Gold Coast v Port Adelaide
7.25pm, Saturday 27th August
By Cathryn McDonald
“Finally, we concede that there can be honour in defeat, but to each of us, honourable defeat of our club and guernsey can come only after human endeavour on the playing field is completely exhausted” – Fos Williams
It was always going to end like this for Schulzy.
His last game for Port was a glorified practice match on the distant frontier of Aussie Rules. He deserved avenues of confetti and smiling faces singing his name. Instead he got the empty expanses of Metricon, tens of thousands of kilometres away from home. His exit from the game was ephemeral; a leaf on the wind, watch me soar.
It’s fitting for what his career has been. When Bob went down with that ACL earlier in the year, everyone knew. Everyone cared. When Boomer was axed, it nearly broke Twitter. But Schulzy, when he went down with that back injury earlier in the year… our worries were private. They were whispered in Facebook chats, over coffee, in late-night conversations in pubs. Is he done? Is this it?
His last game was typical Schulzy. It was one last dance, one last chance to rage against the dying of the light. He threw his battered body into the contest from the start, emerging with two goals for the first half. He dished out twice as many to his young teammates. He made us walk taller… not just our two debutants, but our leaders, and the supporters watching avidly back home. He exuded the confidence the passage of time had taken from him these last few years.
At Port Adelaide, Schulzy has been known for two things: his cool confidence in front of goals, and his courage in the face of a series of injuries which would have led many to question the way they play. In 2012, during a game at Etihad, he collided with a team-mate’s knee. He spent days in hospital with internal bleeding. This was after thinking he’d lost an eye a few weeks earlier in a Showdown collision. At the time, the media asked him if he’d thought about giving the game away. Four years later, he’s still here.
As the match wore on, he began to disappear. It was a changing of the guard. Snelling and Bonner led the charge in their first game, with other youngsters such as Wines, Austin and Impey featuring heavily. But the football gods were kind that night, and halfway through the third, Schulzy found himself with a set shot to put the margin out to a game-high – and game-winning – seven goals. He converted. And somewhere a million miles away, pubs and loungerooms erupted in song one last time:
“Schulzy Army! Schulzy Army! Schulzy Army!”
At the end of the match, the travelling fans unveiled a cartoon drawing of Schulzy and held it above their heads. He walked around half the boundary of Metricon, making sure to high-five each and every fan. He refused his team-mates’ offers to be carried off the ground, walked down the race and it was over. He was gone.
This year we’ve had to answer some big questions. It seems that this season has gone the way of those who have been dealt the right cards. Other than a couple of perennial underperformers, this year’s big disappointments are the teams which have been decimated by injury and suspensions. However, for so many of these teams – especially Port Adelaide – this has translated into a malaise affecting every fit player. A few have progressed: those players given their first games, or a new role. But the majority have gone backwards. When we’re on the back foot from the start, when there’s little hope of reward, the appetite for the contest disappears. It’s as if it’s not worth it anymore.
Can your worth as a footballer, or a football team, be measured in glory and popularity alone? To what extent does football immortality depend on being in the right place at the right time? Is it still possible to be a champion if the odds were never in your favour?
Schulzy showed us what being that kind of champion means.
He played one game at the start of the year, before undergoing the back surgery that threatened to end his career. As our season collapsed around him, he worked through three months of rehab. All that time, it looked unlikely he’d play finals again. Time was against him even to make it back into the senior side. But he still did it.
There aren’t that many ways in which a footballer can be a role model. But I think, for me, Schulzy was one. He leaves this “entertainment industry” with nothing. No awards bar a few years as Port’s leading goalkicker, no premierships, two finals series in fourteen seasons, and not much glory to speak of. But he fought for more than that.
Schulzy will be remembered as the most-loved Port Adelaide player of his generation.
He was a cult hero of a basket-case club. We believed in him when we had very little else to believe in. When our season was already over, when we were a hundred points down, when we hadn’t won a game in months: it made no difference to how he played. He played for his team mates, and for the jumper. It’s why we wore his face on our scarves, and let his name ring around every stadium in the country.
Schulzy leaves this club having earnt the trust and love of thousands. I’m glad that, for him, that was something worth fighting for. In decades’ time, when it’s my generation’s turn to tell stories of the great players of our younger years, his name will be the one on our lips.
Perhaps that’s the greatest honour of all.
GOLD COAST 1.4 2.7 7.10 9.12 (66)
PORT ADELAIDE 2.3 6.4 10.7 13.11 (89)
Gold Coast: Fiorini 2, Day 2, Rosa, Matera, Sexton, MacPherson, Lynch
Port Adelaide: R. Gray 4, Schulz 3, Boak, Young, S. Gray, Impey, Snelling, Ebert
Gold Coast: Miller, May, Lynch, Fiorini
Port Adelaide: R. Gray, Wines, Bonner, Snelling, Ebert, Schulz
Umpires: Stephens, Hay, Wallace
My votes: R. Gray 3, Bonner 2, Schulz 1