A Good Idea

As a passionate Essendon fan, it’s fair to say that this year has tested my love of the game. The fanatical coverage of the Supplement Saga and ASADA investigation has been draining, as large sections of the media jump at shadows in the desperate attempt to keep up with the constant hum of the 24-hour news cycle. Not only has the story changed from day to day, it has often changed from hour to hour, especially in the last few weeks. Ethical, legal and moral debates aside, the fact is we are out of the finals for 2013. A season of on-field promise petered out to a dead-rubber against the Tigers at the ‘G. From a fan’s perspective, it is a sad and sorry state of affairs.

Despite all this, I still embraced the beginning of September with excitement and anticipation. The reason for this was that I was about to strap on the boots and play a footy final. September footy. It sent a keen shiver down the spine. For the last two years, I have been playing for the Marcellin Old Collegians Footy Club thirds in the VAFA. My motivations for this are mixed. At 31 years of age, I figured it was now or never. I guess I wanted to test myself and, to employ an over-used cliché, step out of my comfort zone. It was a good idea.

I reckon I have strung together around 20 games, some more memorable than others. My second game last year was at Brunswick Street Oval, where the history nerd within me revelled in the glory of playing on a former VFL venue. Earlier this year we played at Gillon Oval, Brunswick’s old VFA home. The change rooms had baths. A month or two ago I stood for the better part of three quarters in ankle deep puddles while my shorter opponent intermittently slipped through my grasp to create valuable goals in the wet.

Last season, I decided it was essential that I administer a smother at some point. A genuine one percenter. I tried unsuccessfully for a couple of weeks until I was pushed by an opponent towards a kicking teammate and the freshly launched ball grazed the back of my head as I fell to the ground. A falcon and a smother; not really what I had in mind. Thankfully I registered a genuine smother a few weeks later, and it was actually on an opponent this time.

Despite the often icy conditions, I have warmed to the Thursday night ritual of training. The smell of grass and football leather. The thud of ball on boot. The constant chatter and shout of players wanting the ball. The sight of fog billowing out of puffing mouths. It is pure football enjoyment. The only time an amino acid or a peptide gets mentioned is when it is part of a clumsy joke.

So, Sunday the 1st of September dawned and I rose from a shallow sleep. The weather forecast was a beauty and when I opened the curtains, sun burst into the room. The game was due to start at 9:15am. This meant two things: I obviously wasn’t playing an elite standard of footy, and this was the earliest I had gotten out of bed on a Sunday since childhood.

The game was at Bill Lawry Oval in Northcote, wedged between Westgarth Street to the north and the towering commission flats to the south. The ground has a solid concrete grandstand that sits in the north-east pocket. To the east, district cricketers made early preparations for the summer. But enough of the geographical bearings, there was a final to be played.

I didn’t really know what to expect. The last footy final I had played was in the Under 14s – more than half of my life ago. The ball whizzed about at the start and I ran around like a kid lost at a shopping centre. Eventually, a loose ball came my way and I dived for a mark on the wing. As soon as I had grasped it I heard the insistent call of a teammate. I handballed to him, he ferried it into the forward line and we kicked our first goal. Modern footy stats would say I started a scoring chain. I would say I was relieved.

From there, the game continued and was always close – the margin never went beyond two or three goals. It felt strange to play in front of a crowd. There might have been a hundred people. That is not much, but when a man walks past with his dog during a regular season game and immediately becomes 50% of the attendance figure, anything in double figures is a blockbuster.

At three-quarter time we led by a point. Unfortunately we could not hang on to that lead as the opposition kicked a few and the game was lost. Disappointment descended. But in a complicated AFL season, I am thankful for the VAFA season that I have had. All being well, I will be back next year for more.

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.


  1. Peter Fuller says

    Really pleased that you’re getting a buzz out of playing. Your reference to playing at Brunswick Street and Gillon Oval (Brunny) resonated for me. One of my ways of spending idle time is to reflect on grounds where I’ve played and/or umpired and/or been a spectator. Gillon Oval qualifies in all three categories. It’s also my device for putting myself to sleep as I enumerate the list.
    Good luck for next year; while we all find plenty of other elements of life get in the road, the indulgence of playing football is worth preserving as long as you can, and worth making some tough choices about other leisure-time activites. As that oft-used cliche has it “You’re a long time retired”, and very few of us get to do a Tim Watson.

  2. Thanks Peter. Gillon Oval was great. A bit windy, but still really enjoyable. The grandstand is a ripper and the changerooms were easily the biggest we had all season!

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