AFL Round 7: One of these vantage points is not like the others

By Peter Flynn

I am standing on the hill overlooking the Warrnambool racecourse. The natural geography makes for a magnificent vista. It is 25 minutes until the start of the Grand Annual Steeplechase and I am accompanied by Ando, Doddo and Jonno. It feels like I am spending a day at the races with the Marx brothers. Prior to the traditional pilgrimage up to one of the great vantage points in sport, various punting strategies had been applied unsuccessfully. One of the more cuckoo strategies was to back horses with names that could be referenced, however obliquely, to Ando’s recent medical procedure. Starting with Snip The Jewels in Race 2, this approach unfortunately led to zero monetary return but did evoke much mirth.

As we take in the view, I ponder for a moment other memorable vantage points from which I’ve watched live sport. The twelfth tee and the back of the sixteenth green at Augusta National are hard to beat. When you are at Augusta it is almost impossible to comprehend you are there. The most unusual vantage point was watching Tim Henman beat Paul Haarhuis 14-12 in the fifth set on Wimbledon’s centre court in 1997 from the tournament referee’s office. Under the threat of rain and fading light, the unflappable tournament referee Alan Mills floored us at 10-10 in the final set by seeking our counsel as to whether or not to pull the players off the court. He held his nerve and the match continued to its exciting conclusion without interruption.

The great race begins with 17,000 race-goers holding their breath hoping that nothing goes awry. Al Garhood produces a majestic display of jumping and holds the lead for all 33 fences and about 5300 metres. Unfortunately the race is over 5500 metres and the Robbie Laing-trained Sir Pentire salutes by almost twelve lengths in its first start for two years. It is an unbelievable training feat overshadowed by the immediate suspension of jumps racing. At race’s end, the crowd on the hill breaks out in spontaneous applause. It was the type of applause reserved for a passing funeral cortege.

Another of my favourite sporting vantage points is standing behind the goals at the Lance Perkins end (Melbourne end) of Kardinia Park. This is so named in recognition of the umpire who officiated over one of the most tumultuous and chaotic finishes in AFL/VFL history. In Round 1, 1967, on Easter Monday, Geelong beat Collingwood by one point after the siren when Bill Ryan was awarded a dubious mark, took his kick, was then awarded a fifteen-yard penalty because the Collingwood player ran over the mark and finally slotted the winning goal with his second kick. All this took place with a blaring siren, a seemingly aurally challenged umpire and police horses and hundreds of supporters swarming around him. Ryan’s goal consigned Collingwood to successive one-point losses occurring in two different years (their previous match was the 1966 Grand Final). Bizarrely, on both occasions, Collingwood trailed by four points at the last change.

Ando and I are here to view the Geelong v Sydney clash from the Lance Perkins end. The standing-room area is signposted as the Standing Wet Area. We laugh knowingly juggling our headless beers. Geelong are missing Little Gazza due to a strained adductor muscle but welcome back skipper Tom Harley for his first game of the season and vice-skipper Cameron Ling.

The first quarter is a defensive stalemate with both sides kicking only one major each (both of these come late in the term). The one shining light is the genius of Steve Johnson. He is elusive, uncanny, creative and reads the play like Stephen Hawking reads the cosmos. I wonder what his geometry prowess is as he certainly works the angles adroitly on the football field. The only aspect of his game that lets him down early is wayward shooting for goal.

Geelong break the shackles in the second quarter with Johnson regaining his accuracy and kicking three goals in the blink of an eye, including a great snap over his shoulder while slipping “a over t”. At one stage, Johnson has kicked 4.3 out of Geelong’s total of 4.5. Geelong’s drive comes from the Joels (Selwood and Corey) while Mooney, Hawkins and Mumford begin to display encouraging form that continues for the remainder of the game. By half-time, Geelong had stretched their lead out to 28 points.

The second half starts with a Jimmy Bartel major to send Geelong out to a 34-point lead. The Swans then cut the margin to fifteen points courtesy mainly of Adam Goodes. Geelong then regain their ascendancy when Harry “Cognac” Taylor’s spoil lands with Johnson, who drives it long to an unattended Matthew Stokes for a goal. By three-quarter time, Geelong have stretched their lead back to 36 points. For Sydney, Barry Hall can’t get a kick in a stable. His effectiveness is reduced to almost zero by a miserly and well-organised Geelong defence.

The last quarter sees Geelong boot five majors to three to run out comfortable winners by 51 points. We leave comforted in the knowledge that the Standing Wet Area at the Lance Perkins end will be there next time we go to Kardinia Park. Sadly, come the first Thursday in May next year, there will probably be no need to walk up the hill at Warrnambool racecourse.

Comments

  1. Craig Sargent says:

    Tell us about the 1989 Semi Final at Waverley. Its a story that needs to be told.

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