2012 Grand Final: A Hawks fan turns to A.B. Paterson for inspiration

The brief from The Footy Almanac editor was to write a report on the Grand Final and get a draft to him inside a fortnight. But for a week after the game, I could not stand the thought of reflecting back on that gutwrenching afternoon. (Subsequently the club hierarchy suggested that Hawthorn people should just move on and forget about the last Saturday of September, 2012.
Not an option for me, unfortunately.)

For a few years now I’ve had a crazy notion that 19th Century bush ballads can become a new form of sports reporting. I resolved to pioneer this genre and tried it out in The Almanac in 2009, round 2, also Sydney v Hawks. That piece was written with an eye to The Man from Ironbark.

So on the Saturday after the GF, up in Asia and residing at a Yacht Club, as I headed for breakfast I grabbed my trusty anthology of Banjo Paterson verse. I knew this would assist my search for inspiration and solace.

Inexorably I ventured to my all-time favourite piece of writing – A Bush Christening. I love the way it offers an insightful glimpse into the quirkiness of old fashioned Australian bush characters, is brim-full of vernacular and hilarious to boot.

Now indulge me here. I was born and raised in inland Queensland. I have family members who’ve lived for generations ‘beyond the Barcoo’. My great great great grandfather was killed in a fistfight at Goondiwindi in the 1870s. Can you imagine what Goondiwindi must have been like in the 1870s?

To honour the Banjo, I set about writing my report in the mode of A Bush Christening. The rhythm is a 6/6 syllable beat, with every 6th word rhyming, in the first and third lines. Banjo used a 9 or 10 syllable beat in the 2nd and 4th lines but I went with a uniform 10 syllables.

The trick is to weave in Australian idioms and figures of speech – not hard when the subject is a game of AFL footy.

To me as a Hawthorn fan trying to make sense of the defeat there was a single, dominant narrative from this Grand Final: multi-generational triumphs on the big day for 3 members of the same family.

John Kennedy senior, 3 time premiership coach, the hauler-up of Hawthorn by its bootstraps, the patriarch – of our Club as well as his own mighty family
– was out on the ground tasked with presenting the Cup to the Hawks if we won. Somewhere in the stadium was his son John Kennedy junior (“Kanga”), the modest and still largely unheralded 4 time premiership player for Hawthorn, the prototype of the hard running, linking half back flanker that Grant Birchall exemplifies today. And, triumphant on this day, Kanga’s son Josh
(“Joey”) who came to the Hawks under the father-son rule. Joey always looked a likely centreman but faced the obstacle of 4 top-notch incumbents, all similarly speed-deprived, in Mitchell, Sewell, Hodge and Lewis. The Hawks concluded, rightly, that the 5 of them could not play in the same side and so, tragically, when the Swans and their then-coach Paul Roos came a-hunting at the end of 2009, a trade was struck. The family club let one of our own go for his own good and did not strike a hard bargain – we got pick 39 for him. Many Hawthorn hearts bled at the time, but with hindsight the deal seems an abomination. What a tragedy the glorious trifecta was not completed with Josh wearing brown and gold.

The Kennedys to me are inspirational. They stand for rock solid values, family values, for striving to the end of endurance and they are ‘footy’ to the core.

There then was my theme, and the title of my piece – Joey’s Grand Christening.

And Joey had a strong game, generally acknowledged as one of the Swans’ 3 best, along with O’Keefe and Hannebery. For the Almanac, I gave Josh 3 votes, though that could possibly be characterised as ‘poetic licence’.

As I started to write and the rhymes flowed, breakfast merged into lunch.
Within 3 hours the piece was nailed. I found the structure allowed me to capture all of my key recollections surrounding the game:

*The slightly inebriated and delirious bogan-ish Hawks fan from an outer suburb I stood next to on Richmond station after we beat the Crows in the preliminary final. He said to me: “mate we can’t lose with Josh playing for the Swans – either way we win”
*Swelling confidence during the first quarter when we seemed on top all over the ground *Watching Swans coach John Longmire, the Horse, hit the huddle hard at quarter time. I read a report in The Age the day after the game that he and assistant Stewie Dewie instructed their midfield to abandon their man on man approach of the first quarter, with O’Keefe and Kennedy tasked with tag-teaming Mitchell and Sewell, going “two on two”. This was a key bit of coaching that swung the game *How the Swans took the game away from Hawthorn through quarter two and the opening minutes of the third, kicking 8 unanswered goals *Buddy Franklin’s inspirational cameo to bring the Hawks back into it – his kicking was awry in the first half but he “went instinctive” and things clicked *Sam Mitchell’s brain fade late in Q3, throwing the ball back to the wrong bloke to give away a 50 and goal – a big momentum-turner *Nerves observably taking hold of several Hawthorn players midway through the final quarter *The decisive goalmouth moments of the closing minutes – Young falling over, Gunston hitting the post, Sewell’s snaps that were oh so close, the magnificent Adam Goodes, Malceski’s sealer *Sitting in the bleak cold half-listening to the post-game performance of Temper Trap (who’d already done their thing at half time), unable to face the journey home *Alistair Clarkson’s sterling performance at the post-match press conference where he struck the right notes, genuinely and warmly congratulating his friend Horse while looking ahead to redemption in 2013

The opening of my piece mimics the first three verses of A Bush Christening:

On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few, And men of religion are scanty, On a road never cross’d ‘cept by folk that are lost, One Michael Magee had a shanty. 

Now this Mike was the dad of a ten-year-old lad, Plump, healthy, and stoutly conditioned; He was strong as the best, but poor Mike had no rest For the youngster had never been christened.

And his wife used to cry, “If the darlin’ should die Saint Peter would not recognise him.”
But by luck he survived till a preacher arrived, Who agreed straightaway to baptise him.

Magnificent stuff, and beyond the powers of mere mortals to emulate.

Nevertheless,  my effort to honour the great Banjo is in the 2012 Footy Almanac.



  1. Dave – outstanding work. I’ve only managed to read a few pieces thus far. I expect to read plenty on the banks of the Murray over Christmas.

  2. Magnificent Dave. Hadn’t heard that one of Paterson’s. Brevity and wit. And your game summary was gloriously fair and insightful for a losing supporter.
    I was so impressed that I have emailed Harms and ordered 2 dozen extra copies so family, friends and business customers can regail in your verse (true story).
    And I urge all Almanackers to similarly dig deep to spread the footy festive joy of our creative colleagues.

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