AFL Finals Week 1 – Geelong v Fremantle: A long day

Score a footy and Cats gear

Score a footy and Cats gear

 

Footy traffic in Geelong is unsurpassed. Crawling along Punt Road on game day is one of modern life’s major irritants. However, crawling along Aberdeen Street, onto Deviation Road through Fyansford towards the Ring Road on Saturday can help sooth a troubled mind.

The uninitiated don’t expect footy traffic in Sleepy Hollow but 32,000 fans leaving Kardinia Park at once (or in the case of thousands of Geelong fans on Saturday – 3 minutes early) is going to throw a spanner in the works.

My car moves slowly from Latrobe Terrace – one in a line driven by the vanquished. The radio is off. The indecision and tentativeness of most of the Geelong team etched into my mind. The shock of such a dumb game on such an important occasion not felt since the 2008 Grand Final.

Then the little car and I make our descent on Deviation Road, cut into the hillside on the edge of Geelong. To the left is parkland and the Barwon River. Straight ahead is the Moorabool River. Driving through the Fyansford township, we pass the Fyansford Common and a collection of bluestone buildings.

We’re picking up pace and soon swing right onto the Geelong Ring Road, searching for the Bacchus Marsh turnoff on our way to Woodend for the night. I turn the radio on – I’m going to need company for the next 80 minutes.

******

The night is black. The sky is thick with clouds on the Bacchus Marsh-Geelong Road, blanketing the starlight. Rain falls. Only six hours earlier I was hurtling down this same road on my way to Geelong’s greatest day. That’s the city, not the team. Much has been made from Fremantle fans on the lack of coverage for their team. They missed the point. The story until the first bounce is Kardinia Park, the foresight and will of the club’s administration, and the city’s coming of age.

The sun was shining at midday. Victory wasn’t assured against a team that, under Ross Lyon, has our measure, but I was joyous. Too many meaningless games in the expanded competition have dimmed my love of the game this year, but I was excited driving to Geelong. I was excited that my love for the game had returned. Its loss had worried me.

I was also excited upon hearing Tom Hawkins would be rested. Poor Tom has been a liability for Geelong – he can’t bend, he can’t clunk everything an injured forward needs to, and he can’t chase his opponents that delight in running off him. His absence recently was of benefit because Podsiadly moved so freely in his place. Taylor Hunt’s juggernaut-like approach would be missed, and I didn’t know much of Josh Walker. They wouldn’t put him in if he couldn’t handle the heat, surely?

******

The Gary Ablett Terrace is the best vantage point to appreciate the new Kardinia Park. The Premiership Stand on your left, the new Players’ Stand directly ahead, and the older Brownlow and Ford stands to your right. They’ll be replaced next, Frank Costa told Ian Cover that morning. (He’s going to let the Libs settle in before knocking on their door.)

I stand here with Terrace stalwarts John Dunne and Peter Flynn, with John Harms and Craig Down. Dips is sitting behind the goals, in his lucky jocks. Nobody is pleased with Chapman as the sub. The AFL-approved Countdown Clock begins 20 seconds before the opening bounce. It never makes it to 1 – brutish Zac Dawson takes a swing at the jPod and gives away a free kick. The Pod misses. Not a good sign.

The Kardinia Park crowd is usually not one for public displays of noise. It’s a magnificent ground of little atmosphere – until Saturday. The chant of Gee-Long from the Players’ Stand would not have been out of place in the English Premier League. Unbelievably, it was surpassed by the 2000 Docker fans sitting next door in the Premiership Stand singing “Free-O”. If they can do that with 2000, I can only imagine what 40,000 must sound like at Paterson’s Stadium. (I will only imagine – sitting among a throng of Weagle or Dockers fans at one of their games is not on my bucket list.)

The game plan for both teams is set early. Lyon’s Dockers will close down all space around the ball and flick it over the huddle into half a field when they can. Then they’ll take their chances to score. Meanwhile, Geelong will keep flicking the ball around until an opportunity for creativity presents. I know which one I’d back in a final, and it’s not the method employed by my team. Maybe I’ll be wrong?

The Geelong method creates ample opportunities early, few of which are taken. Playing like this, would it be a matter of time before this attack is rewarded? Or would the Dockers lock down?

Stevie J is on fire with 12 touches and two goals in the first quarter. Enright instils confidence down back. Getting slaughtered in the ruck but that’s been a problem all year.

I bump into Jim at quarter time. Jim’s a Docker fan. I know a few of them. They’re very nice people. They’re all here today. Jim’s worried. You’re too good for us, he says. I suspect he’s right.

The Dockers lock down in the second quarter. More accurately, they lock down the Cats but kick five goals. Crowley goes to Johnson, who quietly tells his teammates he’s done for the day but hopes to be back next week.

The Dockers were superb. When they had chances, they took them. Pavlich’s trap of the footy on the boundary, eluding a player and then kicking a crucial goal in the second brought quiet praise from J.Dunne. “Very good goal,” he admits. “Yes, but we don’t respect him,” says P.Flynn in response.

Fyfe has it all. An early comment that he’s wasted in this side has been retracted. He’s perfect for them. Hard as nails – whether running all day or throwing his slight body into a pack – but with the skill to create a goal when opportunities present. When he takes his hanger, I see a 14 year old kid launching above his mates in a WA wheat paddock.

Everyone likes Michael Barlow. Gets his chance late, moves across the country as a rookie, works hard, breaks his leg, recovers, dominates when his team needs him. In spite of Crowley and Ballantyne, this team could win me over.

The Dockers are up at half time. I don’t see Jim but he must be happier now. Enright has hurt his knee and is out.

In the third quarter, C.Down (sensing the potential of a loss) reminds himself to “respect the event”. It encapsulates the day. This is an engrossing, albeit frustrating, final. The Geelong players want to play their way, continually releasing the ball in the hope (and it is hope on the day) the game will open up for them. Finals don’t tend to open up, especially against Lyon teams, and especially when your key playmakers are down on form.

Varcoe is bereft of confidence. When the ball finds him, he handballs it to teammates 10 metres away, often failing to hit the target. We long for the game breaker of the 2011 Grand Final.

The Lyon squeeze continues as the game progresses. 36 players gather around the ball, those in blue and white hoops being sucked in and following their men, either told to do this, or fearful of leaving their direct opponent to his devices. The game being played on Fremantle’s terms.  End of the season; finals intensity; exhausting game plan; and the Dockers maintain it right until the final siren. That’s impressive. Chris Scott’s coaching strategy seemed to consist of Plan A, and hoping it will work at some stage.

Throwing the ball around in congested areas; an extra link in a chain of handballs instead of finding a forward quickly in precious space; this needs to be reined in against Fremantle. We need a Plan B – and we need to implement it.

Geelong lost two grand finals and a preliminary final to West Coast in the 90s. The free-wheeling, attacking Cats could beat anybody on their day, except a committed, defensive West Coast side. Some players – Billy Brownless comes to mind – were beaten before the first bounce against the Eagles, knowing space, let alone possessions, would be at a premium. They couldn’t or wouldn’t lift their work rate. The Geelong-Freo games have a similar feel to them. Selwood saves his worst games for Fremantle; Stevie J can’t beat someone in Crowley who has a percentage of his talent.

The Cats are flat. They don’t run. They wait for teammates to mark loose balls. They won’t take the game on. Dumb Footy is bombing it long to a congested forward line; Lazy Footy is not trapping it in and watching your opponents rebound time and time again; the Cats do both.

Ten points down in the final quarter and Geelong pepper their goals. They must be smashing Freo in inside 50s. They butcher golden opportunities; they play dumb footy; they drop easy marks. It’s either the pressure of finals; or the pressure (perceived or otherwise) of Freo. I think it’s the latter. They never look likely.

Yet when Stephen Hill comes off the interchange bench with five minutes to play and takes the footy, every Cat fan knows what’s going to happen. He runs straight for goal. With every bounce I wish it was Varcoe, or Motlop, or Christensen. I want the excitement of riding that winner home; of feeling the elation when it splits the middle. It’s not to be. It’s Freo’s day.

******

Our season is over. Not simply because of the result, but of the way it is achieved. The Cats looked invincible against Sydney a few weeks ago – they looked inept against Fremantle. You can’t win your fourth flag in 7 years like that. And now I have a 90 minute drive to Woodend. I didn’t pack any CDs, I assumed I’d listen to 774 on the way home. I’m not going to do that now we’ve lost. What’s the point?

******

It’s a long drive ahead. Bloody dark; I’m pretty tired too. Better put the radio on. Coming up to six o’clock – 774 is switching to election coverage from 6, so is 3AW. Don’t they know there’s a final on tonight – and the result should be close. I resort to the refuge of the damned and turn to SEN. Some brilliant analysis by David Schwarz – “The Geelong community would be pretty, um, disappointed right now” – before Robert Walls recalls stories from the 80s. It’s actually just what I need. It makes me think of footy, and not the day’s footy.

Ten minutes pass. I start thinking. Geelong has another chance. And it was their worst game of the year. And Selwood will respond the only way he knows how next week. And Motlop will have more space on the G. If we can win next weekend, then it’s into a prelim against the Hawks. And anything can happen in a Grand Final…..

I can’t wait for Friday night.

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety

Comments

  1. Celebrating the city’s coming of age??? The Ford factory and the Shell refinery have closed down. Ross Lyon closed down your footy team on Saturday.
    I was starting to worry about you until the final para. Port are not in your class and then you get a shot at Chappy’s Chokers.
    Freo-Cats GF??? To think they called 1945 the Bloodbath. Both clubs will be playing their ressies for the first half of 2014.
    Bring it on.

  2. Well done Cookie! I know what you mean about wishing wish it was Varcoe, or Motlop, or Christensen – I enjoyed every step Jeffy took on his way to goal on Sunday – what a way to kill off the game.

  3. It's wharfie time says:

    Saturday was one if the best days of my life. A great win at a great footy ground in a great town. I hope we both make the Grand Final- see you there Cookie.

  4. Bill Martino says:

    I tend to agree with Peter_B – wouldn’t be all that surprised to see the Sphinxters still make the GF.

  5. Lovely piece Cookie. And great to see Kardinia Park developed into a ground worthy of a final – it looked the part on the tube.

  6. Pretty sure Pods missed the shot at the start of the game mate.

  7. Cookie – can’t explain the lucky jocks letting me down. Its a first. They’re back in the glass case.

  8. Beautiful imagery of the long drive, Cookie. Geelong to Woodend seems to have been a healthy philosophical journey.
    At least you’ve got next week.
    does the road to perdition have an off-ramp?

  9. Nathan Jarvis says:

    Is anyone still going to moan about how boring Rossball is?

    I tell you this, once you have spent more than 10 or 11 games watching Fremantle play footy, when you look at “ordinary” footy – as practised by the ordinary sides – you become antsy and annoyed, wondering where the pressure is.

    All sorts of new pleasures come from playing it hard and tight in close – not least is hearing the hypocrisy of our finals bunnies, Geebung, whining about cheap shots, staging and the close attentions of a quality tagger.

    If they were aware of the size of their balls you’d call it chutzpah – as it is, it’s just weird, alternate-universe stuff you, sadly, expect from those with elephantitis of the sense of entitlement.

  10. I loved the car horns blasting when the Cats kicked their goals in the first three quarters. More country finals please.

  11. Great piece Cookie. If Geelong gets into the GF will it be played at Kardinia Park? The city of Geelong is beautiful… In the rear vision mirror of my car.

  12. Ken Richards says:

    Nathan, you get to watch Rossball 10 or 11 times a year, so I am glad for you that you love it so. I don’t enjoy Rossball. The one or two times a year Geelong play Fremantle are plenty to sate my appetite for the style . You can have pressure and intensity without bogging the game down to an endless scrimmage. Me. I prefer skill. verve and excitement.
    By the way, ‘quality tagger’ is a wonderful oxymoron. Well done!

  13. Sean Gorman says:

    Football was the Wimmera!

  14. Bill Martino says:

    Ken, as an observer with no dog in the fight, I can assure you that there was no lack of “skill. verve and excitement” on Saturday arvo, it’s just that very little of it was coming from the Sphinxters*.

    * In honour of Geelong’s cultural centre, the Sphinx Hotel, “… a taste of Egypt situated in the heart of Geelong.”

  15. Didn’t the Cats scrap home by a point the week before against Brisbane? At the mythical KP? They’d better bring a better game than they’ve played the last fortnight if they expect to get through next weekend.

    Cheers

  16. Sam, you’re right. I’ve changed it. I think at the time I was shocked he missed from so close and trying to remember when writing this yarn, I must have shaken my head and thought “surely he wouldn’t have missed from there”.

    David, the drive home was exactly what I needed to gather my thoughts. Would I have come to the same optimistic conclusion if I’d spent post-game at the Lord of the Isles? Maybe. Would I have liked to have test this theory instead of driving home? Definitely.

    Dips, you’ve soiled those lucky jocks (metaphorically, of course).

    Wharfie Time, see you at the G in three weeks.

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Good summary Cookie Every 1 has Pointed out the Irony of Richmond losing to the Team that finished 9th I reckon the other 1 in Hindsight is that Playing at Kardinia Park
    Suited Freo in that it was far easier to bottle the Game up and Force Ball ups where Sandilands came in too his own than the vast open spaces of the G

  18. nathan jarvis says:

    It was never going to be at the G. Had Kardinya Park not bobbed up on the radar in the last couple of minutes, it would have been at Docklands – a venue which suits Freo possibly even more than the long, thin Kardinya.

    Ken, I am pleased you appreciated the “quality tagger” line – but not surprised. You Geebung types appreciate a quality tagger so much you made yours captain. Old Captain Nominative Determinism – Mr C. Ling – embodied the essential nature of the run-with role.

  19. Cookie, now that footy has the Curse of the Eddie to join the Babe, the Goat, eighty-seven and one hundred and eleven, we won’t be seeing you, or anyone, in three weeks’ time. We’ll be seeing either the Swans or the Ninth Life at Subi next week.

  20. DZ, keeping a lid on it I see.

  21. Nice reflections Cookie. And funny. Funniest bit (in comments): that KP suits Freo better than the Cats. Betting odds, analysis and Harms’ cagey Fitzroy pub tippers obviously reflected that view before the game. Not.

    Cheers

  22. Neil Belford says:

    Freo didn’t have much trouble with the Cats at the ‘G last time we played on the vast open (but somewhat short) spaces.

  23. At my next meeting with Andrew I’m going to demand that Fremantle play all their away games at Kardinia Park. Even against Sydney and Brisbane and all that mob.

  24. I will respond to all comments posted by Fremantle supporters once I have had more scotch
    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/afl-round-14-geelong-v-fremantle-freo-will-never-win-the-flag-ever-a-considered-review/

  25. nathan jarvis says:

    Best give you more comments to reply to then.

    Are we all agreed on the following:

    1. Podsiadly started the fights
    2. Enright whacked Mayne before Mayne whacked Stevie J
    3. Geelong are the most reported/suspended side in the competition over the last 2 years
    4. Stevie J’s handshake technique – whack bloke in shoulder while shaking – needs work
    5. Selwood, J seems to actively enjoy Crowley’s work

  26. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Footy Karma Bus Cookie ! Likewise I think Freo Supporters have rebuked my earlier comment above v well unfortunately

  27. Nathan, “finals bunnies?”

    You sound a lot like Tigers supporters did before Sunday. Incredibly cocky for a supporter of a side that’s done diddly squat for a very long time.

    When you’ve won 1 flag, let alone 3 in 5 years, your words will have some substance, but until then, you are full of hot air.

    For what it’s worth though, I thought Freo were terrific, and I hope they win it if they make the GF and the Cats don’t.

    It was heart warming to hear Barlow say they have modelled their midfield on Geelong’s.

  28. nathan jarvis says:

    When Cameron Schwab was CEO of Freo, he told me he could deal with the feral Freo element through his many years of feral exposure at Richmond. I told him we were pretty bad but wait until we were successful – then we’ll be insufferable.

    Pray we don’t win the big one, pete, if little jibes about “finals bunnies” are getting under your skin.

    Then you’ll learn about hot air. Hitherto unimagined amounts of hot air. Tomahawk Tummy amounts of hot air.

  29. Paul Spinks says:

    We used to have a plan B. Move the ball on quickly, anyhow, by foot when the handball game wasn’t working. Don’t know what happened to it. Though not sure it would’ve worked on Saturday. Freo were too switched on.

  30. Ken Richards says:

    Yeah Bill, the skill, verve & excitement was from Stephen Hill running and bouncing in to insert final dagger. And Big Pav grabbing them and clunking goals. It’s the exception which proves the rule. There was precious little from the Cats after the first stanza. Needed Pete’s plan B. (or c, D, E & F)

    Nathan, ‘quality tagger’ Ryan Crowley isn’t worth Cameron Ling’s left bootlace. Yet. I’ll give him more time. He’ll have to stop pinching though.
    But if you win the big one, we’ll wave bye bye to you on plane on Sunday and forget it ever happened. Doubly so if you beat the Cats, should they prevail over the next 2 weeks. (If you beat the Hawks I won’t care as much. I’ll just pray that you get to keep Rossball all to yourselves= and that no one else copies).

  31. Neil Belford says:

    Great story Cookie. Here’s your chance to go on the record. I think the text between the
    ***********

    and the

    ***********
    was the accurate part of the analysis. Then denial kicked in.

    So
    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/afl-round-14-geelong-v-fremantle-freo-will-never-win-the-flag-ever-a-considered-review/

    That was ‘Freo will Never Win the Flag Ever’.

    Mundy, Barlow, Pavlich, and Sandilands weren’t playing that day, none of whom have wives who are weather girls. Actually I met a weather girl from Sydney in the Stump in Port Fairy a week ago. Being a weather girl is not something you can come back from really. I digress, perhaps you hadn’t noticed their absence so here is your chance, you have seen the warm up, two questions.

    Who will play in the Grand final this year.
    Who will win.

  32. Jen Costelo says:

    Brilliant article.. and loved the recovery of hope, faith and eager anticipation at its close…Go Cats on the 13th!

  33. Neil, cats and Dockers in the GF. Cats by 41 points.

  34. Bill Martino says:

    One thing I found sort of morbidly fascinating on Saturday arvo was the sight of increasingly panic-stricken Sphinxters bending their knees and raising their arms and ducking their heads in order to draw high-contact frees. While it didn’t help them win, this tactic did at least result in the Sphinxters receiving more frees last weekend than any other finalist. And, of course, Selwood received more frees than any other player.

    Selwoodball strikes again!

  35. Bill, agree that the Cats panicked a bit. It was like Freo were the seasoned finals veterans and the Cats were new to it all.

    On reflection though, it’s really more a reflection of the way the two teams play.

    More like Germany V Brazil.

    Freo presented as being relatively emotionless and robotic; focused and disciplined. Risk is a dirty word at Freo, and creativity and flare aren’t on the list. Their’s is a measured, calculated game.

    The Cats on the other hand often play on the edge, with high risk, creativity and flare. Their’s is a game of the senses and as a result, they can be flighty when things go awry.

    To me, the Cats went wrong because they were in between game plans on the day. I think Freo spooked them.

  36. Ripping piece, Cookie – your drive reminds me of those long, silent train rides back from Melbourne in the 80s after a loss..

  37. daniel flesch says:

    Yeah , great reading your piece is Cookie . Thanks. One quibble though – do you really think Zac Dawson “brutish?” There’s always a lot of pushing and shoving before the bounce – i don’t like it – it’s unecessary and Juniors copy it. And so-called “brutish” Dawson got off anyway , so it wasn’t judged that badly by the MRP…. Ancient history almost, but i took a dim view of Tom Lonergan jumping into Luke Hodge’s back early in the ’08 G.F., knowing Hodge had damaged ribs from the Prelim a week prior. Not looking at the ball coming in and penalised. Arguably reportable “rough conduct.” Wouldn’t call that “brutish” , more “cowardly” as well as ” hypocritical” considering Lonergan’s own story with internal injury….Interesting so many Almanckers have written off the Hawks by predicting a Cats- Dockers Granny. We shall see , eh ?

Leave a Comment

*