At 2.30pm a Mack truck lumbered onto Subiaco Oval. I checked the registration number “41” and quickly confirmed it was Shane Mumford.
The sox were already down around the ankles, giving the impression that he was running on half deflated retreads. The jumper dangled loosely out from the waist band of the impressive shorts. More ‘bootie’ than Serena Williams, and the truck looked like it would not pass muster at the next weighbridge stop.
I knew he had been out injured for most of the year with a back complaint, and I had seen him struggle in the last quarter of his comeback game against the Cats a few weeks back. “Look at how fat Mumford still is – he’s the Galloping Gasometer Lite,” I chortled gleefully to the Avenging Eagle. My experienced saddling enclosure eye quickly concluded that this stayer was still several runs from his best, after his enforced spell in the paddock. I wound him out to 20′s against our only standing trumps – the Cox and Natanui ruck duo.
At the other end our sleek black Maserati glided through his paces. The duco was gleaming in the winter sun, and there was not a mark on the impressive bodywork. NicNat is in career best form, and while I couldn’t vouch for our midfield and makeshift forward line, I ‘knew’ we would dominate the rucks.
What followed was a master class in ruckwork, strength and bodywork from a master craftsman. Natanui leaped. Mumford nudged. Not so much as to draw a free, but enough to throw NicNat off balance. The hitout stats misleadingly show that NicNat still often got his hand to the ball, but without any precision or direction.
There was a swarm of little blond left footers in Red and White jumpers eagerly waiting for these errant taps (I can’t tell my Hanneberry from my Jack or my O’Keefe – I just knew there were too many of them). NicNat resorted to jumping early. Mummy stood aside and waited bemused for him to crash to earth, and then handed it off to a multitude of choices.
The game was tight to half time, and in a second half crisis this season, NicNat has often been the impetus that drives us forward with his energy, strength and force of will. On Sunday he leaped over marking packs, but in his desperation the footy cannoned like pinballs from his over eager hands. With the Eagles deep in the forward line and desperately needing goals, he went third man up over the back at a boundary throw in. Cox and a clutch of Eagles forwards collapsed like a rugby scrum under his momentum, and the Sydney Roosters ran the ball the length of the ground to score an easy try.
Having given up on the result, I spent most of the last half watching how this unlikely specimen worked his mastery. I imagined Mumford in a leather apron with chisel in hand. A 16th century master craftsman, part artisan and part artist, rendering stone into “poor man’s bible” mosaics on a cathedral facade. Simple principles repeated to tranform stone into high art.
But maybe it wasn’t a stonemason’s apron. Maybe he was a cooper fashioning oak into barrels to mature the Rockford Shiraz that Harms was sipping wistfully over in the Barossa. “Who’d have thought we had another Ottens, but we sent the 2012 flag up the Hume Highway? Why would we drink magnums of Mumford Merlot, when we have pints of Trent West bitter?”
The jumper that flowed loose around Mummy’s waistband, was not concealing bulging elastic. It hung loose from the immense barrel of his chest. His ribs like the oak staves banded to contain and mature the Barossa’s finest.
Naitanui is a 400 metre runner, or a pole vaulter or the best decathlete since Daley Thompson. But on Sunday he was humbled by a shot putter, who used leverage and guile to render him impotent.
My lasting impression was of Natanui exhausting himself chasing the lumbering Mack truck wide on the forward flank in the last quarter. “How can this be?” I marvelled. After a bounce Mumford would run forward of the contest, confident in his team’s ability to generate a turnover. As that recurred throughout the second half, Natanui constantly exhausted himself retreating to cover a lumbering Mumford by now 50 metres clear.
One saving grace for the Eagles was that Mumford is a shocking kick, and I recall him clear in the forward pocket missing everything from 25 metres out. The other is that Naitanui is very humble and a ‘quick learn’. He will have gained more from Sunday’s towelling and watching the tapes of Mumford’s techniques, than from the season of dominance he had enjoyed to date. I am confident that he will use the lessons to advantage in September.
How could a strong athlete like NicNat be tossed around like a helpless child? I had seen him monster other strong ruckmen like Jolly and Jamar who attempted to outbody him. One answer is in the physique. Naitanui is long of leg, which gives him his leap and stride, but also a high centre of gravity. Mumford is to ruckwork what Swan is to the midfield. Long in the trunk and chest giving enormous aerobic strength and a low centre of gravity. Like those blow-up figures that you can’t knock over because of the sand in their base.
He is a reminder that footballers come in all shapes and sizes. Matt Priddis and Michael Barlow were mature age recruits because they could not run out of sight in the midle of the night. But the point is that they can run all night, and then all the next day. Football recruiters go to the draft camps looking for the next Golden Slipper winner.
Shane Mumford showed today that he is the Red Rum of footballers. Unbeatable over a distance and a few obstacles.
I am writing the game proper for the Almanac book, but I wanted to pay tribute to the joy I got watching an unconventional master tradesman at work. I always look for players who can ‘do a number’ on the opposition’s stars, and that is the first time I have seen NicNat beaten this year. Cox had the strength and experience to break even.
My Malarkey votes would have been:
- Ryan O’Jackeberry (3) – they can split ‘em equally
- Shane Mumford (2)
- John Longmire (1) – no coach has stopped both Priddis and Hurn so effectively all year.
NicNat’s irresistible force met Mummy’s immovable object. The immovable object won by knockout.