Geelong indulgence

When I was a kid in Queensland we only got to the footy in Melbourne on the rare occasions of a family holiday. We always went with great expectation. I never saw Geelong win. It was, after all, the (second decade of the) wilderness years: the 70s, a period which built a solid foundation of brilliant brittleness for the years to come.

We were trounced by Richmond, perhaps in `77. Another year Melbourne’s Greg Wells carved us up on a freezing afternoon at the MCG and despite a last-quarter comeback we lost that one too. Being there was enough.

We built on that foundation, adding two more decades of even more brilliant brittleness such that we at Geelong had a culture of profound self-doubt. But as the World Cup in South Africa was in the process of showing, even the most entrenched culture – political, social, sporting – can change.

It’s hard to convince the good folk of Melbourne what a privilege they enjoy to see their team most weeks; a privilege I had for seven seasons while living there myself.

Now I live in Canberra, in semi-exile. Although Foxtel and the internet help, there’s something elementally different about listening to the Ox and Francis on SEN while sitting in your Canberra study.

I went to my first Geelong game of the season on Saturday night. Hard to believe it’s Round 12. I started at the Spencer Hotel having a chicken schnitzel (and hence a rare parma-free football experience) and a couple of beers with Vin (the tractor man) and Trev (the film producer), both sports nuts, and Bomber fans who’ve had the smugness knocked out of them over the past decade. Vin had been to Flemington and wasn’t crowing about it, so I assume he took a hammering.

I felt a bit 1977 as I stood there, still boyish about actually being at the footy. But I also felt very 2010. I really expected Geelong to put on a show, and to win. Cultures really do change.

As the umpy’s bounce heads roofward we haven’t blown the froth off the ale before Jetta slaps the footy back to Jetta who kicks the opening goal. Interesting. The Cats have a few out: Mooney, Hawkins, Scarlett, Ottens, Corey. This could be the danger game the talk had suggested.

The Cats pounce immediately and, with their prey at paw’s length, start to play. Varcoe, an improver since returning from early-season injury, lights up the forward line. Fast and powerful, a mean tackler, and a deft creator, he doesn’t have a lot of touches. But those he has are telling, in the way they were for the early-career G. Ablett junior. By contrast, now the champion, Ablett has a dozen touches in the opening minutes, and along with Selwood and Kelly, provides goals for the new forward line which functions so smoothly it’s like Podsiadly has led them for a generation.

Podsiadly, much-loved already, is remarkable. He times his leads: it’s hard to beat well-timed acceleration. He can take a mark. He has good recovery. He has clean skills. And a true boot.

In what is a scintillating opening quarter of footy from both sides, Varcoe bags two (and a third minutes after lemons) and lights up the game. You just can’t help but notice him.

Al (the wit) joins us, and finds good material in Stanton (“Are you captain of your own Dreamteam this week Stanton?”), Watson, and sundry others (“Keep your feet”). He has Bomber-expectation in his veins and he is worried this will turn into a blowout. So are his mates.

They needn’t be. During the second quarter the Bombers are more than competitive. Having fought their way back in to the game, they take it up to the Cats. Ryder times his leaps and takes some beautiful marks. Watson breaks clear. With the score just seven points the difference Gumbleton leads and marks, but shows he is a genuinely unlucky footballer when Mark Blake denies him on the goal-line with a grab that surprises the entire stadium.

The Bombers make other opportunities for themselves. Gumbleton snaps: point. Davey hits the post. Varcoe creates a ripper goal for Stokes. Hurley replies. And when the Bombers win the centre bounce and Gumbleton’s quick lead is honoured he can put his side in front. He misses the lot. The boys groan a groan that is remarkably like an early-millennium Geelong groan.

Cats fans might be a little anxious, but there is a sense that the Cats are cruising and as Trev keeps reminding us will, “flick the switch at any second.”

He’s obviously watched footy for a long time. The Cats dominate the dying minutes of the first half to lead by three goals. And then pour it on after the break. By the 20 -minute mark of the quarter the Cats have kicked half a dozen goals to a single point. Game over.

The Cats are so skilful, and versatile. Bartel plays up forward. Kelly does the tough stuff and doesn’t waste a possession. Byrnes roams for a while. Podsiadly plays the stay-at-home full forward role, but will lead like Vander to the wing when it’s required. Johnno is just Johnno. Varcoe winds up with five goals and is unlucky not to be in the votes.

The Bombers play like a young side. In flashes their coach allows them to play a traditional structure but knows they are not quite ready to rely on it. He wants to but he can’t. If he leaves them man-on-man around the ground they’ll lose by 20 goals against the tough bodies and tremendous skills of the Cats.

So he calls them back into defence in a zonal-floody-looking thing that renders them impotent (as the boys keeping pointing out). When they win the ball in defence and look for the leading Gumbleton or Hurley or Ryder, he’s just not there. However, at a centre bounce, when they have a traditional set-up, and win the ball, they look very good.

It has been an entertaining game, enjoyed in entertaining company. Always good to see Bomber fans shaped in the forge of the mid-80s, show hints of `06 Geelong.

I leave persuaded that Melbourne is a great place to live.

The tram clanks up Collins Street.

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 – Theo9, Anna8, Evie6.

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. JTH – glad you enjoyed your return “home” to Melbourne.

    I reckon Jimmy Kelly could win the brownlow this season. You could probably get 70/1.

  2. Tony Robb says:

    John

    I also got to attend Saturdays game and it was great to watch the Cats click after half time. With due resapect to your Bomber mates. are Essedons supporters, pound for pound, the greatest mob of un educated whiners in the game. Their incesant calling for non existant free kicks galled me all night. That said the 4 young yobs in the Cats jumpers in front did a fine job as well.

    The Cats were sharp and will take a lot of beating again. The yound blokes who played on Saturday create pressure on the group to perfrrom whcih is healthy. Only concern, Stevei Wonder. Need a kick up the arse in the magoos/ Playing selfish footie and has a touch of the Fevs about his body language when they dont kick it to him.

    Like your mate Vin. We too ventured to racing HQ for what was a dirty day with an odd end. 15 straight losers and still got a percentage of both the Quaddie and the Big Six which covered losses and paid for the Indian. Tis strange times we live in.

    cheers

    Tony

  3. Dave Latham says:

    Essendon supporters have a sense of entitlement regarding free-kicks that would explode whatever device you measure that on.

  4. John

    Glad you enjoyed your visit back ‘home’. Pods is an amazing story isn’t he. So skilful and aware for a big fellow. I reckon you have to see him live to appreciate just how good he is. Always seems to lead to the right place and his marking is vice-like. An enormously strong man.

    We were behind the flight of the ball for his pass to Bartel from the boundary line at the Lockett end. Sized it up, caressed it onto his boot and floated it over a couple of Bomber defenders onto Jimmy’s chest 10m out straight in front. Sublime.

    Glad we’ve got him. Go Cats.

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