The Giants’ barnstorming finish swells the heart of a footy novice

Sometimes the football gods are with you. Sometimes a chance, a whim, an accident turns into a day you’ll remember to the end of your days. Even when the omens, frankly, aren’t all that auspicious.

I didn’t expect much from my first AFL game: years of arguing with Mr Harms and his friend, Radio National’s Warwick Hadfield on ABC Radio in Canberra had convinced me that there was something rich and intriguing about the game and its stories.  And my guide on the day (and co-author), Sebastian Clark, is imbued with a passion born back when Canberra was small enough to watch the footy at Manuka from the comfort of your car.

But still. I grew up in League and Union heartland in rural NSW.  And while I now know who Crackers Keenan is and how Collingwood fans are judged, I still had no real idea how the points were scored. Add to that a match between two bottom-end strugglers. On one hand, the Greater Western Sydney Giants, trying to graft themselves onto the national capital and its AFL history, onto a city that’s already suspicious about why we should barrack for a team based three hours’ drive away down the Hume Highway. On the other, the Gold Coast Suns, a pack of shiny-faced youngsters whose record is, well, undistinguished at this stage to be charitable. Everyone said the Suns would win, though. The Giants were toast.

So then, to the game, via lunch in Manuka, where genteel shoppers and over-excited kids were represented in roughly equal numbers. I clutched my high visibility orange GWS hat and reminded myself that nobody would care if I looked tubercular in it.

The sun shone, we milled in with the general crowd, and Sebastian’s conversation ranged from the rules on handballs to how unendurably annoying it is to watch an entire cohort of players bunched together in one corner of the field. I nodded. I asked questions. I started to get the feel of things. I made observations about forward movement and sideways kicks and how young they all looked. I noted that convert Karmichael Hunt is not bad at all but Israel Folau looked a bit useless, and Sebastian said they’d talked the same way about Hunt last year, just give him time.

 

It was all very pleasant in an observational, social, friendly kind of way. We interspersed the footy with recollections about the days when Commonwealth Avenue was a wooden bridge across the Molonglo River, and the only students at the whole of the ANU were public servants doing night courses. The score see-sawed, and I thought the Suns would probably edge us out after all. There were 8,600 at the ground but it felt like more than that – a warm-hearted, gregarious, cheery, old fashioned kind of crowd, full of good will for the fit young blokes whose bodies were audibly slamming into each other six feet from where we sat.

And then something a bit remarkable happened. The late, golden autumn light streamed in bars across the ground and the breeze brought with it a hint of ice from the high Brindabellas away in the south. And somewhere in the final quarter GWS turned into a match-winning team. Goal, bang, goal again – and again and again, as the crowd began to whoop and holler and the sense of incredulity turned into exuberance and delight and then ecstasy. They’d done it! They’d bloody done it! I don’t think they could believe it themselves. The ground announcer observed that history had been made, and he wasn’t wrong. A portly bloke in a grey fleecy top performed an unlikely hurdle of sheer joy over the fence. Another pair of gentlemen bowed low and flourished their scarves before they were gently, patiently, kindly escorted from the ground.

The team song was infused with jubilation and disbelief, and the Canberra crowd streamed out in high good humour, just as the day’s warmth disappeared and our noses started to tingle with the cold. Crikey it was fun. I think I might go again. I’m not ever wearing that hat, though.

 

Comments

  1. pamela sherpa says:

    Genevieve, the next game the Giants play in Canberra is in August so you can swap your hat for a fashionable beanie .

    Baz- nice to hear that you have joined the orange movement – good year to do it with the way the Blues are going.

  2. Mark Doyle says:

    A good report of Canberra football! Both West Sydney and Gold Coast Football Clubs will become good competitive clubs in 4 or 5 years. This report also reminds me of playing football in Canberra in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the extremely cold and windy conditions of the weather from the south and the Brindabella mountains. Deakin Oval which had no trees or grandstand for protection was an enduring freezing cold windswept experience; thank god for the good samaritan trainer and his concealed bottle of rum at half and three quarter time. However, I did enjoy playing on Manuka Oval, Ainslie Oval and the ANU Oval and the Saturday or Sunday nights at the Manuka Club in Forrest.

  3. Richard Naco says:

    Genevieve: great report, but you don’t have to wait until Round 21 to once more immerse yourself in the abundant exuberance and enthusiasm inherent to the Giants’ fan base.

    Our club is organising a bus from Manuka on Saturday for the inaugural game at Skoda, and I reckon that bus trip will be wilder and more fun than a certain Magical Mystery Tour of days long gone by.

    Ring the club to book a seat. The game on Saturday will be one of the most uplifting experiences any footy fan, old or new, could ever wish for.

    (When my days are finished, and the Reaper claims me, please let my soul ascend to Skoda Stadium!)

  4. Adam Muyt says:

    Ah, has me pining for Genevieve’s wonderful radio voice – and musical tastes – Canberra autumns and footy at Manuka!

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