Just a man with a ball

AFL Round 19

Hawthorn v Geelong

By Susie Giese

 

They were packing up. Mum getting ready to leave bang on the siren, Darren wanting to go now, now, NOW!

“I’m not leaving early,” I said, gritting my teeth. “We’re staying ’til the end.”

One fifth of my reasoning was never giving those worst-examples-of-their-kind Hawks supporters behind us the satisfaction of seeing us leave. One fifth was my 99.9 per cent upheld policy about not leaving games early. Three fifths was the undying belief that we do not lose to the Hawks. Chappy promised. And he’s a man of his word. They’ve done it before, and they’ll do it again.

Who cares if we’re eight points down? This is Geelong. And they’re Hawthorn. The Cats won’t lose to them. Chappy won’t let us.

***

A giant throbbing heart. That’s what the MCG reminds me of as Mum and I approach. The people milling in like blood, the hum of life. It’s the centre of everything, and the most important thing in the world.

Cats and Hawks fans can be forgiven for losing perspective when it comes to these clashes. They’re on their own plane of existence and live outside the realm of reason.

Both teams have been waiting for this clash for a long time. The on-going (possibly one-man) vendetta for one side, the measure and the hopeful relief for another.

The Hawks have eight in a row, but more importantly: so do the Cats. The “Kennett” curse is not a thing to us – it might be to them. I can’t speak for all Cats supporters, but most of the ones I know couldn’t give a stuff about what that most over-exuberant of presidents once said, other than for purely jibing purposes.

This isn’t about some ill-conceived comment in an interview. This is about redemption. And the quest won’t end until these Cats beat them in a Grand Final. Our undefeated record might not last that long, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think the thirst for revenge is there.

And the Cats showed what a powerful motivator that thirst can be.

In the lead-up to the match, it seemed everyone had an opinion on what they were sure the outcome would be.

Hawthorn, the white-hot form side, would smash Geelong, whose old players were too old and young players were too young.

It’d be a close one, but the Hawks were too good not to win this one.

The Cats in another nail-biter.

No one, not even the most ardent, one-eyed Cats fan out there could have predicted what was going to happen in the first quarter. But then, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”.

What the Cats did in that opening term defied belief, reason, form and logic.

Mum, Darren and I could only shake our heads in disbelief, goofy smiles plastered on our faces, as the Cats piled on the goals. Johnno made up for lost time, and Chappy reminded us who the face of The Pact was. Tommy Hawkins kicked an absolute gem, and it made you wonder how this beautiful man with the beautiful technique could ever have struggled in front of goal.

But as impressive as the forwards were – and as ready as Chappy looked to win the game single-handedly – the first quarter was won by defence. Hawthorn, who’s average winning margin the past month was just over the 15 goal mark, could barely get the ball forward, and looked no chance to win it when they did.

The marking, the positioning, the contests – Taylor, Scarlett and Lonergan were simply too brilliant. Throw into that Josh Hunt, Mackie and Enright, and the back six were as dangerous and dominant as ever they have been.

They mocked the “super-efficient” tag the Hawks have been carrying around, closing with incredible speed on the Hawks players, affecting attacking spoils by hitting the ball not merely away, but aggressively forward or to the side, into the path of a running Cats player.

And it wasn’t just them. All over the ground, the defensive efforts of the Cats in spoiling and tackling were sublime.

Even Podsy, who would be criticised for his blatant skill errors later in the game, played a major role for the Cats. He took Gibson out of the contest and beat him in the one-on-ones. He didn’t often mark the ball, but he brought it to ground, creating opportunities for the Cats.

When the siren went for quarter time, no one around me had any idea what had happened. The Cats supporters were laughing and shaking their heads. The Hawks supporters were staring at the field in dumbfounded disbelief, some with their heads cradled in their hands.

We didn’t know what to make of that first term, but there was one thing supporters from both sides agreed on: Hawthorn was going to come back.

And it must be said, the Hawks didn’t disappoint. Where other teams will merely try to minimise the defeat, the Hawks bravely backed themselves in even when they were 51-points down in the second term. The skill errors began to show with the Cats, but they weren’t coincidental errors –the Hawks lifted their intensity tenfold, and the game became a really gripping contest.

It was always going to come down to the wire.

The Hawks drew ever closer, and then took the lead! No, this could not be happening! After all this time, were our roles finally to be reversed? The contest was so compelling, the close finish so inevitable, that few even spared a thought for the eight-and-a-half goal lead the Cats had coughed up.

And now we were even.

When Sewell kicked the goal that put the Hawks six points up, followed by a few behinds to his teammates, it looked like the Cats had finally run out of luck. The Hawks fans were roaring, Darren was ready to leave. Mum told him to stay while diplomatically packing her bag for a quick departure should it be needed. I didn’t move an inch.

I was staying ’til the end. Mum and Darren stayed on. In the last few minutes, not a single person left their seat.

And it was that man Hawkins who gave us Cat fans hope. The brilliant smother by Smedts, the collect, the pass to Tommy who showed he can kick truly even when it’s not a set shot. We were back – less than a goal down – and Tommy had five!

But then it was down their end, and down their end again. Behind after behind. They couldn’t seal the deal. They weren’t choking of their own accord, though – the Cats defenders had the Hawks in a strangle-hold. This was more than finals pressure. This was Grand Final pressure.

Then the ball slipped free.

It found its way to Puopolo, and he kicked it – but he kicked it out of mid-air! An ill-conceived play, but a true indicator of the pressure in those dying stages.

Then the play that Cats fans have watched a thousand times since Friday, and Hawks fans hope never to see again.

The ball drifting across and landing perfectly in the arms of the waiting Andrew Mackie, as though fate had decreed it so. He is closely tagged, though, and scrambles a kick forward. No time to go back and take the kick. Time is against us.

Mitch Duncan, that youngster who is so much more than promising, finds himself in space. It bounces just right for him, and he collects it at head-height. A short, precise pass finds Johnson. Johnson passes to Selwood – a millimetre perfect pass, it must be said. When so much focus had been on Hawthorn’s accuracy, it seems fitting that this greatest of plays should be so immaculate.

Selwood – the Selwood – was never going to disappoint. Sewell goes for the spoil, but Selwood stands strong. Marks. Plays on. Passes.

TOMMMYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And now – now everyone is out of their seats. Or maybe we’ve been standing the whole time? I’m hardly aware of what I’m doing, only what’s going on at ground level. Tommy’s marked. He’s outside fifty, but there’s time.

Someone a few seats down has a radio. They’ve been keeping everyone informed how long there is left. No one cares about having it spoiled, we need to know!

And the Colossus takes one quick glance to assess the situation, and he knows it’s up to him.

There’s so much noise, but no one’s speaking. It’s the hum of life, the throb of anxiety and anticipation. Our hearts are in our throats, our ears are full of white noise.

My senses are overloaded and suddenly, it’s clear.

I can’t remember what I was thinking as Tommy took those calm strides in with the siren blaring, or even if I was thinking at all. Was I standing? Sitting? Was I nervous? I don’t remember anything to do with me.

Everything in the world narrowed and focused.

It was just a man with a ball. He walked forward. He kicked. It sailed up, up, and through.

Then sound returned.

“YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!”

It was the only recognisable word anyone was producing. There was joyous screaming, shouting. We didn’t know what we were saying, we didn’t care. It was the release of feelings. The best of feelings.

Strangers hugged. There were tears of joy. We laughed, we jumped, we danced.

The song was belted out as it rarely has been. With fierce pride. With vindication. We believed. They achieved. Such celebrations I had not seen since the 2009 Grand Final. And this felt just as good.

The Hawthorn fans melted into the background, faded away. This wasn’t their night. They will probably win the flag, so we’ll take this without a backward glance.

Darren said to me at one point – or shouted, more like – “Who cares about the Grand Final? This was our Grand Final!”

So very true.

***

The train journey home was too long. I was desperate to get home and watch the replay, but contented myself by reading over the Twitter reactions and reading the first wave of match reports.

God I love Tommy Hawkins.

He’s only 24, just at the very beginning of his prime, and he’s a star. And a monster of a man. And a match-winner. And just an all-round likeable bloke.

When I saw the slow-mo replay of his reaction to kicking the goal, this win seemed that bit more special. The child-like joy, the almost tears.

Tommy Hawkins, you adorable legend.

About Susie Giese

Born into the worship of the mighty Hoops, Susie has turned to adopting a Zen-like state during games in recent years to preserve her heart. The Cats of 2015 have the ol' ticker a-racing, though!

Comments

  1. Neil Anderson says:

    You have described so very eloquently the joy of winning and the pride in your heroes that us Bulldog supporters have craved for over half a century. Do you really understand how lucky you are to experience that joy so many times? I have written previously about the long wait for our next premiership but it would also be nice to have a couple of mighty victories along the way. The only time for me it came close to that, was in 1990(I think) when Steve Kolyniyuc(sic) stepped around Wright of Collingwood to kick the goal and win for the Bulldogs. Oh what bliss! Even better was to be caught up in the crowd that was swarming into the Bulldog changerooms after the siren and get up close and personal with the likes of Doug Hawkins and Leon Cameron. How things have changed. To get in the rooms now I’d probably have to wear a suit and tie and represent one of the sponsors. The other thing Bulldog fans miss is their home ground rather than sharing the Dome. Like I said, do you realize how lucky you are?

  2. Thanks for reading, Neil!

    Yes, I think most (sadly, not all) Cats supporters realise how incredibly lucky we are at the moment. We’ve been lucky that even when they team hasn’t been spectacular over the years, we’ve always had champion players (Gazza Snr and co) and we’ve had some famous wins along the way. However, we had a fairly long stint without the ultimate prize – even when it was apparently ours for the taking – and we were nearly extinct as a club in the late 1990s.

    This current era is the reward for Thompson, Cook and Costa who pulled the club out of the ashes and gave us a fresh burst of life.

    I don’t think the Cats would have Skilled Stadium or still be a stand alone club if it wasn’t for those three men and their helpers.

    The Bulldogs will be right up there again. Keep in mind, you made the 2009 prelims. This is just a temporary lull as your boys regroup, get their shizz in gear and make an assault on the flag again.

    I give it two years tops before you’re right back in there. McCartney is a star.

  3. Beachcrave says:

    Wow Susie – I read this and leapt back in time to Friday night. That stunned hilarity at the end of the first term coupled with the stress of the advancing pressure front of the Hawks as they claimed the lead to the blank emptiness in time and space when Hawkins took that mark all swooshed back as I read your words. I was gasping for air by the end – thanks for (re)creating the emotions of that evening so vividly. I’ve gloated over the replays of the last five minutes, but your words made me re-live the experience. Thank you.

  4. Nervous Nellie says:

    This game had my husband going to bed in disgust at my screaming at the TV! Anyone who was watching on tele could she the sheer grit and determination on Sam Mitchell’s face. We new they were coming, and come they did When the Hawks kept kicking points in the last quarter,I thought we can still win this, and didn’t stop believing, but could not see how we could get the ball down the other end. One last opportunity as you described and the taste of sweet success was ours. Do we dare to dream any further…of course we do.

  5. That should read beat them in a grand final ‘again’ Suzie.

    I wonder what Danni’s description of the Tom Cat would be if he played for Collywood.

    I am sure the pheremones would be overpowering.

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great win Cats. last term was amazing but Rioli should’ve received a free in the dying seconds for his tackle. The AFL website describes Tom as ‘unstoppable’ right now. How things change. Let’s not get carried away with him just yet.

  7. Beachcrave – thank-you! It was the emotion of the game – it wrote itself.

    Nervous Nellie – of course we do! But we’re careful to keep a lid on it. Have to preserve that image of evil, conspiring geniuses Clarkson painted of us back in Round 2 ;)

    Phantom – I was speaking specifically of this group of players. Rather, those still in the team who played in 2008. The ultimate dream, of course, is that we play and beat them in this year’s Grand Final. What a fitting send off that would be for Scarlo. And I’m sure Danni can still fully appreciate the Tomahawk. I was mostly referring to his beautiful ability, but he did cut an attractive figure when he knew he kicked that goal ;)

    Andrew – hard not to, though. It wasn’t just this game. It was from Rd 24 last year onwards. He’s becoming a monster. The stats, not just the emotion, are in his favour.

  8. Andrew Starkie says:

    I hope he has a bad day if North play the cats in September.

  9. The bigger the game, the higher he soars. The only poor games Tomahawk has played this year I can recall have been against the lesser opponents. Give him a premiership hopeful, give him a final, and he’s a leviathon.

  10. Neil Belford says:

    Brilliant Susie – and how can you not get carried away with Hawkins, man if he keeps kicking straight he will eclipse any name you can pull out. Granted he might not, but thats not todays story.

    Lookout West Coast is all I can say.

  11. Peter Flynn says:

    Played Susie.

    Hawkins had Bartel out to his right about 35 metres out (and on the obligatory 45 degree angle).

    I watched his kick and thought it’s up.

    I then watched the goal umpire. He didn’t move. I then saw the ball fall to Earth.

    It took a minute to see anything else. My head was buried inside this loony group hug.

  12. What a beautiful night it was to be a Cats fan.
    Group hugs all round, Flynny. Luckily Geelong fans shower.

    Neil B – given his form the last few weeks, particularly Friday, and particularly goal #6, I think his yips are behind him. Accuracy an issue for every player in the league, but his technique is in fine touch.

  13. The Cats haven’t just been lucky – we’ve made our own through enormous work.

    The lucky ones are usually the better ones.

  14. Spot on, Dips. But I think Neil A was talking more about the fans being lucky – and that we are. We’re lucky by whatever stroke of fate that set us on this path of Cats worship occured, as the hard working men at the club have created a dynasty that ranks right up there in the ages.

  15. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

    Old Jungle Saying.

  16. Suzie,

    regarding Tom Cat cutting an attractive figure when he knew he had kicked that goal, I could have given him a big hug myself. And I’m as straight as an olympic arrow.

  17. Neil Anderson says:

    Re talking about the’ luck’ part, I definitely was talking about the Geelong fans being lucky to experience Tom’s great goal and their recent mini dynasty. It wasn’t a case of gee he was lucky to kick the goal and hasn’t Geelong just been lucky with their success in recent times. I know that Suzie realized what I was on about with her reply. It’s a great medium to be able to comment on these well-written articles by the Almanacers, but it’s a bit like texting, the real meaning and ‘feel’ of the comments can be missenterpreted.

  18. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Terrific piece Susie (Maria). You and other Cats fans should be thankful that the Pies helped Tomahawk find his inner ubermensch in round 24 last year. I still reckon he would have missed had he hesitated and gone back after the siren. Big blokes seem to succeed when they don’t have to think too much! In my humble opinion, that was the match of the season, to date.

  19. It was always going to happen, Phil. The skill was there. The effort was there. He was ripening. But yes, Rd 24 filled him with confidence and he hasn’t looked back since.

    So thanks a bunch,

    Sincerely,
    Football.

  20. Richard Naco says:

    Gold, Gold, Gold (again) Suze.

    Gold for your inevitably wondrous scribing.

    Gold for your (once again) inevitably perfect choice of subject matter.

    And Gold for tossing in an Python pun.

    I sat out the game in my little den, my house basically boxed up & waiting to go into storage over the ensuing weekend as we do a 3 month reno on the place. ABC Radio took me to the utter heights of delight, and I sat in my solitary splendour in southern Sydney, garbed in the blessed hoops, screaming inarticulately & punching the air in my ecstacy.

    We are the lucky ones, we of The Pivot. This team continues to amaze us all, and nothing will ever be impossible for the blessed hoops. Geelong is truly the team of romantics and dreamers everywhere.

    GO CATS!

  21. haiku bob says:

    i watched this game from go to whoa. i will never understand it. but i felt it. my heart was beating. like the ‘g’s. great piece susie.

  22. Ken Richards says:

    Beautiful words Susie,

    Thanks for bringing it all back. Like you I always had the feeling that Tomahawk would come through, despite the disposable pronouncements of the McClure’s and Wallses of the world. The Cats have repaid us all in spades these past 6 years, and I’m grateful to my long suffering Tiger supporting brother for convincing me to finally become a member in 2007.

    Best investment I have ever made.

  23. Nervous Nellie says:

    We Cats fans have been spoilt, or yes, you could say, lucky, over the past few years. But I equally found I was not dealing very well with the mediocrity of the season until a few weeks ago. Then we are once again lucky,or spoiled once more by experiencing the exhilaration of a magnificent game like Friday nights’. And I’m still not sure if my husband is going to watch fhe footy with me or leave me to scream at the television during this Friday nights’ game.

Leave a Comment

*