POISE AND OTTENS

 

Poise versus flashes of brilliance. Geelong versus Hawthorn.

The weather gods have no concept of timing. They sent the wintery blast up from the Antarctic and into the MCG just in time for Friday night. Cold, hard rain hit the players’ faces and ran down the backs of supporters whose resilience was tested in the open spaces of the outer. A peaceful spring evening was on order, but a frigid winter’s night was delivered.

The build up to a game like this one makes me realize how much I love the footy. Too much oxygen is taken up during the year discussing player payments, coaching intrigues, draft rules and regulations, fixturing problems and other peripheral air pollution, but this is what it’s all about; a full MCG, colour and noise everywhere, pubs full of anticipation as pots are nervously downed, conversations had in full voice and with false bravado, trams packed with supporters plugged into radios, trains pulling into Jolimont station and emptying like the end of a Sunday mass, hordes of pedestrians overwhelming cars on Stewart Street Richmond which acts as a rat run between Swan Street and Punt Road, kids with a flag in one hand and Dad’s coat tail in the other as they negotiate  the throng. This is finals footy.

Melbourne is better for all of this. The buildings of the city centre seem to look over the MCG like a proud parent peering into a baby’s bassinet. They will watch silently but intently as another chapter in the town’s sporting history is written.  Geelong and Hawthorn battles of recent times have seldom been consistently flowing affairs. They have been games within games. Momentum and dominance are transient. Like giant elephant seals fighting for the harem they pound each other mercilessly; one gets the upper hand then the other, but neither relents.

The start of the second qualifying final was predictably hot. I sat there trying to pick up on its rhythm. It wasn’t immediately obvious so Buddy decided to make his own. He grabbed the ball on the boundary early in the first quarter. He was on the wrong side for a left footer. It was perfect Buddy territory; a few big strides, mouth open, he slid the ball through. His painted arm was pointed at the heavens like an Olympic torch as he unleashed his victory roar.

Lonergan look flustered. Buddy looked ominous. Another goal soon after his first and he was on his way to a big night. The Hawks attacked relentlessly and sprayed a few shots at goal. But they were ‘on’. Their game plan was pretty simple; get players behind the ball and Buddy in front of it. It was working a treat. At quarter time the Hawks lead by 11 points. The brown and gold double act of Franklin and Rioli was rolling off the tongue as easily as ‘caught Marsh bowled Lillee’. Some steadiness in defence and Daniel Menzel had kept Geelong in the game. One of Menzel’s two goals coming from a mighty fine contested mark. This kid is a born forward.

The Hawks had drawn first blood before Brad Ottens landed a few hay makers of his own. In the second quarter his ruck work at the centre bounces was game changing. He fed Chappy and Co with deft touch and brutal strength. When Ottens wasn’t out pointing Hale and Bailey in the centre he was marauding around full forward. He kicked one goal after a big grab and should have kicked two. With Buddy and Rioli now subdued by Lonergan and Enright, the poise of Cats players like Kelly and Bartel was having an impact. The Cats kicked six goals in a row but it was unobtrusive and clinical. There was no fanfare they simply went about their work with the precision of a Longines watch.

Just when it seemed that the game was falling into a pattern it darted off in another direction. Menzel chased Puopolo to the boundary to contest the footy. They clashed. Menzel went down in agony. It was as simple as that. His knee shattered, his season over, his dreams crushed. Sport never ceases to amaze me as to how vicious and unpredictable it can be.

Menzel will be a bigger loss to the Cats than many realize. How do you measure spunk and spark in a football player? He has plenty of both. Whilst the Cats’ old guard is still providing the bulk of the match winning footy, the young players like Menzel and Duncan and Christensen are providing the impetus. They’re like the fizz in the lemonade.

By half time the Cats had turned an 11 point deficit into a 12 point lead.

But Hodge would have none of this. Hodge is a great player because great players routinely force themselves onto the contest. At the start of the third quarter he stood at centre half forward. Maybe Clarkson had put him there or perhaps Hodge put Hodge there. He has the ability to understand the context of the game, to perceive what it needs. And he knows exactly what the legendary Hawks’ coach John Kennedy meant when he boomed “Do something!” Inside the first few minutes of the third quarter he’d taken two marks and kicked two goals; the second a magnificent kick with a wet footy from a long way out. The Hawks had hit the front. They’d also kicked the last four goals. The sands had shifted again, albeit momentarily.

Enter infuriating Stevie J.

Johnson had been getting plenty of the ball but his wastefulness was distracting. His game to this point had resembled the mad scribblings of a nutty professor. However, late in the third quarter he chose nous over nonsense. A lovely kick to advantage for Pods, a clever handball over his head to Christensen which in turn landed for Hawkins and his own marvelous left foot stab off the ground gave the Cats three quick goals. A fourth to Ottens had just about put the game in the bin. The Hawks trailed by 24 points with a quarter to play. They looked punch drunk.

It proved to be the case. Hodge had run himself to a stop; he could do no more. Buddy tried to lift but was mobbed by Cat defenders at every contest, and Rioli’s flame had failed to reignite since the first quarter. Hawk players like Sewell and Lewis kept battling on as they know no other way, but the Cats peppered the goals and, but for some errant kicking (the Cats kicked eight points in the last quarter), could have put the game away very early in the last term. It was only when Trent West leapt skyward, pulled in a screamer and slotted the goal that the Cats finally confirmed their dominance.

And as if to rub salt into the open wound, Buddy hit the ground awkwardly and buckled his knee with only minutes left to play. Just as he staggered from the ground wincing in pain in the arms of two trainers, so the bruised Hawks also limped to the line, 31 points behind.

The Cats can now boast that the Hawks haven’t beaten them in a final since 2008.

Scores

Cats:                      2.0          7.2          12.6        14.14. 98

Hawks:                 3.5          4.8          7.12        9.13.67

Votes: Ottens 3, Kelly 2, Bartel 1

 

 

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Get meaning from catching a beautiful curling wave. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sopranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Dips,

    who put the itching powder in Jeff’s troosers? He looked very uncomfortable there in the mid stages of the game.

    The flies must have been a nuisance as well. He was waving the old footy record about in a dangerous manner for quite some time.

  2. Phantom – Jeff’s antics were great entertainment. To borrow a line from Rex Hunt, he looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

  3. John Butler says:

    At least we finally get some joy out of Kennet. Even if it’s at his expense.

    Dips, pretty impressed with that effort from your lads. As, no doubt, you were. :)

    Nice piece.

  4. Dips,

    I really think JB is coming over.

    We must make him welcome. He has potential and probably just needs a good break in order to reach his full potential as a footy fan.

  5. Phantom – We welcome all to the Geelong Football Club. I’d even welcome Luke Hodge.

    I heard it said this morning that the Hawks are like Greg Chappell when they play Geelong; seven losses in a row now and they keep saying “we’re not playing badly we just keep getting beat”.

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Dips, nice description of Stevie J.

    Carlton or WCE will provide a tough PF for Geelong. Probably WCE. They played pretty well against C/wood. They didn’t take their chances.

    Otto should now be placed on half-year contracts.

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