Under the Southern Cross

 

by John Green 

Who would have thought it? Richmond playing September footy.

Up the escalators from Southern Cross Station. It’s the annual Eureka game honouring the birth of Australian democracy on the Ballarat goldfields in 1854 and the contribution of Australia’s workers to the development of our nation. That’s the miners, not the soldiers or the police. A few generations ago you might have witnessed the textile workers and tanners of Richmond playing the slaughtermen and butchers of North Melbourne. Men clutching gladstone bags with their footy gear riding the tram to the game after working on Saturday morning. Now the players are fulltime and earn far more than the average wage garnered by the punters in the stands. They play not on some suburban battleground before spectators crammed onto crumbling terraces at the mercy of the elements, but in a boutique stadium under a retractable roof. People are less likely now to identify themselves as ‘working class’ and aspire instead to having the largest possible house they can afford in the outer suburbs and to seeing their kids kick on in life.

This is a battle for ninth place. Who wants it more? Which team will send their dads home happy on Fathers Day? Does Richmond want to finish one place outside the elusive eight for the seventh time since 1994? Or would it prefer to lose and, if Melbourne overcomes Port Adelaide as expected, finish in thirteenth place and gain a higher pick in the national draft? Will the Kangaroos be able to pick themselves up off the canvas after vying for a possible finals spot against St. Kilda last week and falling over so disastrously on the big stage?

I rubbed my hands with glee when Kangaroo pair Ziebell and Greenwood were suspended for infractions against the Saints. I rejoiced when Daniel Wells, one of the Kangaroos’ best performers for the year, was ruled out with a shoulder injury. But the self-satisfied grin was wiped from my face when the Adelaide Crows cried foul and Jake King was hauled before the tribunal for a sling tackle and banished from this afternoon’s encounter.

A couple of Richmond fans incessantly ridicule Kangaroo skipper Brent Harvey.

“Captain’s effort Boomer!”

“That’s it Boomer, you always turn it on in the big games!”

They are referring to his poor showing of the previous week against the Saints. The trouble is, they are forced to refer constantly to him for the entire game, because the 33-year-old keeps getting his hands on the ball. Harvey is like your pesky kid brother you allow to play kick-to-kick with you and your mates on the road because your mother forces you to. He’s annoying, belligerent and monopolises possession to the point where he makes you look silly. Harvey has the audacity to burn off Matthew White in a sprint along the wing, despite the fact that White is nine years his junior and has the reputation of being one of the quickest Tigers on the field.  He even passes off a few times to teammates just to dispel the impression that he is goal hungry.

It’s a tight contest with frequent lead changes. The Tigers persist in banging it in long to Riewoldt and Vickery. Nahas snaps around the heels of the big men and slots a few. But it’s often too crowded and Riewoldt finds it difficult to lead into space. The Roos, on the other hand, deliver frequent sucker punches. They win the ball and surge into an open forward line through the agency of Swallow, Cunnington, Adams and Thomas. Piercing the zone, beating the press, it doesn’t matter what you call it. The Kangaroos leap the fences. Petrie presents plenty of problems for Rance.

North leads by 13 points at the final break. Martin wins a couple of clearances in the opening minute of the fourth term. Deledio unloads on the run and narrowly misses. Nahas hauls in a couple of unlikely contested marks which should be impossible for a player of his size. He boots his fourth and fifth to put Richmond to within a point. Then Martin outmarks Cunnington and converts and  the Tigers are up by four points at the 14-minute mark. They have all the running and the yellow and black barrackers roar their approval.

But inexplicably, the Kangaroos regain the initiative. Edwards puts the Northerners back in the lead.  Jackson gives Swallow a clip on the ear just off the contest and is busted. Swallow scores another goal from the resulting free. There is no redemption for Jackson. He marks a pass that is meant for Deledio and misses from thirty metres out. A goal at this point would have put the Tigers back to within two points. Harvey is hemmed in on the boundary line and handpasses to Edwards. He kicks hurriedly to the square where Petrie rides on Rance’s back and grips the ball a centimetre in front of Graham’s lunging fist. He pops it through from point blank range and the Kangaroo supporters are ecstatic. They know they have the match in their keeping. Having kicked the last three goals of the game, the matchwinners, North spend the remaining minutes short passing to each other and making plans for Mad Monday.

The Tigers opened proceedings for the AFL in the first game of the season against Carlton back in March. They wrap up the home and away fixtures on a Sunday evening in September, having been relegated to the late time slot because, like North, they don’t need to recover for the finals on the following weekend.

Compensation? We avoid ninth place on the ladder, settle for twelfth after Melbourne goes down to Port, and have pick number 12, rather than 18, in the draft. North finishes ninth for the second year in a row, but with one win less than they achieved in 2010.

Tomorrow, most of us will head back to work. Some of the types of work we do would be incomprehensible to the labourers at the time of the Eureka rebellion. Many of the kids who accompanied their parents to Etihad Stadium will have jobs in the near future that haven’t even been invented yet. We all need to make a living and support our families. We follow our forbears and make our own small contribution to the country.

But as fans of the clubs which usually don’t make it to the finals, we are still aspirational in our own way. Tired of being downtrodden, we find inspiration in strange places. A North Melbourne supporter driving to work on the urban fringe spots a mob of kangaroos in the bush. She daydreams of rampaging marsupials bounding over their rivals on the big stage. A Richmond tragic contending with the freeway traffic during the morning rush hour listens to Eye of the Tiger on Classic Rock FM. He contemplates the ‘thrill of the hunt’ in the finals campaigns that are surely just around the corner.

The Eureka rebels eventually achieved most of their demands, despite the fact they suffered a catastrophic defeat when the soldiers and police stormed the barricades.

If Eureka teaches us anything, it’s that even the underdogs can have their day if they can just stick around long enough.

Comments

  1. John, I was at that game on Sunday and I was at the same venue the day before watching the Dogs and Dockers. Based purely on those performances (and of course their are so many other factors to consider), I would think Richmond and North’s day will come sooner than Footscray or Freo’s.

    I really enjoyed the intensity of the Tigers-Roos game.

  2. John
    Like Gigs, I thought it was a pretty intense contest given its relative insignificance. In a peverse way, I’m glad Richmond lost, as I think 9th place and 4 consecutive wins would have sent them into summer feeling just a bit too pleased with themselves than they’re entitled to be.

    I nominated 8 wins as being about as good as we could expect from 2011, so 8 1/2 is a reasonable effort, with a threadbare defence and limited ruck capabilities.

    Next year will be the acid test, as I think further improvement of 2-3 wins will be the necessary pass mark.

  3. Bernadette Middleton says:

    Great game by Boomer, glad the Tiger fans enjoyed it as much as the North fans. Sorry to take your ninth spot, hope we can leave it for you next year.

    The game was of a far better standard than many I have seen this year, might be a good sign for both teams next year.

  4. Alovesupreme says:

    Stainless,
    I don ‘t see the Tigers much, but I was certainly aware of the “weaknesses’ that you allude to “a threadbare defence and limited ruck capabilities.”
    I’m intrigued enough to ask how were these defects covered in the better performances – West Coast, North, Sydney and even the decisive win at the Gabba (not too many teams have over-run the Lions up there this year, even though they have a shocking win-loss record)?

  5. Stephanie Holt says:

    Lovely piece. All eyes on the draft now.

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