AFL Finals — Week 1: Cats’ victory completes family circle

By Roy Hay

It was never a problem hitching one’s wagon to a Geelong star in 1977. Having supported provincial losers all my life, specifically Ayr United whose trophy drought in Association Football in Scotland exceeded that of Geelong in the AFL until 2007, I was always a gimme. For years I sat in the front row on the fence in front of the Brownlow Stand at Kardinia with an Englishman, a South African and a Kiwi, next to Madame Defarge, who knitted as the game unfolded around her. When a Hawthorn player tackled Terry Bright into her lap one day, she belaboured him with an umbrella to the amazement and amusement of all but the perp. My usual routine was the first quarter with 23,000 screaming Cats fans, then off to Bell Park, North Geelong or Geelong Rangers to report on a soccer match watched by five men and dog for what my friend George Silberbauer called the Cats’ Chronicle (Geelong Advertiser).

Since retirement and a move to the rural life in Teesdale, the games tend to be watched on the goggle box these days. We did take in last year’s Melbourne-Geelong game at the MCG on 8 August, which John Harms reported on from the TV. He claimed there was no one in the front rows in the torrential rain, but we were there for three sodden quarters and a bath for the Demons. Then we retreated to our motel in St Kilda, where my wife watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, while I slept through it. All this by way of prolegomena to the 2009 second qualifying final between the Cats and the Dogs at the ‘G on 5 September, my birthday treat and a first.

The first? Wearing a tie to the footy. Thanks to a dear friend we were his guests in the Members’, right behind the bowler’s arm, or on half-way on level four with a strategic view of the game. The downside? Even Brad Ottens looked like a midget, numbers were hard to read and the vertiginous steps made a visit to the toilet a health hazard even in cattle class of the members. Before the bounce, it seemed the Dogs’ fans outnumbered the Catters, but my wife claimed it was only the vibrant red, white and blue colours which dwarfed the modest hoops. The Dogs’ warm-up seemed far more physical and focused, the Cats lethargic, but tightly grouped in a final huddle. Maxie Rooke was out, losing a vital spark, while Chapman and Ottens were underdone.

Yet it was the Cats who dominated an exhilarating first quarter, after an umpiring charity opening goal to Ben Hudson in his hundredth game. The big hairy cat had an underground goal, Mackie nailed a long bomb, Mooney kicked truly from distance and Bartel, Stokes and Chapman joined in. Scarlett and Enright had a strangle-hold in the back-line and ran off their men to set up attacks. Brian Lake had his hands full early with the Tomahawk using his big body well. Little maestro Ablett has time to bounce, pivot and mesmerise, creating space in a maelstrom of bodies like no other. Quarter-time and it is 6.5 to 2.1 and the Cats have broken the game open.

It is never smooth in Catland and the Scraggers come alive in the second period. The defence steadies, Lake begins to do a Scarlett on Hawkins, Akermanis exerts influence, Johnson threatens, but the Dogs add onlytwo goals and Geelong matches that. Statistically the third quarter belongs to Geelong but somehow it does not feel like a decisive break and it takes a steadying goal by Ottens to stifle an Akermanis-led comeback as he fires three goals. Selwood becomes a hate-figure after coat-hangering Gilbee twice. The gap going into the last is a point shy of five goals, but as I look around the Geelong faces in our section there is no certainty on them.

Geelong kicks the first of the final term, but the Dogs hammer their way back to just over two goals in arrears, then their kicking disintegrates. Ling and Bartel had kicked truly from the boundary line on the 50-metre arc, but Johnson and Adam Cooney miss easier shots when the game could have been retrieved.  To the manifest annoyance of the Catters, the defence begins to chip the ball around, and time runs out on the Dogs, still 14 points down.

We repair to the Hilton for a pre-prandial drink and meet Melbourne member, Edna Ward, who was a nursing colleague of Marilyn McKay, the widow of Jimmy McKay, whose wonder goal against South Korea took the Socceroos to Germany in 1974. And my grand-daughter’s soccer team won its grand final in Cairns. The circle is complete.

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