, for one, thought they were better than that.
The name Vardy is on Geelong lips.
Simone explains to Flynny the origins of the chicken dinner phrase, which comes from casinos, when a chicken dinner cost $1.79 and the minimum blackjack hand cost $2.
We analyse the game in the car going home. Flynny buys some travellers to help.
We pass Kentucky Fried.
Votes: 3. Harry Taylor 2. Joel Selwood 1. Corey Enright
Postscript 1: The Cats turned it on for about 20 minutes which turned out to be enough. Nathan Vardy was all the talk. Word spread that it may be a big Monday for the Match Review Panel – which it subsequently was.
Postscript 2: Family Harms packed the car and, on a magnificent second day of Spring headed to Warburton and up to Mt Donna Buang. It was Fathers’ Day. While initially fascinated with the white blanket they didn’t handle the snow which made its way into their gum boots well at all. I pointed this out to The Handicapper. “I suspect they’re a bit young,” I said. Eventually, at a time we could have been home eating raisin toast in front of the footy replay, they were freezing cold and wet and not interested in putting eyes and a mouth on the snowman. Theo and Evie lost it completely and we made our way back to the car, herding crying kids. (Remarkably Mum and Dad kept their sense of humour about it, and even more remarkably their relationship remains intact). On arriving back at the car they were all put into their change of clothes, and offered a drink. Theo, aged four, asked for a cup of tea. It was prepared for him. He sat in his car seat, took the cup and enjoyed a long sip. “Ahh,” he said. “That’s much better.” We returned to Melbourne and I wondered what was next for me on Fathers’ Day.
Postscript 3: Chappy got off. But Johnno got a week. The decision to challenge the decision provides a curly conundrum which Pies and Hawks fans are laughing about.
Follow JTH on Twitter: John Harms@ratherbeatlunch
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