Grand Final Replay: Nothing to Worry About

THERE IS NO WAY TO DESCRIBE THIS. My cousin Steve and I are consoling a guy who has slumped in his seat. His shoulders are down; he is weeping openly. A Saints cap sits on his head; a red, white and black scalf is draped around his sagging shoulders. Eventually Steve and I grab one shoulder each. “Bad luck mate” is all we can muster; we know exactly how he feels. In 2002 and 2003 we were in the same position. We turn back and face the Collingwood post-match glory that is erupting all around us. Steve sums it up- “He’s just the same as us,” he says.

Sadly this kind of empathy and insight are missing at the start of the match. We take our places in standing room next to some St Kilda supporters. Pre-game everyone is nervous. When a decision is paid at the start of the match which prevents a near certain goal to Travis Cloke, I launch a tirade. One St Kilda guy responds. By ten minutes we are baiting each other.

The first half unfolds much like last week. Collingwood dominate the early play and St Kilda struggle to break through the Magpie structure in their forward line. Two moments in particular stand out.

Late in the first quarter Nick Riewolt runs into an open goal. The outcome is certain until Heath Shaw comes and pickpockets the Saints’ skipper from behind. Heath launches himself on the ball as it tumbles from hand to foot. It is a moment of consummate timing. The other highlight is the ruckwork of Darren Jolly. He jumps higher than his opponents at many contests. From the outer it looks as though he almost has a clear hand at every tap. In the second quarter Jolly sets up one goal and kicks another. At half time he is the most influential player on the ground.

Late in the second quarter the ball is trapped in the Collingwood forward line. The Saints try to break free but can’t. They are caught in a clutch of tackles. The Umpires let the play go, the ball refuses to break free. The Collingwood chant grows in intensity with every first, second and third effort by our players.

It is hard to keep still during the long break. I bump into a St Kilda mate walking around the outer and we get talking. While the margin is similar to last week, the Saints have only kicked one goal. I go back to Steve, Belinda and Craig and we talk through our best players. Of our elite players only Swan and Didak have been quiet; Sidebottom has been a revelation.

At the start of the third term we feel quietly confident, but dare not suggest what might happen next. The Pies keep peppering the goals. Eventually the ball breaks free and Chris Dawes volleys one through. Goals follow to Swan and Wellingham. For some reason these goals remind me of the Bombers back in 1984, when key midfielders kept charging through the Hawthorn defence. The highlight of the quarter and possibly the game arrives from the boot of Alan Didak. He smothers a St Kilda kick, gathers the loose ball, drops it onto his golden right boot and snaps from 40 metres out. In standing room I walk away from Crag, Belinda and Steve for a moment and punch the air. There is one other brilliant passage of play in this term. As Farren Ray kicks the ball into his forward line, Dale Thomas swoops across to prevent a St Kilda mark. Brent Macaffer gathers the loose ball and kicks it up to the wing where Chris Dawes creates a contest and releases Scott Pendlebury who kicks a long, perfectly weighted pass to Sidebottom who goals. It is the perfect combination of desperation and skill.

In the final term the result is inevitable. People all around us leave to go home. We take a few seats down towards the fence and watch as Harry O’Brien kicks a long goal. For much of the quarter the Pies just chip the ball around. Towards the end Steele Sidebottom takes a mark, runs around onto his left and goals. The siren goes with Collingwood 56 points ahead. The moment is surreal.

We stand on our seats. We watch the players walk around the ground with the cup. We see Nick Maxwell stand on the MCG fence and lift the cup into the sky. We stay for a further half hour. We talk to complete strangers. One lady has followed Collingwood for the last fifty years. An eight-year-old kid has just seen two Grand Finals in two weeks. A guy in his forties was overseas when we last won in 1990. Eventually security kicks us out.

The following week all I have are two images that stay with me. One is of the St Kilda supporter sitting disconsolate and wondering about the injustice of the world. The other is of Alan Didak- smothering, turning and kicking an incredible goal.

Normally at the end of a game of football I am either disappointed if we have lost or anxious about who we might play next week if we have won. But now I am neither of these things. I am happy- happy that after eleven seasons of going to the footy with my cousin Steve we have finally seen a premiership; happy that after so much hard work Mick Malthouse now has his reward; happy that for now there is nothing to worry about . . .


  1. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Great stuff, Dave.

    This was a victory for the true believers and the new believers. My 10 year old daughter saw her first flag and was rapt. I was so happy that I could share that joy with her as it was a moment we will talk about for many years to come. Go Pies!!! :)

  2. Richard Keenan says:

    Great Work Dave, remember you from the school days! Hot Pies!

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