Cats victorious

“Victory,” said my mad-Catter brother, Mick, substantial piece of Lygon Street Special (no pineapple) in hand, at about 1.30 Saturday morning, “is not as important as defeat.”

Crumbs, I thought to myself. That’s so 2006. We won it in `07, and `09, and we’ve just had a ripper win over the arch-rivals, Hawthorn, and we’re talking about loss.

I paused for thought. It had been a big night so it was taxing to think, especially with the mind playing repeat-images of Brad Ottens palming the Sherrin to those at his feet, and Trent West flying heavenward.

But I tried.

“Without victory,” I said, between swigs of VB made flat by the greasiness of my sipping, “defeat is meaningless. You don’t strive for defeat. You have to strive for The Cup. And all that The Cup symbolises. All that The Cup means.”

Some footy fans wandered past.

“You’re so binary,” Mick said dismissively. “All the greats, all the greats, alllll the greats, talk about defeat, about suffering.”

“Never heard it from Joel Selwood or Chappy. Never heard it from Scarlo,” I said. I was going to say Harry Taylor, but then I thought you might actually hear it from Harry. “Who?” I asked.

“Phhhh,” he said. “It’s what Shakespeare’s about.”

“Yes,” I continued, “but my point is that loss only has meaning if victory means something. There was nothing futile about tonight. Was there?”

Victory and loss had certainly meant something a few hours earlier, when there was a kick in the match and Travis was brilliant and disappointing all at once (speaking of binary). And that very meaning had precipitated the jubilant (but not triumphant) mood of the Cats crew in the Percy Beames Bar. The atmosphere was something to wallow in; an atmosphere that reminded me of the same watering hole after the Round 1 win over the Saints, as fortunate as it was, when the Cats had eventually broken a dour game open, and won it.

That night we looked into each other’s eyes. “Good win,” we kept saying to each other. “Goooood win. Goooooood win.”

It was like an affirmation among those who grew up learning the same catechism.

And it has grown into a mantra throughout the season. The Cats have strung together a series of good wins, to the surprise of many (but not our own).

**

Friday morning. I am driving down Wellington Street. Early game-day anticipation means I am thinking about most things other than traffic. But there’s a lot of it. The rain is belting down, and the hail whipping so forcefully into the windscreen I wonder if this is how The Slurpee was discovered.

I am a little worried the Cats match committee have gone with so many talls, but I am confident Dasher will be a late-inclusion. Very confident of that. You can’t have Ottens, Podsiadly, Hawkins, West, Taylor and Lonergan in one side.

If Chris Scott knows anything about footy it will be Dasher for West. Or maybe Dasher for Hawkins. Otto can play forward. Yes, that’s it, the obvious move is Dasher for Hawkins.

The weather settles.  Eventually I bid farewell to the family, Theo and Anna practising the Geelong Footy Club song, in between singing along with ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Dancing Queen’. The train passes through Clifton Hill and on to Victoria Park, and Collingwood, and I am Chitty Chitty Bang Bang atop the rooves. Come on Cats.

This weather might be OK yet.

Just cold.

People find their places and prepare. I am in the TattsBet box with friends. My borther is in the members with Danny the Pie, whereas really he’d like to be nearly-naked and bound to a recycling bin under a Dean Jones poster where Hawthorn fans could shoot arrows at him.

In the box the feeling among the early-arrivals is that anything can happen. I wind up talking to Liz who once told me that she finds Rod Stewart incredibly attractive, and her partner Bruce (who has resisted the temptation to have his hair tipped).

Conditions on the ground are OK, but potentially bleak. Dasher has to play.

The energy of the room goes up a notch when in storms an Australian-Greek couple: Mary (dressed as if her Richmond were playing) and Michael who is decked out in Geelong kit albeit in behind-glass sort of way (great tie). We talk about the Peloponnese and Greeks sitting in plastic chairs in villages; we talk good food and Ancient Olympia. And I am reminded of all the Geelong flags flying off buildings in Greece.

This will be a cracking fixture. The previous two matches have been: the Easter Tuesday match when Travis Varcoe saved the world, and the Cats played attacking footy to win it; and the Round 12 Saturday might match which was a game of ebb and flow and somehow the Cats got home.

This is a game to win. By that, I mean, it’s a game where to try to not lose it is fraught with danger.

As the teams run out (accompanied by that finals roar), there is no Dasher, just a lot of big, boofy Geelong blokes including Tom Hawkins. He’s very likable, and very big. But he plays football like he’s got his YSL polo-shirt collar up and a golf sweater draped over his shoulders and tied around his neck.

I get a beer, as all good judges should and Tom Hawkins starts brilliantly, looking alert, taking two strong marks, and keen to dish off. I’m trying to work out the match-ups as Ling starts on Burgoyne which sets Mitchell free. Cyril darts in to the space. He’s only half a step of Enright, but turns that into a few metres in no time. Quick. He steers it through.

Where’s Mitchell. Is Selwood on Mitchell? Selwood keeps getting knocked over. Red wine confusion in the Tatts box and no Dasher. But, phew, Varcoe gets clear and finds Daniel Menzel who is growing in confidence. Menzel plays on and dribbles it through.

The Hawks have plenty of the footy. And space in their forward line. Osborne looks like he’s going to tag Scarlett, and the Cats must have a spare in defence but it’s not Dasher. I can’t work out who it is. I can work out who the equivalent is at the other end: it’s Isaac Smith. And I know that because he’s had it about ten times. If Dasher were playing he could go forward. Dasher would smash Smith. This is a mistake.

The Hawks get mobile and Buddy (not Cyril) roves a contest in the pocket, runs around the boundary line like it’s a lane-marker and he’s Usain Bolt in the 200, and slots it. Then Hodge takes a speccy, but his shots sails out on the full. And Buddy finds space again and draws the free kick. He’s so quick (they all seem quick), and Lonergan just won’t be able to keep up. Harry? Or does Harry stay on Hale and counter-attack?

More red wine and the funny thing is I’m not too concerned in that live-forever sort of way because it’s the first quarter and the Cats have a fair bit of the ball as well and Chappy has more energy than he had in July and August put together. He finds Menzel for another one.

And then there’s Johnno. He’s roaming half forward waiting for a chance which comes to him in the pocket. He swats in a right-hand gather (look-away gather, mind you) turns and from about 45 snaps over his shoulder. Cavalier. It has a hint of dancing down the track to Curtly Ambrose’s first delivery.

Buddy gets free again, but his set shot misses. He’s a worry. He’s kicked 2.2 for the quarter and he’s almost got hold of the game, as have his teammates. But Hawthorn’s end-of-quarter domination yields a handful of behinds and a glass of red, and a hope that the swirl of the wind is more likely to carry the ball to the city end which the Cats will attack in the second quarter.

I said on Offsiders yesterday that I was in love with Shane Mumford, because I am. The boy from Bunyip has a big future (God willing) and a damn fine present as well. But if there are degrees of love, I am more in love with Brad Ottens. When I have cause to think of Brad I look down at the keyboard and see nothing but purple keys upon which I have tapped out prose of boundless affection, when recording individual matches where he has carried the burden and rallied the boys, like the 2007 prelim v Collingwood.

He starts in the middle in the second term, and as the umpire holds the Sherrin aloft the urge to yell “Go Cats” takes over. Michael’s “Go Cats” is louder and longer than mine but Mary doesn’t mind because they are Greek.

Opening bounce and it’s Ottens to Chappy, who pumps it towards Hawkins, who grabs it. Goal. Ottens to Selwood who handballs to Chappy, and after the Hawks repel this attack Hunt marks and Hale gives away fifty. Goal. The Cats are in front. What? Michael has “Go Cats”-ed for the umpteenth time and we’re two minutes in. Ottens  palms to Kelly. Magnificent. A caress that has texture: the texture of crème brulee. Ottens palm to Johnno and the Cats find Pods. Goal. The Hawks have hardly touched the footy.

Ottens goes forward (for a rest?). He gets applause from the box, the sort of applause reserved for a Robbie Flower mark one-out on the wing. Respectful, appreciative applause.

The Cats defence is holding. Ling has found Mitchell. Enright has Cyril covered. But it’s their attack which is proving the best form of defence. They are trying to win the game. They drive from the back-line. Wojcinski (whose pace has been telling) finds Scarlett. Scarlett has loose men everywhere and chooses the perfect option: Ling, running a diagonal. Ling looks back inside, as the Cats did all night against the Pies. Ling finds Wojo on the fly who stabs Hocking-like to the leading…Ottens! Cats fans around the ground look at each other. This is a communal moment. Just exhilarating. Otto.

Otto misses.

Soon after, he marks again. But as he is slotting it through, Daniel Menzel is being lifted on to the golf cart. Knee.

A gliding Lewis sniffs the moment. Yet again the Cats win the clearance and the Hawks heavy knows things are getting out of hand. As Selwood belts Geelong forward again, Lewis arrives late. Just fractionally in a 2011 sense. Right on time in a 1971 sense. Selwood goes down and the Cats have a free kick in front of goal. Johnno hammers it out on the full.

Meanwhile revenge is sought on Lewis at the other end, and he is caught high. He kicks truly. It’s the Cats by a couple of goals at half-time.

The Cats have had a good quarter but the game is still there for the winning.

Michael has resumed his seat and unleashed a few more “Go Cats” but it’s Hawthorn who resume the better. Luke Hodge tries to do it on his own, mowing down Mackie, but misses the set shot. And then he pushes his opponent out the way in a champions-get-away-with-this moment of umpiring. Hodge? It must have been legal. He’s too good to infringe. Goal. And the Hawks are within a kick.

The Hawks win the middle and again go forward. Hodge. Not again. Goal. And it’s the Hawks by a couple of points. It’s a contest alright. Ottens presence at full forward puts pressure on the defenders and Pods gets clear and marks. Goal.

Mitchell wins a centre clearance and a superb left-foot pass hits Buddy on the chest. He misses. Smith misses. The pressure is increasing.

Hawkins strong lead is honoured by Duncan and he hangs on to an overhead grab at full pace. He fails to score. The ball goes from end to end.

Finally someone gets clear. It’s Varcoe. He wraps around, picks up the handball and there is no-one in front of him. He bounces all the way to the goals. He’s run 60 metres and the crowd is on its feet. What a team-lifter this will be. And from 15 metres out, he misses. He could have kept running.

Wind-out-of-sails stuff. That could be it.

But minutes later Varcoe atones. Having wanted to slink to the bench he fights for a hot footy in the middle and taps to Christensen, to Stokes. Stokes gives to Johnno. Johnno pops it over the top towards Podsiadly streaming towards goal. Brilliant. Bend down and pick it up Pods. But, no, Pods off the ground. Goal. Jeepers.

Ottens is forward, so it is West who climbs in the middle; a huge leap. Johnno snaffles it and running away from goals handballs over his right shoulder to a man whom he can only have sensed from the vibration of the ground and the warmth of his breath. Christensen is as surprised as the rest of us but squirts it to Selwood who throws it on the boot knowing that there is chaos on the Hawthorn backline now. Hawkins holds his opponent off. Gathers  and turns on to his left and kicks a goal from the square. It has a bit of Rooney and a bit of Cantona in it. What a game the Hawk is having.

Two in two minutes.

It’s frenzied now. The Geelong crowd is a beaker of boiling water.

West climbs again. Straight over the top. To Selwood. Ottens at full forward flies. Crumbs to Johnno. Off the ground. Goal!

Three in three (if that!)

Again they win the middle. To the leading Pods. He drops it and the footy is cleared. Bartel (is he on Mitchell now?) wins a contest on the wing, finds Hunt who has attacked well all night, whose powerful pass finds Ottens. Another one.

It’s 12 goals to 6 – in an instant.

Hawkins, Ottens, West, Podsiadly. Chris Scott: you genius.

As Michael is offering to pay off the Greek national debt himself, the Cats retain the level of intensity. Alistair Clarkson has to stop the bleeding and the Hawks send some back. Now Scarlett is free in the backline, and the Cats play a few a kick behind the play. Buddy has no room, and is contesting with three of them, although a 50 metre penalty earns him a sitter. Cyril has been soundly beaten.

The Cats kick about seven points in a row, some of which they should have taken, but they have won the game. They have earned the victory by taking the game on. By their success, rather than the Hawks’ failure.

During the last quarter West climbs and takes a screamer and casually nails the set shot. Buddy goes off with a knee injury.

It’s over.

It’s a good win. A goooood win.

You have to hand it to the coaching staff at Geelong, who took a risk tactically. Their thinking was proven correct. And to the players. You have to have confidence in your own ability to win the one-on-ones. But when you can see that the overall strategy is working that has to be good for the mindset.

I leave the box to talk more about Rod Stewart and the hips of Mick Jagger, and I head for the Percy Beames bar.

My brother may be right in the long-term, but for that hour, I detected little suffering.

 

Votes:   3.   Ottens     2. Hawkins    1. Chapman

 

 

 

 

 

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Great account, John.

    Mick (matt-Catter, no pineapple) is evidently a man after mine own heart.

    Jordan Lewis should stay away from good footballers. It only ever serves to remind the football world how talentless and tiresome he is.

  2. I think the important thing to note here is that Chris Scott is now only two wins away from potentially being offered the coaching role at Golden Point.

    If that comment makes no sense to you (and I know so many of mine don’t). check out this link: http://www.theage.com.au/news/rfnews/who-was-charlie-clymo/2009/08/06/1249350637635.html

  3. JTH – could have put Chappy and Hawkins in my votes too. That’s what was pleasing, it was a real team effort.

  4. Otto could well be THE difference between the Cats and the Pies, should they play off in the big one. His ruckwork was sublime against the Hawks. Felt sorry for Denzel. Like Dips, I reckon the kid is special.

  5. Menzel Washington has a bit of the special about him, doesn’t he Phil?. But he was cut down before we coiuld work out what kind of special.

    Stevie J special is an interesting special. It’s almost veering towards the “special,” if you know what I mean. The kind of special where he gets a sticker that says “special.” He and Menz are very similar in terms of playing attributes, but looking at Menzel’s face, I’m less concerned about him living on his own than I am Stevie.

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Thanks JTH,

    Chappy is now choosing when to be reliable.

  7. Goooooooood win.

    Dare I say more fun than the week before against the Pies.

  8. JTH
    What the hell were they putting in that beer at the Percy Beames? It was almost like it had a magic ingredient able to discriminate between good people and bad… A discerning fluid liable to bloom like a thousand turds on the tongue of an evil-doer. (And I saw them squinting and staring into their schooners in wonder and horror after each sip, their adams-apples jerking and gagging against their brown and gold scarves like the adams-apples of the condemned jerk against the slipknot.) Yet when this elixir touched the lips of the virtuous it became a life-affirming fluid such as might pool in those tiny depressions above Audrey Hepburn’s collar bones.
    And I truly saw all this beer issue from the same tap. Try and explain that to a Kalahari Bushman… or a U.S President.

    And what half-crazy zealot ever thought we’d be calling for “Long bombs to Hawk.”? To paraphrase Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, “You taste that? You taste that? It tastes like… victory.”

  9. “And I am reminded of all the Geelong flags flying off buildings in Greece.”
    No wonder we loves the Greeks so much!

    Great stuff JTH. GO CATS!!!

  10. JT, was right with you on Dasher. Could not believe it. He stands up under pressure time after time, whereas Kidney (as much as he has improved) often coughs it up under pressure.

    “First coaching blunder Scott has made this year – leaving out Dasher” was the first text from my brother. The first three contest Lonergan went to, and his first couple of touches, saw the text sent again.

    Lonergan did come good but I think our backline looks so much more solid when Dash is down there. Scarlo may be the quarterback, but in my opinion, Dasher is the lynchpin.

  11. Next to a lost battle, nothing is so sad as a battle that has been won
    Arthur Wellesley First Duke of Wellington

  12. David Downer says:

    “…plays football like he’s got his YSL polo-shirt collar up and a golf sweater draped over his shoulders and tied around his neck”

    Swish!

  13. I think someone should right a book about Brad Ottens and call it ‘All of you’, perhaps even Brad Ottens, though it doesn’t seem his way. I’ll never forget Bomber Thompson defending him after that terrible article under the headline ‘What the hell is wrong with Brad Ottens?’

    To me, he’s one of the most interesting players in the game, the dignity he handled himself with through that period, and the way nothing has changed in his demeanour since he has proved the doubters wrong. Brilliant.

  14. Well written JH. Though, must be said, I am more interested in the goal you kicked for the Roosters in the DCFL GF. That sounds like it was a worthy game…

  15. AJC, You can see I respond quickly to comments. Just spent a week contemplating Audrey Hepburn’s clavicular pond, and the orientation which would permit beer to gather there.

    Re Percy Beames Bar, I have a vague recollection of celebration among a passing parade of straight teeth, mousey moustaches and weak chins so I left with a sense the Australian ruling class was in decline. Fancy yourself as the antipodean Waugh AJC?

  16. Don’t leave us hanging JTH.

  17. The orientation Edward?

  18. I was thinking one could allow the suds to accumulate on the anterior ridge for a nice bit of assymmetry, but then I realised if it was a nice stout the color would take care of that. That then begs the question, would you Hop Audrey, or would you prefer to get in Cider? Decisions.

  19. You’re about to get us all in trouble Edward.

    In my mind the orientation was: heterosexual.

  20. DD, I meant that of Tom Hawkins in the nicest possible way. It’s his college boy hair cut I reckon. or his slghtly balletic feet.

    Anyway, he had a ripper game and I was happy to give him two votes.

    The whole piece is testimony to my poor judgment.

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