Hold that bus!

Staring into the depth of my blue and white stripes of my new North Melbourne jumper, I wondered. Is it really worth it to travel three hours, tagging along with my girlfriend Liz and her little brother Sam, to the one-sided clash between my Kangas and Sam’s Cats. Being a good sport, I decided to go along, not expecting anything special. A bus from Seymour to Etihad Stadium, and I started to feel nervous. Why am I putting myself through what will be another failed attempt at cracking a win against a top four side in the AFL? Jokes were made on the trip. Tissues were bought along in case I got too frustrated, and an extra Geelong flag was bought if I decided to switch clubs halfway through the game to save myself from embarrassment. Still, I put on a brave face. Quite early to the game, we easily got some tickets, no queues. Instead of using my North membership to get in for free, I forked out just $10 for my general admission ticket so I could sit in the bottom level, a good view, instead of in the nosebleed section. Not that I’ve ever experienced a blood nose. The ticket officer asked myself and Liz for our concession cards. Upon drawing out our wallets, she insisted we put them away, taking our word for it. Straight through the gate, where I confronted a security guard who was inspecting our concession cards. I pulled mine out and handed it to him.

“Mate, this isn’t a legit concession card. You can’t use this. You’ve tried getting into the game with a fake concession card, and I’m afraid that’s an on-the-spot $50 fine right now.”

Just as I started to plead my case, a huge grin broke out on his face. Cursing him, I winked and walked off, wanting to get as far away from him as possible, in case he was joking about joking. Looking at our tickets, we saw we had row A seats. Front row. Awesome! In the Geelong cheersquad. No! Dragged along, I felt dirty with my blue and white strips amongst the blue and white hoops. Knowing I was more than likely in for a tough day at the office, full of ribbing and back slaps from the rowdy Geelong supporters behind us, I tried to think about something else. I saw the big, cuddly Cat mascot making its way around the boundary of the ground. I thought about trying to strangle it. Sam put his arms out for a cuddle and a photo, then it came to me. It looked me up and down, looked over to all the cheering Geelong supporters, looked me up and down again, pointed to my stripes, and made the neck-slicing action. It brought many laughs to those around me, including myself.

North made their way out onto the ground for the warm-up, and thankfully they chose our side of the ground to do their drills. I looked at our young players. Shaun Atley, Sam Wright, Ryan Bastinac. So skinny! We were going to get murdered. Liz asked many questions as she watched my boys having a kick.

“Who’s number 20?”

“Drew Petrie. Heart and soul of the club, our most dangerous forward.”

“Who’s number 1? He’s big”

“Hamish McIntosh. He missed a shot after the siren a couple of weeks ago.”

“Hey, who’s number 23?! He’s hot”

The time came for the teams to run out for the real thing. It was hot and steamy inside the stadium, 27 degrees. Not a day to wear jeans, but you never know in Melbourne. The people around us lamented the roof being shut. It gave me a headache how they didn’t realise that the roof is shut for ALL twilight games, but I had to agree with them, it was a great night for footy, with no roof. Geelong ran past, and I looked at the size of Paul Chapman’s thighs, Jimmy Bartel’s physique, Tom Hawkins’…everything! Again, we were going to get murdered! I had reason to cheer though, Andrew Swallow won the toss, and they kicked to the opposite end of the ground to me for the first quarter. I wondered how many North goals I’d see up close at my end.

North broke forward to begin the game, and after just a couple of minutes, Bastinac, after a best on ground performance (against GWS, mind you) snapped the first goal of the game. Drew Petrie and Matt Campbell missed relatively easy shots straight after that, and I had my head in my hands. “Already wasting shots!” The Cats went forward for the first time, and had a chance at goal through James Kelly, but he missed, which the supporters behind me predicted. Aaron Edwards marked strongly up forward, and just as I was about to say to Liz that he never misses, I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to put the mozz on him. He goaled, and soon after, Liam Anthony got on the end of a Swallow handball to goal on the run. We led by 20! A long ball sent into the Geelong forward line was perfectly suited for James Podsiadly, who had the mishap of a matchup on Scott Thompson. Perfectly putting his knee on Scotty’s back, he launched up for a mark and kicked the Cats first. The cheersquad burst into rapturous applause, banging the fence around the edge of the ground. Here we go, I thought to myself. Petrie marked again up forward, and instead of drilling it, he passed to Lindsay Thomas in the pocket. I didn’t hesitate telling Liz that this guy was hopeless in front of goal, hoping it would have some sort of reverse effect. He put it out on the full from 15 metres. But, saving his own hide from a bake from Brad Scott at quarter time, he threaded the eye of a needle on the run from the forward pocket just a minute later. I put my hands together for an impressive first quarter, but I felt like we were 20 points behind. The Cats would surely come out firing in the second quarter.

That they did. In the opening few minutes, Steven Motlop and Steve Johnson both missed shots on goal, but Ned Kelly Tom Gillies was able to kick his first goal with an awkward snap on the left. 12 point margin. The Cats surged forward again, but the Roos got on the rebound. A hospital pass was set up for a collision between Thomas and Andrew Mackie. Thomas is no lover of the hard hits, he’s been guilty of ‘squibbing’ quite a few in the past. He never looked away from the ball as he cannoned into the premiership defender, flattening him and releasing a loose ball on the boundary line for Boomer Harvey to run onto. A quick pass to Campbell, a handball back to Harvey, who released Leigh Adams to kick a goal on the run from 45. YES! I was out of my seat for the first time, and I started to believe. I looked around. Grim looks on Cat faces. Talk was that Scarlett’s absence was hurting, and the fact they were still sore and waterlogged from the Easter Monday clash against Hawthorn. That may be true, but we were playing the best football I’ve ever seen them play. This wasn’t an off-the-cuff first quarter performance, this looked like it was going to last for majority of the game. Jack Ziebell, who we have missed, pushed forward to mark and extend the lead out to four goals. North Melbourne withstood six minutes of Geelong pressure, and allowed two behinds. A huge positive. Another was the mobility of Hamish McIntosh around the ground. What Achilles injury? He marked against Tom Lonergan and pushed the lead to 28 points. Hawkins and Motlop ensured that I didn’t get too comfortable with back-to-back goals, but North got on the counterattack yet again, with Edwards and Harvey pushing the lead out to 21 points at the main break. Applauding the boys for their great effort in the first half, I just hoped that we could sustain it.

Liz left to buy some refreshments, leaving me with Sam. He had been incredibly quiet, quite a contrast to how he was before the game started. I tried making conversation, but it just didn’t work. He was rattled, Geelong were rattled. How good was this! But long could it last?

The second half started at a blistering pace. Wells broke through a stoppage deep in the forward line to give to Edwards for his third goal, but the quick reply came from an unlikely source. Fresh on the ground in his first game, substitute George Horlin-Smith got a run on and delivered the goods from 45m, and received a standing ovation from the Geelong faithful. He looked pretty impressive from my end as well. Edwards again got in the thick of the action, gifting a handball to Bastinac for a goal from the paint of the goal line, and it was the tattooed man himself marking inside 50 just a minute later. This time, I didn’t stop myself from telling Liz that the best kick at goal in the AFL had the ball in his hands. I watched the ball slide innocently across the face, but to my surprise the goal umpire raised two fingers. 32 point margin! The jPod got his third, Ziebell got the quick reply with a fantastic crumbing goal, then Podsiadly struck again with a fantastic mark on the behind line. Edwards was influential again in fighting for the ball in a big pack of players, handballing out to Adams who snapped his second, and again our lead shot out to 32 points. A goal on the run to Shannon Byrnes, but again North found a way to reply. McIntosh marked, and was held up by Lonergan as the big man stumbled forward. 50 metres he marched, into an open goal, before Edwards passed quite dangerously to Ziebell, who wasn’t really expecting it. He marked, and put slammed it through as the siren blared around Etihad Stadium. A grin from ear to ear, I pumped my fists as I saw the Geelong supporters with disgusted looks on their faces. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was invading in their territory. This was our home ground. They had to put up with ME!

Again, it didn’t take long to strike up the first major of the quarter. A long ball to the goalsquare was repelled by Harry Taylor, who played superbly on Drew Petrie. Bartel gathered, but was stripped of the ball in a huge tackle by McIntosh. Bastinac pounced, skipped past and ran into an open goal, right in front of me, and slammed home the four points. I battered my hand on the railing in front of me, making as much noise as I could, and I knew we were home. Seven goal lead at the seven minute mark of the final quarter. No matter how good this Geelong outfit was, they weren’t coming back. Although they tried, and they did give me a fright. Thankfully, their stars were having an off day. Joel Corey and Corey Enright couldn’t do much, Taylor Hunt was getting a football lesson from one of the oldest blokes in the game, Wright had put a blanket over Johnson, while Luke Delaney had Hawkins in check. The older brother of Cameron, who played his first game last round, Luke brings something to the team ala Mick Martyn. He even has the bald head to match! Podsiadly, Motlop and Hawkins all combined to five goals between them late in the quarter, while Mitch Duncan and Taylor snuck through a couple more, but again, we had all the keys to all of their locks. Bastinac booted another, his fourth, before the second best goal of the night, in my opinion. Campbell and Wells combined in the middle of the ground with a chain of handballs, before the latter put out in front of Kieran Harper, who had just taken the green vest off. Running inside 50, Harper brilliantly side-stepped past a weary Enright and put it through. Fists were pumping on the field and off. And then, the clincher. The best goal of the night. The best goal I’ve ever seen.

Swallow dished off to Wells from a centre bounce late in the game. A long, thumping kick off one step fell into the arms of Jack, tight on the boundary and on the 50m arc. All week the North Melbourne Facebook page talked up the return of Ziebell, and I feared that it would create some big heads and that he wouldn’t perform as well as everybody was expecting. Hell, supporters were expecting a Gary Ablett-like game from him. But I’d like to see Ablett do what Ziebell did to kill the Cats off. Soaking up as much time as he could, he leant back and thumped the ball right into the air, covering the distance easily, and on tired legs. It never looked like missing. He turned to the crowd, arms out wide, saying ‘Did you miss me?’ We sure did Jack.

I’ve never been so excited for the final siren in my life. Waiting and waiting for it to go. We had a bus to catch in fifteen minutes, and I was starting to get little concerned that we’d run out of time. It was either:

A, see the final siren, celebrations and sing the club song, but miss our transport home

Or

B, leave early, beat the mass of people (although PLENTY of Geelong supporters had up and left by then)

To be honest I was leaning towards option A. But the siren went in Harper’s hands as he lined up for his second goal. He missed, but the roar of the crowd was unbelievable. We’ve just knocked off a heavy-weight in a convincing fashion for the first time since I don’t know how long. Forget our win against St Kilda in 2009. This was exciting, dangerous and, to steal a line from Geelong’s membership slogan, it was footy full on. Looking down at my blue and white stripes, I felt an immense feeling of proudness. As we hurried out of the stadium, I saw an elderly man, at least 80, decked out in royal blue and white, smiling from ear to ear. I put my arm around his shoulder and gave him a squeeze, and he squeezed back even harder.

North Melbourne 4.5—9.5—16.8—20.11.131

Geelong 1.3—5.8—9.14—16.18.114

GOALKICKERS

North Melbourne-Edwards 4, Ziebell 4, Bastinac 4, McIntosh 2, Adams 2, Harper, Harvey, Thomas, Anthony

Geelong-Podsiadly 5, Hawkins 4, Motlop 2, Byrnes, Duncan, Gillies, Horlin-Smith, Taylor

BEST

North Melbourne-Ziebell, Harvey, Firrito, Edwards, Bastinac, Wright, Wells, Delaney, McIntosh

Geelong-Podsiadly, Taylor, Selwood, Motlop

CROWD

29,630 at Etihad Stadium

VOTES

3: Jack Ziebell (NM)

2: Brent Harvey (NM)

1: Michael Firrito (NM)

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

Comments

  1. Great post, Josh. Your best yet, for mind. The team’s energy seems to be rubbing off on your creativity.
    I had been really worried not seeing your post emerge for a couple of days, as you are normally the first to post. I thought of the awful possibilities – a car accident; a heart attack after such an unexpected win; or that somehow fate had conspired to prevent you seeing such a glorious performance. Now I know the truth – young love is more precious and distracting than any footy team!
    A girlfriend and a good team – wow, thats a rare confluence of the planets. I’m green (or should that be blue and white striped) with envy.

  2. Richard Naco says:

    Enjoy it, Josh.

    Fully deserved (on both counts).

  3. Well done Josh. The Roos are coming!

  4. Tony Robb says:

    Fantastic effort Josh I can’t believe you took a girl to the footie, managed to handle the endless line of questioning and see the Roos win ans still get on the bus. A great win for the Team and I must say Brad Scott is the best acquisition the Roos have made since Carey. How are the boys from Waaia looking this year?
    Cheers
    TR

  5. Dave Nadel says:

    Great report Josh. In a week where most of the good guys lost I think most fans of clubs other than Geelong were pleased at North’s triumph. Congratulations to Brad Scott who was due to have a victory over his brother.

    Enjoy the season (apart from August 18).

  6. watt price tully says:

    Great reading, naturaly geat writing. Thoroughly enjoyable. Shaudenfreude my old friend !

  7. Andrew Starkie says:

    We’ve arrived Josh

  8. Join in the chorus, Josh.

  9. Great report Josh,

    I’m consoling myself for not being there — twilight the night before the kids go back to school, dammit — by the fact that I surely played my part by not putting the Mozz on them.

    Now saving up extra nervous energy for the next game. We’re always terrible in Sydney.

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