AFL Semi-Finals: Now for Jodie’s Cats

The evening begins to take over, closing what has to this moment been a great day.  A traditional beer and a Mitre Burger at one of Melbourne’s famous taverns for a first-time meeting with an online football friend (the famous Walesy from tooserious.net.au), followed by a walk with my wife Jodie to the MCG.

It’s hot, but a perfect night for a romantic stroll along the Yarra, I tell myself, squeezing Jodie’s hand.   We start the “walk to the ‘G” and enjoy the view over the south-eastern trees encapsulating Melbourne’s skyline.  It really has it all, Melbourne, I tell myself.  Beautiful weather, excellent dining, great infrastructure, lovely gardens, the ferris wheel, and the sporting complex of the MCG, Rod Laver and Hisense (whatever) arena.

The saxophonist is there, blaring away first the mighty Magpies theme song, followed by a jazzy adaptation of the Marine’s Hymn.  It’s here that I inform Jodie that this was actually not the Crows’ first theme song, and that the song that should be being played is “here we go, here we go Camry Crows”.  Full of tradition are our opponents tonight.

Regardless, it’s not the night for an interstate team to parade their song on our ground.  The bookmakers, and most especially the Adelaide media, has frothed at the mouth about our rivals, but I am convinced that though things look grim, Collingwood will find a way to win. Straight sets after winning 12 of 13 in a season would be so unfair.

Arriving at the Ponsford Stand, I separate myself from Jodie, who heads home for a quiet evening of music practice.  Her team, after all, awaits the winner of this epic encounter, and for the record she tips the Crows.  “I’d prefer to play Adelaide in the day than Collingwood at night.” So it’s settled then, there is war even within my own household.  I give her directions to Jolimont Station, then slip in the headphones and the familiar voices on SEN.

Entering the arena, I start the steady climb up the rows into my favourite vantage point – level Q.  Now ensconsed in my seat, I admit that the situation is different to normal. As an AFL member, I normally have a perch right in the middle, but the online ticketing system always plays havoc with my normal plans.  Last week, I stood for the first time since Victoria Park days, and now I sit next to someone with a fence between us.  I am within touching distance of the general admission area, and, to my poor fortune, a nest of Crows.

The poor fortune continues when for some unknown reason, my Walkman plays up, and I must listen to the boys at MMM.  Just like last week.  And I know Garry Lyon loves kicking the Pies when they are down.

And down they are, almost from the first bounce.  Maxwell skates around on moulded soles, and our defenders suffer similar brain fades.  Almost inevitably, the Crows start their infernal flip flip handball handball junk, and I wonder if we will ever get our hands on the ball.  5 goals down at quarter time, and Vince is the main destroyer.  Leaving our skipper loose on the backline has left us exposed to a full-on Adelaide midfield assault, and we’re not handling it at all well.  I hear the sounds of the Adelaide army breaking out into another chant, and see the passionate Crows next door baiting the Magpie fans.

I SMS Jodie and write those fateful words “season over 29 down qtr time” and press send.  I take the headphones out of my ear and sit shellshocked through the break.  Another season over.  I’d said these words once before.  Beaten by Carlton earlier in the year, and 3-5 I doubted the Pies’ ability to regain a top 4 berth.  The Pies had proven me wrong before.  Surely not again.  Jodie replies with a hopeful thought that Geelong will end their season the next week.  Good luck on the strength of that quarter.

The Crows inch further in front, despite our Brazilian half back H kicking a long goal.  “That’s how you should do it,” the Pie fans yell to our ineffective forwards.  Inevitably though, the Crows go to a 32-point lead, before the flooding in defence appears to stop our opponents in their tracks.  As the Birdman flies high I wonder if he is the only player who gets away with hands in the back.

We score a consolation goal late in the half, but I enjoy seeing a Didak-Cloke combination, finished off by Wellingham.  Maybe we can get back into this one.  If only we go man on man.  The gallery of Magpies all around me are convinced that the zone is killing us, but Mick is showing faith in the boys.  “The first two goals of the half and we’re back in it.”  Experts up in the stands making all the hard decisions Mick just isn’t prepared to do.  It’s our season on the line, but still we persist in defensive tactics.

Going in at half time down by 26.  A lot of hard work has reduced the margin by a mere 4 points, and we’ve kicked 3 in a half.  10 in the last 6 quarters.  It’s time for this defensive nonsense to stop, I think, as the Crow fans around me enjoy their prepared sandwiches grinning.

I sit alone at half-time, trying to collect my thoughts.  No radio, no nothing, I just close my eyes and breathe deeply.  Tears form and I can only think the passion for the game is getting to me.  I sniff, and put in the headphones to hear trenchant critic Danny Frawley desperately trying to get the Pies going, as if he were our coach.  This gives me some sort of confidence.  Mick might be doing the same.  First two goals.

The second half begins, and immediately I notice the zone is closed down, and it’s man on man.  This is the way I like it, and I think the fans enjoy these sorts of struggles.  We see a 7 man forward line, but it’s better clogged than loose. Clogged is our style – the Magpie way under Mick.

We get the ball going around the boundary with a loose man created, but Didak doesn’t blaze away, finding Lockyer, then Swan who goals.  Magpie fans around the stadium breathe a sigh of relief.  We are within 4 goals, but have no right to be.  And we’re making hard work of it.  Surely the tide must turn.  Cloke marks, then passes.  I am dismayed at his lack of confidence, but delighted that Brad Dick gets a chance to get into the game.  He goals.  He pumps his chest in traditional manner.  The Pies are coming.  3 in a row.  A fan next to me through the fence says: “I’ve been waiting for this.  I’m a Swans fan, and when are you going to make some noise.”  I tell him wait until we lead.

The headphones are gone, but the noise around the stadium is electric as a COLLINGWOOD chant goes up for the first time this season.  The barrackers are shouting.  Here we come.
Johnson nails a Crow, then two goals from 45 on his rusty trusty left foot.  Another free, another unreliable leftie in Cloke goals, and suddenly we are in front.

I grin to the fan next to me through the fence.  The roar is deafening and as I like to say the natives are rattling the cages.

Brad Dick, the kid who started all this, gets a crumb off a rare Goodwin dropped mark, and the finishing skills are exquisite. Pies 11 up and roaring ahead.  I begin to dream about next week, and a meeting with the Cats.   The midfield led by Swan, but backed up by Sidebottom and Thomas are working over the Crows.  Heater, Max, TOOOOOOOVEY, H and THE SACK have put up a wall.   This is more like it.  I’ve waited 5 weeks for this boys, but not a moment too soon.

Three-quarter time and the Pies ahead by 10 from nowhere.  I now start to get nervous, as I see Neil Craig imploring his team for one final effort.  I remember the unfair nature of the 8 vs 6 day break, and though I consider Knights injury on the bench, I reckon the stores are even.  I hope the rotations are on in earnest and that we have something in the tank.

This requirement is tested immediately the final quarter starts.  Our run has been snapped, we are now kicking away from the cheersquad, and the Crows goal through first Thompson, then Tippett runs into an open goal, set up by that great young star Dangerfield taking a hit for the team.  Goodbye lead, hello nervousness.

The Crows attack again, and are rewarded as Jack-knife Tippett’s head cracks, and from point blank range from the free kick, the Crows now go up by 7 points.  The Adelaide supporters at the Punt Road end of the stadium renew their strength and rise up.

Turnovers galore result, as both sides thrown punches.  I’m afraid the Magpies might not have the run to charge down a margin.  The next goal is critical.  Everyone in the stadim recognises this.

Off half-back, a young kid by the name of Macaffer starts a play winning a hard ball, and releases Thomas in space, who links him up again.  I start to rise from my seat.  “All the way Caffs,” I yell as the kid in his fourth game charges, bounces, and hammers it home from 50.  Pandemonium in the stands.  The Pies are not done yet.

The Pies charge down and Caffs gets another clutch mark to put us in front, but under pressure (and with me whispering Rupert Betheras to the Magpie mate behind me) he fluffs the chance.  Scores level.

The Magpie crowd frantically tries to lift its team through a mixture of fanatical applause and chanting.  It’s do or die, and the Magpie fans are not being found wanting.  It’s epic stuff, because the 20,000 Croweaters who have made the trek are doing the exact same thing.   This is why I love AFL football so much.  It’s death or glory with nothing in between.  Even in the packed AFL members, it’s no chardonnay set, just passionate screaming fans.  My Sydney Swans friend is getting into it, rising like the tides with every goal.  He is getting every dollar’s worth.

Sidebottom extricates the ball, sells another bit of candy and on his left spots up the big lump Leigh Brown 50 out from goal.  I am not confident the whipping boy can give us something, but I hope.  At worst he just needs to score.  Put us in front Leroy.   The big fella lets loose with everything he has.  I watch the goal umpire, who does not move, but is watching intently as there is a jostle on the goal line.  The ball clears, and I see the umpire take that fateful pregnant pause.  I know the result and so does the Magpie army, who lift their arms in jubilation.  Leroy pumps the air with delight, then in typical Magpie fashion sprints off to the bench and a lie down.  I wouldn’t mind one myself.  6 points up.

The Crows clear the ball from deep in defence, and in typical late-game fashion go up the guts.  Reckless running by McLeod pays off as he hits the leading Sellar, and like Macaffer before him, has the chance in one of his first games of league footy to make a name for himself in a final.  He misses, the pressure surely too great for him to bear, however he scores a point, making the difference 5 and the air thick with tension.  Surely a grand finish will result from such an epic game from worthy combatants.  A fan around me yells 3 minutes left.  Surely we can hang on from here.  Not another Anzac Day.

Collingwood hold possession around the boundary thanks to a strong Wood mark, and soak up some time.  But 27 minutes have gone, and the play must go on.  The Pies go long.  Hit the boundary line, just like in the regular season.  We do, but we’re not good enough to hold the ball, and flip flip handball handball and the Crows are away again, up the guts and into danger territory.  Like lightning striking, here come the Camry Crows.

Presti rushes to meet the ball and has a fresh air shot.  Could one of the best fullbacks in the competition be losing his nerve.  Tippett dives in, then dives out of the way of the ball, and Presti cannons into him.  A free kick is given, and 40000 Magpies are outraged.  I sit back in my seat knowing that Tippett has goaled with every kick tonight, but confident he won’t do it from 55 on the boundary.  He proves me wrong, clearing the pack who thump the ball, but again I just see the umpire and the pause and know the dagger to the heart is there.  One point the margin, but that makes all the difference.  Another bloody Anzac Day.

Pandemonium at the Punt Road end of the stadium.  I watch the unbridled celebrations around me, watching the clock and convincing myself it may go 30.  It shows 28, so there can’t be long left.  We must thump it out of the centre to be any chance.  The Crows flood but not much.  Only one loose man, so it’s death or glory for them also.

Unbeknownst to me, but surely under orders from Mick, the captain Maxwell runs into the square, spirits the ball from the ruck contest and hammers it long.  Leadership comes when it is most needed from the Magpies general.  Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Otten marks in the pack and the game looks over.  The Crow fans are jubilant, but I see yellow running to the action.  Yellow pointing our way.

I can’t sit in my seat.  “It’s our free kick” I yell out to the fans around me, turning to face them, and we turn to see Jack Anthony with the ball in hand.  The Adelaide fans are apoplectic, and the replay on the screen inconclusive.  I figure this is justice for years of being treated unfairly in finals.  Our season rides on the kick from Anthony.
Like Macaffer, Leroy and Steele, here is another shot at redemption for a Magpie put up during the week for the chopping block.  Anthony settles over the ball, following a time worn routine.  45 out, 45 degree angle.  He looks confident, he kicks, and I watch the umpire.  He looks up, moves a little, but there is no arm movement to signify to the boundary umpires to run out to the 50 for a kick-in.  It must be a goal!

The Magpie army roars, as the goal is signalled and the twin calicos raised.  Jack Anthony you legend.  The Pies embrace, but are professional enough to get back to their positions.  29 minutes, and I think there’s time for one more foray forward.  The forwards don’t flood.  There’s no time.  We just have to win the centre break or hold it in.

A season in the balance of one ruck contest, which puts the ball in the hands of the first half assailant Vince, who is smothered.  The ball is trapped in.  The game is ours.

But then it flip flip handball handballs out.  The Crows are running with only Cheesy O’Bree in the way and four Crows streaming past, including Rodney Dangerfield.  O’Bree is the last man on a mission for the Magpies.  Still smarting from the previous week’s embarrassment, his chance to atone was here.  O’Bree slaps the ball away.  He runs, he impedes two Crows.  He scraps for possession.  He falls, with one Crow still there.  Dangerfield fumbles the ball as it heads to the wing, and the siren sounds.

The Magpie army erupts.  I turn and see Magpies in the crowd and we hug one another in sheer jubilation, relief and excitement.   This sort of thing isn’t suppose to happen to Collingwood fans, but it represents a nice change.  Side by side we stick together.  That’s what 40,000 fans are doing locked in an almighty embrace.

As the Collingwood theme song erupts from the loudspeakers, you see a devastated Adelaide team, and even more devastated fans in the Punt Road grandstands.  It looks like a killing field, and as we all realise, in the field of battle, there are always casualties.  The Crows have been brave, but it’s our night tonight.

Jack is interviewed and you see him cry on the screen.  Eddie picks up his sons and treats us to another of his purple headed passionate roars.   All is well with the world, and we await Jodie’s Cats next weekend.

Floreat Pica … may the Magpies prosper in 2009.

COLLINGWOOD     1.4    3.5    9.7    12.11 (83)
Adelade        6.3    7.7    7.9    11.12 (78)

Goals:
COLLINGWOOD: Johnson 2, Dick 2, Macaffer, Swan, O’Brien, Anthony, L Brown, Wellingham, Cloke
Adelaide: Tippett 4, Thompson 2, Dangerfield 2, Burton, Hentschel, Knights

3 – H Shaw
2 – Vince
1 – Sidebottom

Lucas Garth
lucas.garth@gmail.com

About Lucas Garth

Has been supporting the Magpies since birth, and attending regularly games since 1986.

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