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Round 6 – Geelong v Sydney: Away from away from home

Geelong Cats v Sydney Swans

1:45PM Saturday April 28

Kardinia Park



Lance Franklin and Gary Junior weren’t the only ones missing from Kardinia Park on Saturday afternoon. Having stood on the Ablett Terrace for the last three encounters between the Swans and Cats, this year I was parked on the living room floor in Sydney.


I’d just returned from Brisbane, where my Cygnet and I had been familiarising ourselves with the northern post of our family’s new FIFO existence. We were helping to dress and occupy a new space, installing the fittings of a home. It’s a life we’re learning to adapt to. To complete this new home, my Cygnet and I had brought one vital thing north with us. A cat. A substitute for our beloved blue and white-socked mog in Sydney. This one, however, had to be apartment-proof. So our new cat would be a photographic canvas-printed Exotic Shorthair, stuffed with doorstop sand. Standing form only.


The cat’s name, according to its label, is Smokey. Over the course of a week we got to know Smokey and realised that while she isn’t terribly giving, she is a cat who is strangely ideal. You can prop her on the kitchen bench and she doesn’t steal the butter. You can position her at the end of the bed and she won’t wake you with her acoustic interferences at 5am. You can feed her with anthropomorphising chat and carry her off by the ears. Smokey is a cat you can control.


Sometime around midday on Saturday, a message came from one of the Clowder who usually hosts me down in Geelong. He was on the train south passing the You Yangs, none of us feeling Yin Yang apart from the Sydney mog asleep on the kitchen stool, unfazed or supremely confident. He told me he was wearing a red t-shirt underneath the blue and white, in honour of my absence. I was sad not to be there. Those traditions are precious – little existence handrails. And it looked perfect at Kardinia. The bounce sprang into the crispest sky.


The Swans got off to a start as clean as the day. Everyone had a dance partner and the pressure was turned on. Lovely hands from both sides, good attack, fair see-saw. As the ‘Geee-long’ chant started up five minutes in, Gary Rohan helped himself to the first six pointer. Sinclair was all over the chief of the blond sports-headband brigade in Stanley and the Swans were miserly with the distance between their bodies and the Sherrin, mopping up the groundball beautifully, carrying it forward with a short and sweet efficiency and putting it on the board. Geelong had no way of getting their chain game up and underway. Our defence looked the best it’s been this year; Rampe and Reg sending back the Geelong entries like pinball paddles. When Ben Ronke kicked his first goal in League footy and Jack evened up the score to double at the break, it felt like – against the personnel odds – we might just be alright. As strange as it sounds, Sydney supporters are unfamiliar with losing at the Cattery.


But the thing is with Cats – they’re often out of sight before they pounce.


Menegola kicked a beauty some five minutes into the second. Fox couldn’t cover Sinclair and the clearances began to fly the other way. Geelong were always going to have their go of momentum. But as the talls started kicking truly and their midfield were contributing scores without a single answering goal from us, it suddenly felt like our home away from home was being reclaimed by its rightful owners. It was an unravelling thing. The flow of the play, the drop in tackles, the desperate long bombs that allowed punishing ricochet. Blond-brigade Stewart was suddenly stalking round our forward 50 while the cats were running feral in theirs, tearing up the furniture, making toys out of things that weren’t for playing with, ripping up the couch and the washing and the curtains at will. I wanted to sandbag the lot of them. When Parsons kicked the fifth straight Geelong goal, I messaged the Clowder.


‘Starting to feel ok that I’m not on the terrace.’


And then I messaged Brisbane for solidarity.


‘Are you listening?’


‘No, I stopped at half time … been too scared to go back. Should I?’


It still amazes me how a game can turn on a dime. And how bad it can feel when it’s turning away from your favour. And how charmed it can feel when it’s turning back.


Nonchalant before the bounce, Yuki the cat

I don’t know if it was the melee at three quarter time – a delightful word that sounds more like a tropical fruit or cocktail than a brawl – but something took hold. I didn’t see it coming. Fox lit the flame and the Swans took flight. They started to see the benefits of the unfamiliar – using short possession footy to take back territory with patience and precision. They balanced the grab with the flow and were maniacal with effort. The mog headed for the back door in Sydney.


‘Bit tight and nervy here,’ came the message from the terrace.


‘Here too,’ the reply.


How did they figure the lack of time left in the game and the distance between the scores? How did they convert the squeeze of such unlikeliness into confident forward play? The statistical markers – the structures and ball work, un- or contested possessions, effective conversions and turnover differential – they can all be tallied and cross checked. But it takes something else to do what they did. To force a 38 point turnaround in 30 minutes when you’ve already been flat out for 90.


It was there in Kennedy’s will to keep his feet mid-clearance and execute a choice with three pairs of hands upon him. It was in the pushy self belief with which Jones turned every scrap ball into an assist and a kick-out into a goal. It was in Gary Rohan’s resolute eyes as he ran and wriggled the ball around Stewart and the boundary, keeping his feet long enough to grab it again and urge it to Fox. It was the one-eyed Cyclops Sinclair and his superhuman jumps. And the Zen like calm of Lloyd to pinpoint a leading Hayward. And the know-no-better baggage-less optimism of ‘the kids’ to finish the job.


‘Can’t tell you how intense this is on radio …’ came the word from Brisbane. ‘I’ve got the headphones on running around the empty office, screaming.’


It’s how we all felt as spectators. On both sides of the coin I am sure. How was Stevie J seeing it, as the players funnelled spirit into precision? In the end it was momentum that lifted Rohan’s flick to Heeney, on to Florent and home.


It’s the thing I love most about football, watching a group of players adapt and move something mentally and emotionally. We ride it but they play it. As Horse said post match, ‘They’ve got to do it.’ They possess the qualities that Smokey the cat doesn’t have. The ability to respond. The mental and emotional juice to make decisions and work out from under control. It’s an animation that surpasses appearances. For me, the supporter, even a day later the parameters of that win are a mirage. Every time I look back I can’t actually see where they were.


I guess the away game is a kind of FIFO existence. Fly in, fly out. Acclimatise. Find the keys to the door or try again another time. The Sydney mog slept on the pillow beside me on Saturday night and bathed loudly twice in the dark. She woke at dawn, begged for the open window and then refused to go out. She moved to the Cygnet’s bedroom door and howled til I fed her to save him. You can only control a cat for so long.


For the first time in a while, we’ll play the Cats twice this year and for the first time since we said goodbye to the old second home at Homebush, the repeat will be in Sydney. Some of the Clowder are already confirmed for the SCG. It’ll be a new tradition. I’ll be wearing my navy and white under red.


A nonplussed Yuki on the author’s desk post-match



GEELONG      2.3          6.7       9.8       10.9 (69)
SYDNEY         4.6          4.7       5.10     12.13 (85)


Geelong: Parsons 2, Hawkins 2, Gregson, Stanley, Kelly, Menegola, Dangerfield, Selwood
Sydney: Hayward 3, Fox 2, Florent 2, Ronke 2, Parker, Jones, Rohan


Geelong: Kelly, Duncan, Selwood, Menegola, Hawkins
Sydney: Kennedy, Sinclair, Lloyd, Heeney, McVeigh, Jones

Crowd: 31,036



About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Keiran Croker says

    Thanks for a unique three State take on a great game, with both a real and an inanimate stuffed Cat. From at the ground in the Players Stand, it was a wonderful win for the ages. I’ve not sung the song so loud and hard for a while. Great performances from Kennedy, Sinclair and Jones in that amazing final quarter and all the boys really.
    Caught up with some Geelong mates in the Kardinia Cafe after the game. Fair to say they would think that Smokey might be more creative and value than one or two of those head banded long blond haired Cats players.
    I hope to be in Sydney for the return game in July.

  2. MGLFerguson says

    Good sportswriting is a bit like pornography: I can’t define it, but I sure know it when I see it.

    Reading this piece crystallized something for me. I have for a long time been (at best) nonplussed when journalists ask athletes, particularly professional ones, how they feel after a game; I now realize that I believe that it is their job to play the game, and it’s mine as an observer to do the feeling. After all, athletes all feel alike in victory, but I feel each win or each loss or, in advance of the finality of either, the violent swing between the seeming certainties of each, in my own way.

    Ultimately, each bare recitation of a game’s events, whether poetic or prosaic, is alike; yours instead speak to you, and by doing so, in my own way, to me.



  3. I was there Mathilde and you were not. (Sounds like the start of a poem). But in some ways I wish you were there and I was not.

    However, old mate PF and I enjoyed our afternoon on the terraces. Nearly got sun burnt!!

    I think KP suits the older bodies of the Swans midfield. This game was close encounters of the odd kind. Both teams were great and awful, but not in equal measure.

  4. Sydney has now won three in a row at Kardinia Park. It’s been a while since a visiting side had that sort of record down there.

    I recall Carlton winning four in a row there 1970-1973, then North Melbourne won six in a row at the Cattery 1973-1979 ( the 1976 clash was at VFL Park), though i can’t recall too many side shaving thesesort of runs there in the last 40 years. As i no longer follow Geelong the focus on these sort of figures is a tad skewiff, but possibly West Coast and Brisbane have had good runs there in recent decades.

    Good luck for your swannies Mathilde, and good seeing Yuki enjoy her moment in the sun.


  5. Peter_B says

    Stuffed cat – an omen? I can see a menagerie of Tigers, Eagles, Crows, Lions, Roos etc etc adorning the de Hauteclocque den. With protruding pins. Need a good taxidermist? I love that voodoo that you do Mathilde.

  6. Thanks Mathilde. Yes, a melee sounds like something you’d enjoy by the pool in New Caledonia. While it’s not “dusk”, “murmur” or “lullaby ” it’s a good ‘un!

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I love observing cats, especially their ability to land on their feet from the most precarious of places. Nonchalant Yuki deserves a painting.
    Have just added a third to our clowder: Skid 17yrs, Floyd 4yrs and Arlo 6 weeks. Arlo is a black and white feisty. Been in the house a week and thinks he owns the joint. Skid and Floyd, grey and ginger tabbies have been tolerant…thus far.
    Love your work MdH. Cheer, cheer.

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