Fast forward to last Friday night.
I’d met my mates Paul and Andy at the Hilton for a pre-game beer. The mood was jovial but it was clear that we had all privately (and, at times, publicly), seethed over the platinum opportunity missed last September. We’d been angry enought to kick our cats, if any of us had owned any. But that was last year. The effluxion of time had provided some relief, but only some. We’d taken solace in the view of the majority of the pundits: the best team of the team had, simply, not been the best team on the day that counted. Footballing karma would dictate that it couldn’t, wouldn’t, happen again. Happily, we enjoyed an ale, mused about the line-ups, felt sorry (for only a moment) for Terry Wallace’s Tiges (who had been pulversied the night before by a resurgent, and already strutting, Carlton) and felt a thick sense of redemption in the air. The Cats, fresh from the destruction of another, apparent, “bogy side”, Collingwood, in the NAB Cup, were ticking over nicely. Crikey, Tom Hawkins and Simon Hogan couldn’t gets games: a sure sign that all was well in Sleepy Hollow. A Hawthorn lacking some injured midfield hard nuts, Croad and replete with such household names as Schoenmakers, Whitecross and Suckling, would be ripe for the picking. Suckling, that wasn’t a footballer’s name we thought, that was a dish we’d be ravenously consuming later on at the Supper Inn. Surely, with Gamble and Wojcinski adequate replacements for Harley and Hunt (with J Corey playing a troubleshooting role in the backline), the first tentative steps along the road to fulfilment could be trod.
We decided to time our run to the G so that we just missed the unfurling of the Hawks’ premiership flag. Some things, in life, you simply don’t need to see. We settled, beers in hand, for the opening bounce. The first quarter was fierce, as we expected. But, again, with backline and midfield supreme, the boys were creating plenty of opportunities. Gazza had touched the leather 15 times and all were quality. (Some people say the ultimate compliment to a gun midfielder is to give him an extremely strong tag. I respectfully disagree. I believe Hawthorn gave G Ablett the ultimate compliment but recognising, from the commencement of the game, that it was fruitless to tag him at all). The usual suspects, Corey, Chapman, Bartel and Joel “Charlie” Selwood, had been prominent. Jarryd and Lance had been well held. But, as we moved towards quarter time, I started to suffer from a sensation that had, during the old “pre-2007″ days, all too afflicted supporters of the hoops: the creeping sense of de ja vu.
I couldn’t believe it. I needed a beer to calm my nerves. Despite their dominance, by quarter time, the Cats had kicked 4.8 (and most of the behinds were sitters rather than rushed). Gamble, S Johnson, Varcoe and Mooney had been the main offenders. However, in what was surely a nod to some footballing god obsessed with all things linear, the errant kicking of the first stanza was replicated, to the number, in the second. 8.16. Luckily, we were up by 12, individual, points.
The third quarter was better. The Cats, clearly stung by some choice Bomber words at halftime, emerged with the same ferocity at the ball but, also, better efficiency around the sticks, booting 6.3 to give a Cats a handy 37 point lead at the final change. I swapped my beer for a latte, folded my arms behind my head, and sat back to relax and watch some “Showtime” footy and discuss the finer points of the global financial crisis with Paul.
Showtime I saw but, lamentably, the wrong side was providing the entertainment. Despite the Cats getting the opening goal, the Hawks, inspired by Buddy, Roughy and a midfield led by Sam Mitchell and the young Travis Tuck (is there a Tuck alive who can’t get the pill?), slammed on six goals in the same time it took me to consume the froth from my coffee and, suddenly, with a few minutes to go in the game, it, and life, was in the balance. Surely, history would not repeat itself. Surely, from 40-odd points up, we couldn’t lose. Surely, J Kennett, he of the terrible jacket, would not be proven a teller of truths. Happily, the Cats, with some effective keepings off and fierce tacking in the final moments, managed to hang on for an 8 point win. Wiping the sweat from our brows, we sang the song with gusto and looked forward to taking on the hapless, and Cousinsless, Tiges.
I pondered, on my short walk home to Richmond after the game, afew things.
I thought of Gary Ablett who, again, had showed what a sublime talent he was as he chalked up yet another 30 plus possession game. I could tell, like I could last September, that he really wanted to win.
I reflected on just how dangerous the brown and gold are when they leave Jarryd and Lance alone to prowl the forward 50. With Cyril Rioli occasionally zipping around their heels, it is an ominous structure.
But, most importantly, I paused to consider whether what I’d watched in September and on Friday night, had been gripping instalments of the footballing version of the wonderful contests between the two great champions of the racquet: Federer and Nadal. The Cats, the artist, would swan through the season demolishing 14 other teams with their swift, play on at all costs, precision football. They reminded me of Roger. The Hawks, the hard-nosed, run all day counter-puncher, with their rolling zone and never-say-die attitude, brought Rafa to mind.
We know the current psychological state of play between Roger and Rafa.
I expect, by late September, we’ll learn the same of the Cats and the Hawks. I cannot wait.