General Footy Writing: Cats resemble a champion fighter on the ropes

By Damian O’Donnell

Sporting greatness comes and goes, but when it is in full flight we see no end. Indeed, we don’t want to see an end.

I remember when Marvellous Marvin Hagler was stopped by an irrepressible Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 it took me some time to realise what had just happened. An era had just ended. A man seemingly made of granite, with speed and power far beyond his immediate rivals, was suddenly found wanting. Sugar Ray Leonard was quicker, more thoughtful, and hungrier. In the end he was simply better.

I watched the fight waiting for Hagler to land the final punch. Yes Sugar Ray was going well, but he would never go the journey, would he? But as each round ended and a new one started it was Leonard who bounced out of the corner, it was Leonard who landed the telling punches, and it was Hagler who became mortal.

Watching a champion lose or fade away is a bit like confronting our own mortality. In a champion or a champion team we see our own aspirations. Their journey becomes something very personal. Their achievements become something we feel a part of. It’s why a great sporting performance lifts our spirits and occasionally brings tears to our eyes. Remember the feeling when Cathy Freeman entered the straight in the 400 metres final at the 2000 Olympics? So when it all ends, as it inevitably will, a bit of us dies. Not only is the champion a bit older and slower, but so are we.

Recently the world stopped and took in the astonishing performances of Usain Bolt. This bloke is unstoppable. He will win many races in the future, he will conquer numerous world records, and he will run faster than we all thought possible. Usain himself has said he is already on the road to becoming a legend. I have no doubt he will be a sporting legend, but I am already intrigued to see how he deals with the end of his own era, because there is no doubt that some scrawny kid currently running around the streets of Jamaica or the USA or Britain will one day step up and knock him off. It will be a sad and great day.

But not all eras end sadly. Cathy Freeman’s 2000 Olympics triumph was simultaneously her crescendo and her conclusion. She knew it and wisely retired; her thirst was quenched. Similarly Kieren Perkins lifted in the 1996 Olympics for one last monumental swim. He qualified for the final of the 1500 in lane eight and went into the final virtually a spectator; a curiosity of sorts. We waited to see how he would cope with an inevitable defeat. His victory was one for the times. The curtain came down gracefully.

As a Geelong supporter I have no doubt I am witnessing the end of an era. The Cats have looked like a battle weary boxer for most of the year, finding a way to win the minor rounds against usually inferior opposition, but as the season has dragged on, and as the games have become more important, they have not been able to find a way.

In the last two seasons Bomber Thompson has marvelled at the mental and physical toughness of his team (and rightly so). He has been astonished at the teams’ ability to break a game open quickly and ruthlessly. He has said on many occasions that the Cats just seem to know how to win. Recently, however, he has been puzzled as this ability seems to have deserted them. I don’t see any mystery in this at all.

The beginning of the end did not come in the 2008 Grand Final. For Cats fans that was sporting disaster pure and simple. In my view the beginning of the end was against the Saints this season. It was Hagler and Sugar Ray all over again. We waited for the Cats to land the knock out blow and it nearly came in the last quarter, but it was the Saints who were hungrier and smarter. It was a Saint who towered over the pack to end the battle with an enormous grab. I thought at the time it was a very significant moment. The Saints were simply too good.

Friday night’s game against the Bulldogs was another telling sign. In the 2007, 2008 and even the start of the 2009 seasons, the Cats would have found a way to win it. Stevie J would have kicked one over his head, or Varcoe would have swept across half-forward, or Ablett would have powered across the 50-metre line and bombed the sealer home. But Friday night showed once again that the spark is gone. They got close, they fought it out, they battled hard like a champion does, but the Dogs got through their defences and landed one punch too many.

This year’s finals will be fascinating. Can the Cats extract one more campaign from their weary bodies and minds? Can they end their era like Freeman or Perkins or will the Saints or the Pies prove too much? Either way for Geelong it will be a full stop on a magnificent three seasons.

Go Cats!

About Damian O'Donnell

OK – which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought ‘The Sorpranos’ was the best TV show ever made – by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne’s suburbs.

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Dips,
    True. Many elements involved here.
    Don’t flirt with your form being a major one. Was this a Norm Smith quote? Not sure.
    Continuity in personnel from week-to-week has been a recent problem.
    A fit Chappy and Stevie J make a big difference.
    I suspect that the first final side will look great on paper. Will it prevail?

  2. Dips,
    Love the reminders of Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. Ah, those were the days. Throw in Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran -what an era of boxing!

  3. I can’t help but think of Keiran Perkins at Atlanta when watching the Cats at the moment. I hope both stories have a similar finish.

  4. Budge, I think Hagler actually changed his name legally to Marvelous – with one “l”!

  5. Budge – the middle weights and lighter have always captured me, though I used to watch in awe as Mike Tyson dispatched all and sundry (then he completely lost the plot – very sad story).

    Ali’s fights were monumental, I’m just old enough to remember Fammo and Lionel, and obviously saw Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu at their best.

    But as far as I’m concerned (from what I’ve read) Les Darcy was perhaps the greatest of all, though my old man reckons no one would have laid a glove on Joe Louis.

  6. pauldaffey says:

    Cookey,

    I’ve had a few Geelong fans mention the Kieren Perkins analogy to me. I’m half-expecting to see the Cats start their first finals game in lane eight.

  7. Ye of little faith.

  8. Dips, shame on you for asking if the Saints or Pies will prove too much and not mentioning my Doggies! I’m actually still fearful that Sam Steele’s postulation ( http://footyalmanac.com.au/?p=3021 ) will eventuate.

    Also, (as I mentioned in this week’s Stat Dec) it’s interesting to see what has happened to the clubs with the most successful home-and-away records (since 22 rounds were introduced) in the ensuing years.
    1995 – Carlton 20-2, no further flags.
    2000 – Essendon 21-1, no further flags.
    2008 – Geelong 21-1, no flag in 2008 and possible no flag in 2009.
    2009 – St Kilda 20-2 (probably) ???

    It seems that dominating an entire season has its costs.

  9. Phantom – don’t get me wrong I haven’t thrown in the towel on 2009 – just yet. We’ve still got a wicked left hook if we get the opportunity to throw it.

    Gigs – my apologies for leaving out the Dogs. They have to be a chance this year don’t they? So long as Collingwood don’t win I’ll be reasonably pleased.

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