Ablett on Fire

From the comfort of an armchair in front of the box, we get to see the occasional remarkable thing. Today, I got to see two.

I’d been quiet on the punt during the Sydney Easter carnival. But, with some cash in the bank and form to make a mug of Deane Lester, today was the day to clean up. I was onto a double that, in my considered view, was a mortal lock. The first leg, the T J Smith (a Gp 1 sprint over 1200m), would contain only Apache Cat. I loved the Cat. Despite the fact that I’d been but one of the mugs fleeced by the visiting Tom Waterhouse in the Patinack Classic at Flemington last November (the baldy faced gelding was well beaten over 6 lengths by that cagey man Bart’s Swick), I was back on board.

A brilliant win in the Australia Stakes at the Valley in mid-February (albeit over a modest Group 1 field), a freshen up, an imposing 1200m and first up record, together with the fact that he’d won the race last year, meant he was a certainty. My study confirmed that he only had the old Joe Janiak trained greybeard, Takeover Target, to beat. (I was only slightly less confident about the second leg, the prestigious Doncaster Mile: despite their terrible barrier draws, the race would be fought out by the swooping All Silent (trained to the minute by Graeme Begg) and the precocious Whobegotyou (fighting for a diminishing reputation). One of them was a moral.

I was knocked out in the first leg by the old fella. Nash Rawiller, a new pilot replacing the Target’s usual jock, Jay Ford, rolled the old champ to the front and there he stayed, careering away for a three length win over Gai’s young star colt, Northern Meteor. The Cat was flogged by about six lengths and the Target was cheered by an adoring crowd all the way back to scale. I ripped up by ticket, but smiled, happy to have seen something special.

Several hours later, after some family time with our 10 month old, Harry, I’d returned to the couch, glass of cleanskin red in hand, to watch the Cats. I’d seen all three games so far this season live. I’d watched history almost repeat itself against the Hawks. I’d viewed our boys almost play the Tiges back into some sort of form (which, as we saw from the latter’s performance the following week against the Dogs, was an aberration). I’d spent a nervous first quarter on Easter Thursday against the Pies wondering whether the Maggies were made of kryptonite. My post-match deliberations of all three contests had been undertaken with a furrowed brow. The Cats had won but hadn’t, on what I’d seen, been playing “jogo benito” or, as “Dips” O’Donnell had wonderfully put it, “Eastlink footy”.  I was also worried about taking on Adelaide in Adelaide as the Crows were always tough to beat on their own dungheap and were a hard-nosed, accountable and poorly-dressed outfit. That said, I was comforted by the fact that it was little Gazza’s 150th game: surely a virtuoso performance would take place in the little master’s honour.

First quarter. The Cats, channelling Vo Rogue, get away to a fast start with a typical rove and snap from S Johnson and then two goals (within two minutes) from G Ablett. The Crows fight back later in the quarter through Thompson, young Mackay and the Porpoise. Joel Selwood has, as usual, brought his own footy with him, managing 13 touches and finding some spare time to have his face busted open as a result of some friendly fire from Enright. Ablett has been active with 10 touches and the Cats lead by 11. Tim Lane quips that Ablett “makes everything look easy” and I nod, and quaff, knowingly.

Second stanza. The Cat machine gets rolling. The first four goals (G Ablett, Maxy Rooke, Mackie and Blakey (the latter a sure sign that Cat goals would be easy to come by tonight) belong to the hoops and they skip out, in the time it takes to refill by glass, to a 42 point lead. Adelaide touches the ball 8 times in the first 10 minutes. Witches hats appear on the field and I recline, Caesar like, thinking that I’ll ask my wife Clare to bring me some grapes and make me a latte (I’d had one at half-time during the Round 6 157 point out of Richmond in 2007, the beginning of the golden road). Then, just as Clare is frothing the milk, something curious happens. The Crows surge, kicking four of their own (through young Tippett, young Walker, young Dangerfield and a second for young Mackay) and I’ve cancelled the order. A half-time Glenfiddich is poured instead as the Cats, for all of their initial effort, go to the main break 18 points up. Gazza, on fire, has 26 disposals.

The premiership quarter isn’t the free flowing conversation of the first two. It is an argument. The endeavour of both clubs is top notch, the results goal for goal. The Footy Park (I’m a football stadia purist) crowd finds voice and I can tell that Crows sense that, if luck follows their input, a major upset is possible. Again, it’s their pups, Dangerfield, T Walker and Petrenko, who contribute the majors. However, with about five minutes to go, the football gods smile on the hoops as big Cam Mooney cleans up after a shocking handpass from Bock to Reilly and snaps a crucial goal in the shadows of three quarter time. Ivan Maric, the Crows ruckman, has had a shocker and cops a tongue-lashing from the usually measured Neil Craig at three quarter time: he needs, in an ironic twist, to be consoled by tough-as-teak Charlie Walsh on the boundary line afterwards. The Cats turn for home 17 points to the good. The Son of God has 33 touches but, given the closeness of the game, no one’s talking three votes nor records.

The final instalment makes me smile. The Cats, jogo benito coursing through the hooped bodies, pile on the first six goals in the first ten minutes and the game is over. I fire up the Saeco. Attention now turns to the sub-plot, Ablett. He is everywhere. By the end of the game, he has amassed 46 disposals (including 33 handballs), including three tackles and three goals. I’m not sure that I’ve seen a better game, from anyone, including his father. I make a mental note to have an Ablett-Dal Santo Brownlow quinella.

I finish my coffee and tuck in, happy with the team’s performance and pondering, again, a question that had vexed me for the past couple of years: is it possible that, when his career is finished, young Gazza’s star will shine brighter in the Cattery’s pantheon than his father’s?

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