This is a difficult thing to do.
My bum is sore on the desk chair. I’m tight in the shoulder blades. I feel like my arthritic cricket-knuckles are refusing to tap the keys.
I have to write about a Hawthorn victory – in a preliminary final. A win to the enemy, by less than a kick.
But I have to do it.
I have to resist the temptation to decry a Grand Final between Thatcherite Hawthorn and the un-football Dockers and find a way to barrack for one of them. I have to resist the temptation that footy is nothing more than silly blokes chasing around a leather ball which means absolutely nothing. That would be mean-spirited of me and suggest that I remain as out of whack with the universe as Travis Varcoe (now there was a coincidental prediction).
I have to be careful not to spit bile in the direction of Hawthorn (like all things in this Universe, a gift from God), nor to forget the previous eleven matches. I have to be bigger than that and admit that Jeff was right all along. I might have to celebrate Sean Burgoyne and his influence on what was a fantastically tight and tense contest, a game of surge and counter-surge, albeit riddled with errors (from both sides), and certainly not the greatest game ever.
Do I have to do this? Do I have to sit here for a day and write this crud?
Friday evening. It has rained throughout the day. Good. But The Handicapper and I put down the umbrella walking from Jolimont Station to the MCG gates.
I feel like it is an absolutely 50-50 game, but I will not be surprised if the Cats win it. The Hawks are so over-rated.
We make our way to the Committee Room as guests of the MCC, a lovely invitation to receive, thanks very much to A.P. Sheahan. But for all of the delightful welcoming, and the presence of friends Gideon and Charlotte Haigh, and Martin and Polly Flanagan, I have a slight sense of unease. What’s a working class boy from the Queensland bush doing in the MCC Committee Room on preliminary final night? What would Fidel say? What would Reg Hickey say? I take comfort in the fact that Manning Clark would have been there for the feed and the booze and the football and the chat. Which is pretty much why everyone is here.
The Handicapper has taken only a passing interest in the footy this season, mainly because she is not pregnant, and because she wearied of the various media themes very quickly. It’s interesting to hear medical people speak of the Essendon saga. And then to go to Auskick at the Brunswick Street Oval and hear the take of the legal fraternity. (Barrister-central in downtown Fitzroy).
A.P. Sheahan is amusing at the mic, and the panelled walls and grand old photos make us all feel very happy with life. I do like a “hear, hear” from time to time – very MCC.
But we’re all waiting the next instalment of the Geelong-Hawthorn story – and what a place for it. A spot in the Grand Final beckons.
This goes way back to 1963 and Polly Farmer and Bob Davis; to the club-building of the Hawks through the seventies and eighties; to the `89 Grand Final; to the 2008 Grand Final; to the Kennett Curse and the place of hubris. It is replete with characters. It has generated great affection and fear and loathing. It is a magnificent rivalry.
And so, as the anthem is sung and the players walk to their positions, the roar of the crowd swells in anticipation of the first bounce. It has fifty years of history in it.
We are sitting with Fiona and Adrian Anderson who are mad Hawthorn supporters. We are all trying to be magnanimous, generous, polite. But, Jeepers, how good is Johnno in the opening couple of minutes. He has it about five times. Until Adrian’s boys settle and start to dominate proceedings.
Travis outbodies an opponent beautifully but then his free arm cannot cradle the mark. Kelly gives away a dumb free kick when the Cats are on. Johnno kicks a couple in a row and the Cats are in front.
Motlop is the quickest out there; Johnno the smartest (Mitchell, if you are from the leafy suburbs). The Hawks have all of the possession but they miss shots at goal. Hale is a worry up forward. The Cats hang in there.
Adrian and I roll with the play, commenting on umpiring decisions. I have little chance of ever being right: he made the rules. It is a study of the beautiful greyness of them, and the role of the umpires.
Somehow the Cats lead by a point at quarter-time, when the whole stadium pauses to breathe out and then take in some more oxygen.
What will be the factors? Buddy looks to have an injured shoulder or arm. Roughie’s not in it.
Hawkins moves freely enough and opens the second quarter with a desperate tackle, but misses with the free kick. Johnno snaps from the pocket and the Hawks look a little troubled. Motlop burns them off again and finds Tommy Hawkins who kicks truly. The Cats are three goals up and pouring on the pressure. Large blocks of MCG mustard are still and silent. (It never takes much.)The players feel the pressure as well.
Then there is a pivotal moment. Johnson has had a dozen touches and kicked three – not bad for a mid-fielder. I’m thinking he can kick eight for the match (possibly ten when the intensity drops off). The Hawks are rattled. The game is opening up – which Johnno loves. He can find space in a Southern Stand beer queue. He gets free, darts across half forward and snaps across his body. Trademark Johnno. They should name the kick after him. He eats these. The Geelong crowd rises. This is big. “Johnno.”
The Hawks are encouraged.
Now they come hard. Gunston goals. Blicavs is free on the half-back flank. In a nod to a successful culture he plays on. The decision is perfect (in one sense), as it will render the entire ground Geelong’s. But he doesn’t quite nail the handball. Turnover. Goal. Now the Cats are hanging on until half-time but Hawthorn miss chances, including Roughie after the siren. The margin remains inside a goal.
What is going on in this game? Was that the Cats one and only push? Was that the last of their energy against a rested Hawthorn side?
They trade goals after the break. It’s a contest again. Josh Hunt, who has not had a great game (No Boris Enright alongside him) is subbed out and Josh Caddy comes on. He immediately looks fresh and puts in a terrific twenty minutes of footy. The Hawks inaccuracy is not helping them.
Then the Cats go for it. Selwood, who is having a Selwood quarter, goals. Stokes is pummelled by Birchall but the ball spills to Guthrie who has been solid all night. He sprints away and nails it from 50. It’s a team-lifter.
Both teams are just trying to break clear – to find open territory to show what they can do with the footy. But both have preliminary final desperation and the contests are appreciated by fans around the ground. Smotherers appear from stage right to fling themselves on grenades. If anything, the Cats have the better flow, the Hawks are taking marks inside 50.
Which is what Cyril does: flies for a screamer in the pocket which stops the planet. Yet somehow it is play on and the Cats are away. Caddy to Motlop to Pods. Hawkins on his own near the square. Pods goes with the outside of the left foot – at goal. And it’s a point. A bad miss.
The Cats are frantic. It’s their turn to throw the punches. Varcoe gets a lightning handball to Motlop who goals. Taylor drifts forward and gets on the outside and snaps one. Then Murdoch’s speculator from a throw-in goes through and at three quarter-time the Cats are 20 points up.
And on top! Definitely on top!
The two teams gather in their huddles. They listen to their coaches. All to play for.
I am feeling OK about it all. I haven’t factored in the fortnight break because it looks like a game of the soul: the disheartened will be beaten, the believer will win.
What happens when both believe?
The last quarter begins with an opportunity to Christensen who kicks out on the full. That would have been handy. Then Buddy scores a lucky one scrambled off his foot. That’s not handy. Caddy counters. The Cats are still up by three goals. But the Hawks are coming.
There is moment upon moment which can turn the game. The Cats can’t quite take it. One more goal and the heads will drop. They are free and storming forward when Burgoyne reaches out and just clutches Kelly from behind. Burgoyne has been magnificent all night (I have noticed him far more than Sam Mitchell) and minutes later he charges at Jimmy Bartel in the goal square. Jimmy has the slightest fumble which allows Burgoyne to tackle him and, in dragging him down, the kick is scrubbed. If it gets over Bradley Hill’s head the Cats come back inside and are away again. It rolls to Hill who scoops it up and goals. Twelve points.
Burgoyne again. Mackie does everything he can in getting back. Both slip at the same time in the square. Handball to Gunston. Stokes arrives a stride too late. Goal.
Minutes left and Breust marks and misses.
It must be our night.
A few minutes out and the Cats just cannot clear the footy. The handball comes back over the top to Burgoyne (again) and he shoots from the pocket. It’s a beautifully controlled kick. The Hawks are in front.
This is when we get serious. This is when we are steady. This is when our old hands take control.
And the chances are there. We have to score: to be cavalier. The hint of a turnover sends Geelong players scattering. Options everywhere, but turnovers kill. Harry Taylor is in the clear. He can choose Caddy on the fly, or Stokes in the middle. It’s put down your glasses until someone gets a mit on him, just enough to affect the kick, which grubbers to Blicavs. Blicavs, who has tried his heart out, has his own hassler and the opportunity is lost.
The Hawks post a series of rushed and scrubbed behinds until they lead by a goal. There can’t be much time. The Cats stream forward again. Selwood draws a defender on the wing and handballs to Johnno on the wrap around. Johnno has loose men everywhere. His penetrating left-footer goes over the Hawks defender to Duncan. No, over Duncan’s head to…to Travis. “Travis!” He fumbles. Gathers. Looks up. Straightens up. And shoots from 25. “Draw!” yells someone behind us.
But, no. He’s missed. The Universe and Travis (a magnificent footballer who can set matches alight) are still not as one.
The Hawks control the footy and the game is theirs.
I am quiet. The Handicapper is a bit quiet. Adrian is not quiet. We shake hands. Masses of Hawthorn supporters bounce about. It is utterly intolerable.
People rave about the game – mainly those who don’t barrack for the mighty Cats.
It was a magnificently tense game of ebb and flow. But it was a game of the little blokes. Put Brad Ottens in the Geelong side and I reckon they win. The Hawks have had a few down – Franklin, Hodge, Roughead – and they’ve been woeful in front of goal, yet still won. They probably deserve the win. The Cats had their chances and couldn’t land the one or two final blows.
We thanks our hosts at the MCC, congratulate Adrian again, and shuffle off down the stairs and through Yarra Park, just as people do every week, and have done for generations.
So how do you feel on the train going home?
Bitterly disappointed of course, because the Cats are so good to watch. And they’re ours.
This game was a microcosm of the whole year. Matches played in surges and bursts by a team of highly talented footballers – veterans and young’uns alike who have given us much to love through 2013. The flag was made a whole lot harder to win when Freo beat us at Kardinia. Geelong at their best versus Hawthorn at their best was going to be a beaut Grand Final.
Neither team was at their best tonight but it was still a riveting three hours.
Can Hawthorn win it? I’m finding it difficult to care at the moment. No doubt my heart will have spoken to me by the fifteen minute mark of the first quarter on Saturday, but I reckon Freo, with big Sandilands, have a huge chance – if they can keep their heads.
Thanks Cats. You are magnificent.
Votes: 3 Johnno 2. S. Burgoyne 1. Mitchell