Last night, or early Friday morning really, as the Germans and the Australians went flat out in the hockey (and I saw a couple of the calmest sporting officials of all time), I was moved to the ponderable. A few ponderings surfaced: is it appropriate to write a match report of a sporting fixture a week after the final hooter; has Roget registered enough synonyms for the adjective sensational which I can extract to describe last Friday’s game between Geelong and Hawthorn; and, importantly, is it appropriate for grown men – relatively educated, relatively thoughtful and sensitive, relatively measured in most areas of their existence – to be involved in a tight-hug-cum-ring-a-ring-a-rosey dance in response to a large man from Finley kicking a sack of air between a couple of white sticks?
Oh, how I love life! And its big questions.
For the record Roget was negligent in listing synonyms for sensational, but you can’t blame him: he was pre-Selwood.
And the fact I am penning this now takes all pondering out of the first question.
So it’s the third query I need to address. The ring-a-ring-a-rosey.
I should first describe the moment. We were in M56, ground level, standing at the back. On the flank at the Punt Road end. I was with P.J. Flynn who was making mental notes on the performance of each Geelong player. (He has published these ratings) I was with C. Down who was playing the sensible I-didn’t-get-to-lunch role beautifully. I was with Cookie who was completely engaged by what was happening, but making calm comments and, occasionally, giving boyish “Did you see that” looks. (And Dips O’Donnell had headed home on kid duties.) We’d had a long lunch of Madigan and Yeates, both terrific story-tellers. Some good chat afterwards over a beer, and a bus ride to the MCG.
We’d seen a remarkable opening quarter. We’d seen this fine Hawthorn side claw its way back in the second, and hit the front with ten minutes to go in the match. We’d seen Hawkins snap one against the run of play. And then we’d seen the Cats sweep the ball from the backline, and in a moment it was in Tom Hawkins’ hands.
The crowd was going nuts. I could see Hawkins. I couldn’t see the Sherrin’s flight path. I could see the goal umpire. I could see Billie Smedts standing between the fence and the goal umpire. As the ball left Tommy’s boot I turned to the goal mouth. Smedts looked up. High into the sky. He put his hands up. He started clapping. And clapping. Goal to Hawkins. I saw Johnno, who was hovering (standard practice) lift Tommy into the air. At that moment he could have clean and jerked him without powdering his hands.
Our posse was not thinking. Just feeling. The embrace involved jumping, and some yelling, and it was only the seats which prevented full-on ring-a-ring-a-rosey.
At that moment, someone said, “We can win this.” And then someone else. “We can win this.” And someone else. And blue and white people we didn’t know said, “We can win this.” And suddenly we were in Alice’s Restaurant.
Or just plain old-fashioned Wonderland.
So, in the middle of the cold night, I fumbled with the remote control and found the Hawthorn-Geelong replay on the Foxtel IQ. And under a feather-cover (that’s Lutheran for doona) I fell in love with Basil Zempilas. Admittedly, Hannibal Lecter could have been calling the game with special comments from Pol Pot, and my heart would have been taken, but Basil, my boy, you will forever have a place in my heart. (Dennis already has one).
Because, Basil, you called those nine magnificent first-quarter goals. You called The Big O in his return as he tore Hawthorn apart. You called Johnno. You called Harry. You called Chappy and his brilliant reading of the play. You called Big Hawk in contest after contest, bringing the footy to ground, and grabbing a couple of big goals with well-timed kicks (somewhere along the way Hawk has gone from being clunk-fade miss-hit Lee Trevino into being Seve himself). You called Mitch Duncan and Boy Sherringham.
And my mind was taken back to the MCG. While you were calling this Basil, our crew was watching gobsmacked.
There was giggling.
“This is crazy.”
There needed to be Three Stooges slapping, just to bring us into reality.
It was too good to be true. And, while it felt so good, at the same time it had the feel of the last meal of the man on Death Row.
Hawthorn would come back, and they did.
I didn’t watch the second and third quarters of the replay.
Nor did I watch the Opals in their final.
I fast-forwarded straight to the final quarter. I had forgotten how many bad signs there were: Joel Selwood kicking out on the full; the Cats not being able to score; the tide of Hawthorn run. I had also forgotten how steely was the Geelong steadying, with goals to Pods and Hawk.
I remembered what P.J. Flynn had said when Hawk kicked one of his goals, his fourth, to take Geelong to 16.9. “First to 100 wins.”
Tom Harley also said it on the coverage (I wish Basil had). But P.J. Flynn added the mathematician’s caveat, “92% of times”. P.J. Flynn would never be responsible for a mozz.
It was a Hawthorn home game and the crowd had been quiet at times, but had cranked up the volume. Scores were level forever. When the Hawks hit the front you could hardly hear yourself. Yet, we were strangely calm, although when Sewell scrambled one through concern was registered, and the series of points which followed had us staring at the swinging noose.
There was, however, no resignation among the Geelong fans. And none – absolutely none – from the players.
Things went Geelong’s way for a minute. Smedts got away with one when Cyril Rioli laid a perfect tackle in a situation which may be used in future to demonstrate prior opportunity (although the tackle itself knocked the ball clear). The Hawks missed and the Cats managed to turn the footy over with a Smedts smother-intercept which led to Hawkins’ cross-the-body snap.
Time changed. There was more craziness. Selwood was crashed to the ground in a wonderful contest with Mitchell, and got up. The Hawks had loose men everywhere as the Cats knew they had to go the length of the field.
Pods was penalised for trying to break a tackle, but Brad Sewell who had been terrific for much of the night took the advantage, got the footy forward to a three-on-one only to see it fall awkwardly for Puopolo. Rather than take possession Puopolo, very close to goal, flung his foot at it and the ball skewed to Mackie.
The collective Cat voice rose. A stirring which grew as Mackie chipped to the leading Duncan. Duncan a pass to Johnno who knew to turn towards the corridor. Even though it meant turning onto his non-preferred side. It was the creative play; the play that in two plays time would make the forward 50 look the size of the Simpson Desert. But first his left-footer had to be darted at the skipper. Joel Selwood was there, at full pace, running an angle in the middle. He leapt at the footy with Brad Sewell, that most noble of opponents, just a step behind. Sewell was beaten and in another instant Selwood shot his pass to Hawkins. It all happened so quickly. Hawkins hands held the football with a mother’s grip.
“He can kick this.”
He kicked it.
Yep, he kicked it.
And that’s when we hugged.
Basil, I don’t know what you said. But I’m sure it was beautiful.
The level of skill required in that final play was phenomenal. Watch it again. The decision-making was also phenomenal. The courage of Johnson was phenomenal. It should not be forgotten: the Cats are a skilful side.
Skilful enough to win it?
Geelong field a young side to Perth tonight. Those youngsters have been terrific at home but the road trips have been tough. However, they have a good month under their belts, and they are growing in stature.
It will be a good contest.
And whatever happens, I can take comfort from the fact that my new love, Basil Zempilas, will be calling it.