I was always a chance to accept Mark Branagan’s kind invitation to join his table at the Swans Legends Lunch last Friday. It was to be held at the Park Hyatt, a place dear to The Handicapper’s heart. And mine. Our kids were born at Freemasons (in premiership years), just around the corner, and such is the nature of health economics that it was cheaper for the hospital to put us all up in a five-star room in the Park Hyatt than it was for us to stay in the ward.
So when I lodged the lunch application at home I was quietly confident. I didn’t add the bit about lunch morphing into the footy and a late train home. That was said from the corner of the mouth, over the shoulder, as I was rushing out the door. It was, after all, a Geelong match. And the two top teams were playing.
Lunch was outstanding. It didn’t feel slick and corporate. It felt like a footy club lunch. It had plenty of old South about it: old Bloods players and a couple of tables of even older supporters (“We got the deluxe coach up from Mornington”). All so proudly Swans.
Grubby was the MC and did some terrific interviews. The coach was impressive and has a nice element of the Riverina in him. The young gun, Alex Johnson, spoke with both confidence and a hint of the fun of it all. And Peter Bedford is always good value (what a sportsman!)
The Grand Final video montage was something to behold; so were the people watching it. To watch those watchers was to get closer to life itself. I turned to see across the room, the flickering of the screen illuminating Swan faces; people leaning forward in their chairs, beaming; spontaneous applause for Jetta’s run; cheers for the Malceski goal (both). Hankies from pockets and the dabbing of napkins. (And I don’t even barrack for them). That was some victory.
The waiters did a sterling job, helping to keep the room alive with the spirit of good will. It was fraternal as you could possibly imagine. As fraternal as the best footy club you can think of.
Then I won third prize in the raffle: a George Foreman Grill.
I had mixed feelings about my good fortune, knowing that I was about to embark on a great adventure, the planning for which did not include lugging about a cooking appliance about the size of a large teddy bear, with the mug of a heavyweight champion on the box. You could see him through the red cellophane in which it was wrapped.
We had a couple of beers at the Hyatt and then headed off into the warm evening to start the campaign.
I was meeting Essendon supporters at the Cricketers’ Bar at the Windsor – Trevor Blainey and Vin Delahunty – so I was rehearsing tactful lines as I crossed Spring St. That stuff that gets harder and harder to spit out the closer you get to the opening bounce. Faux-noble crap like, “I hope it’s a good game” when all your heart is telling you is that you hope your boys play footy purer than Tasmanian water and bury the misguided, disreputable circus freaks from the whatever-it-takes wastelands of suburbia. Vin’s brother Tom, a Cats man, was probably thinking the same thing.
George Foreman travelled well on the 96 down Bourke Street and I had no trouble getting him through security. Indeed there were no questions asked whatsoever.
I needed to focus.
I consider standing on the appliance for a while as I am with basketballers but the view is fine so I tuck George away under the seats and proceed to enjoy what is an entertaining opening. Johnno nails Jobe Watson early and it’s obvious that Blicavs is going to play to his strength and run and run and run. He outruns Bellchambers and marks metres in the clear. He kicks the goal and bounces back to the middle not unlike Bob Beamon after he broke the long jump record in `68.
Bellchambers is suddenly a different player. He makes me think of one of those ancient deep-sea divers. Is it his name? Or that he plods like he’s wearing a diver’s suit.
Taylor Hunt’s injury is a concern, Goddard is keen, Selwood is quiet. Young Thurlow looks like he’s been dunked in a Tasmanian river – and come out as Joel Corey.
But the game is not giving away its secrets. There are no tells.
During the second quarter the Cats go long but the Bombers keep marking in the last line of defence. The Bombers then attack in a way that would test any defence, and skip three goals clear. But the Cats fight back and Schroder’s goal after the siren actually puts them in front.
Again, the contest seems pretty even during the third quarter. The Dons keep missing but none of their points are as brilliant as two that Motlop scores. Motlop is having a cracking game. He has some helpers and even though the Cats are not dominating they take a five-goal lead. And, as that’s happening, everyone around makes the concession: the Cats have won this game. Essendon supporters find their inner-Eeyore; Geelong supporters work hard to keep the (huge) grin off their faces.
There was still a quarter to go but, despite the challenge of the Dons, the Cats were in control.
So how was it won?
I’m not sure. Johnno had a lot of the Sherrin and was at his creative best. There was a fair bit of Bomb Alaska in his game but some meat and three veg as well. Motlop was all the talk. And Blicavs (who should be known as ‘Donna’). Thurlow would have loved his first game of footy: a kid from Launy playing a top-of-the-ladder side which has either revolutionised football science and ethics (if their players are not guilty of anything) or disregarded them. Crikey, he’s just roll in DJ 728 for a kick.
Geelong’s talls were very serviceable and flexible – at both ends of the ground. Lonergan, Taylor and Podsiadly shared roles (and bits of real estate).
The Cats won in because of how they handle broken play. In the early 1990s, Wayne Bennett’s Broncos loved the deep kick to the full back. That was the tackle via which they most stretched the opposition. By the second tackle they often had the defence in disarray. At that time, sides had no strategy to counter their laissez-faire approach. They were successful. They were entertaining.
Geelong love broken play. While they can beat structures it is when the ball has been moved around for a minute or two that they are at their most dangerous. Because once they get it, ‘Kaboom’. They only need a little bit of space. This is a huge defensive headache for coaches because they are as assured from deep back as they are from the wing.
And they are spectacular to watch.
They are playing with confidence and skill. They have a lot of faith in each other.
In the match against Richmond there was a perfect illustration of the level of trust and commitment to each other. The response to Corey Enright’s goal in his 250th match was superb. You cannot manufacture that. Whatever the words are to describe that spirit. Bottle that, whatever it is. And an injection of that into culture would serve clubs very well.
In the final quarter of this match Enright’s handball to Johnno was memorable. As was Johnno’s centring pass to the leading Smedts. Close observers would have noticed Blicavs had run on, to the right position, to accept that same pass himself (no mean feat in the final quarter of a demanding match).
Boris, brilliant in the match against Richmond, especially the first quarter, had another solid game organising the troops, reading the game with the insight of St Augustine, and playing like a student of Bruce Doull.
But this was always going to be Johnno’s what-about-me game. Boris deserved the accolades last week (as amusing as the last-minute recognition of Enright was, and is – some have been spruiking it it for years). Johnno, not used to second billing, ensured he wasn’t forgotten.
The Bombers should not be forgotten. They will be there, if everything about their health and well-being is sound.
But, as I sat on Platform 9 at Spencer Street, hugging George, I knew this was Geelong’s night.
Votes: 3. Johnno 2. Motlop 1. Blicavs
(Yes, one-eyed I know)