An Anniversary to Remember

This year has changed me. The constant in my life has always been football. Something new, something just as important, dare I even breathe the words, more important, has crept into my every day living. No longer do I live, breathe and eat football. In fact, it is more of a pleasant delicacy that I indulge on every now and then. Never did I think I would I give up a Saturday to associate myself on the outside world with friends, away from my little room in country Victoria watching both Saturday arvo and night matches on my small TV unit.

It began changing on April 1 this year, when I started dating Elizabeth, a year 12 student at school. In hindsight, I should’ve asked her out on a different date. Not to save the awkward April Fools jokes, but six months from the first of April is October 1. Grand Final day. Six months in a relationship is a major milestone, so you can see the predicament I found myself in. GF or GF? Grand Final or Girlfriend. I’d already given up plenty of Saturdays throughout the year due to work at the local radio station and spending time with her, including the whole weekend of the first finals.

Thankfully, she’s a Collingwood supporter, so she was actually interested in the game. We agreed that, after a day together in Shepparton on the Friday, we would stay at my house and watch the game on my TV in my little room. It seemed like a genius plan.

Waking up on Grand Final day without much sleep is usually a normality for me. With the countless highlights shown from midnight to morning in the past, I’ve gotten used to watching the big match with blurry eyes and a short temper, the latter something I’ve grown used to being a North Melbourne supporter. I awoke on the day of the 2011 decider with about 40 minutes of sleep under my belt, the result of spending the night with your best friend. You just can’t choose sleep over quality time. But I was paying for it. I almost dozed throughout Meat Loaf’s lackluster performance, although Mum said he was fantastic. But that first siren to start the biggest game of the year is enough to wake the dead. The hairs were up, the goosebumps riveting through my body and the sudden realisation that this was the last game of football I’ll see for more than four months. It wasn’t a good feeling, but I’ve gotten used to it. Darren Jolly and Brad Ottens looked into each others eyes, knowing that in about two and a half hours time, one of them would be premiership heroes for the third time.

The goosebumps had barely disappeared from my arms as Travis Varcoe had Geelong on the board with the first goal of the match from on the run. It took 15 seconds. I thought of all the pubs in Australia doing the infamous ‘Free pots until first goal’ event. I imagined all the angry drinkers slamming their glasses on the bar in disgust, even Geelong supporters. Especially Collingwood supporters. Varcoe soon had his second, and it was clear the Cats, with their experience and mettle, were the settled of the pair. Collingwood started winning the ball forward, but couldn’t find any fluency. Sherrins were fumbled, incorrectly disposed and marks were dropped, but it was clear the two teams were coming into their own. Travis Cloke banged through the Magpies first goal from beyond 55 metres, then got their second. The Cinderella of the Grand Final, Andrew Krakouer, came to the big dance with his first, but Stevie Johnson, with his knee a purple, swelled colour, slightly bandaged, snapped Geelong’s third from 25 metres. Both teams competed hard, they hit every contest hard, and they were equal. Almost. Geelong led by one point at the first break.

That lead would soon go to the black and white after Krakouer snapped a memorable goal from not far out, then a Cloke goal from the Buddy Franklin flank (well, one of. He owns all of them pretty much) was followed by a major to Ben Johnson. The Magpies had skipped to an 18 point lead. They could sense the kill, and it smelt sweet. Sweet like victory. Mick Malthouse could smell it all the way from the coaches box, the last time he’d sit in one in his 28 year coaching career. Too old and too slow. It seemed that way for the Cats. No one at Geelong has the class of Scott Pendlebury, or the audacity and flair of Dale Thomas. They are a tough team Geelong, not classy. They can be, but the way they tackle and hit packs is what makes them so hard to beat. That and their precise ball movement. The way they can cut through a first year player just by eyeing them off. Collingwood were about to learn that toughness for the third time in 2011.

Liz was happy. Collingwood, who looked like being the death of her in the early minutes of the game, were in front at half time. I asked who her favourite player was, but you don’t get to know someone inside and out without knowing what sort of players she likes. She was a Daisy Thomas fan, as I expected.

Tom Hawkins started the third quarter without James Podsiadly by his side in the forward line. The J-Pod had dislocated his shoulder midway through the second and was subbed off by the time he had even checked the damage of his wrecked arm. The victory of a Grand Final works even better as all the painkilling injections mixed with morphine put together do. The Pod, one of the luckiest players on the ground behind Tom Lonergan, had had his Grand Final dream half-ruined. It was up to his teammates to salvage it. Hawkins was the one. He goaled off the ground in the goalsquare in the opening minutes of the premiership quarter, and had his second sandwiched in between a non-goal by Sharrod Wellingham, when in reality it hit the post. Can you smell the irony? Playing in his last game of his third club, Leigh Brown slotted a massive goal from 50, giving the Pies the lead by five points. The Brownlow Medalist started to shine though. No, not Dane Swan. Jimmy Bartel, the unassuming warrior of 10 years for the blue and white. He kicked his second goal late in the third quarter. This grabbed the lead back for Geelong. They would take it and run, they wouldn’t surrender it again. Mitch Duncan did what a sub is meant to do and slotted a nice goal on the run from 50 metres. The rain started tumbling down, and the class of the game was expected to turn into a classic arm-wrestle. Steele Sidebottom collected a greasy ball, turned past a Geelong defender and coolly split the middle from just inside 50. This is when mine and Liz’s excitement for the game reached its peak.

Allen Christensen, one of the Geelong youngsters that have injected the side with youth and enthusiasm, flew and took a brilliant pack mark in between two Magpies at half back. Quick movement along the boundary, a trademark stolen off Collingwood, resulted in Hawkins toe-poking his third goal of the quarter from the goalsquare. This man had evolved right before a crowd of 99,537.

Hawkins continued to feast upon the Collingwood carcass that was slowly rotting away in the last quarter. Mark after mark he took on Ben Reid. He missed a couple of times early, but soon learned the right way, handballing to Johnson who snapped his third goal from near the boundary. Varcoe joined the club with three goals for the afternoon, slotting one from 30m and the finishing touches were put on the game with Bartel, the Norm Smith Medalist, doing a Lenny Hayes, thumping a goal from outside 50. This time though, it was a party trick, not a last ditch effort at grabbing victory like it was for the Saints. Johnson and the skipper Cameron Ling both snapped goals to finish the afternoon off. It was the one final punch that knocked Collingwood out. It was standing, dizzy and dazed, and the champion had finally been defeated. Liz buried her head in the pillow as I tried not to smile as the best team of the year started their wild celebrations.

Collingwood 4.2—9.3—12.6—12.9.81

Geelong 4.3—8.6—13.7—18.11.119

Goals

Geelong: Johnson 4; Hawkins, Varcoe, Bartel 3; Selwood 2; Stokes, Ling, Duncan

Collingwood: Cloke, Krakouer 3; Sidebottom 2; Ball, Brown, Wellingham, Johnson

Best

Geelong: Bartel, Selwood, Hawkins, Ling, Kelly, Johnson, Varcoe, Chapman, Ottens

Collingwood: Pendlebury, Sidebottom, Thomas, Johnson, Cloke, Brown

Crowd

99,537 at the MCG

Votes:

3: Jimmy Bartel

2: Joel Selwood

1: Tom Hawkins

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

Comments

  1. Peter Schumacher says:

    Josh, as is usual from you a really well written piece, had the right ingredients as well, romance and pathos.

    Well done.

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