AFL Finals Week 1 – Geelong v Fremantle: Is that it?

Last Sunday morning a pall of melancholy settled over the Harms household.

Nothing could assuage it: not the morning sun through the north window, not the sound of little feet running from the front bedroom, not the smell of raisin toast.

Not even the reassuring voice of Barrie Cassidy.

“Rainbow,” said young Evie, pointing at the refracted colours on the wall.

“Can we go to the park?” asked Anna.

“Dad,” said Theo, “Is Pluto a planet?”

On closer inspection I realised the pall was mainly over me.

I didn’t like this pall.

Yet I did in a weird sort of way. It reminded me of that other life: life before 2007. When we wondered about the footy gods and Ronnie Wearmouth, and we contemplated Brett Heady and Nick Davis and their place in the Universe. And ours.

We wondered whether life was worth living. And, despite our lot, and the possibility that we were the cause of it (what had I done?), we tended to agree that it was.

Sunday morning’s pall has not gone away. The end of a campaign is always sad. It’s sad because it’s over. But it’s also sad because when it is all said and done: we could have won this. Unlikely: I’ll concede. But possible.

The pall has also lifted somewhat now because, having lived in a state of grace for some time, we now understand the world a little better. We accept that these things happen. We have learnt that all games have context, and that context changes.

The loss to Sydney in the 2005 semi-final was much more than just a disappointing end to a season. It was the end of the world as we then knew it. This loss to Fremantle has a completely different context.

And, while we feel bitterly disappointed, and were left thinking about the 2008 Grand Final, and the 2010 Prelim, and the time we didn’t write that film script, and the time we could have pashed one of the Evans sisters in Grade 9, and all those other times, we were also thinking about the magnificent last six years.

That’s life.


Saturday afternoon. The Swans have just demolished Adelaide.

As I lock the front door I am a little cautious. I think Geelong win, but I have not dismissed Freo.

At the All Nations in Richmond, though, I don’t have a care in the world. The Storm are on fire in the cold and wet, just up the road. I am glad to be in the warm pub. As I tuck into the Weiner Schnitzel the Geelong game is hardly on my mind.

I am man in routine. I am with Freo people who are excited; enlivened by the possible; hoping. Yet they seem sturdy and resilient, quietly confident of a good performance. They even have belief. And they appear so rational.

Neil and Luka have travelled from Kew. Les has travelled from his cottage in Fremantle. A Lyon-skeptic initially, he tells me he has been persuaded by their new coach because he has shaken them up and made them understand what it means to be a footballer, and then hammered a plan into them. Players know what they’re supposed to be doing. He has dispensed with meander, and created a clear path.

“So, have you come over to do a few things?” I ask Les who usually marries footy with other duties and interests.

“No, just for the game,” he says.


“I got here this morning. And I go back tomorrow morning,” he continues. “The plane was full of Freo fans.”

Very interesting.

We part company and take up our respective seats.

I have the dubious pleasure of watching with Derek Humphery-Smith, former AFL umpire whose stellar career was cut short by a bout of the bouncing yips. He was sacked after recalling a couple of bounces one Saturday afternoon at the MCG. While this was an act of common sense, it was also a violation of the laws of the game. Now of course umpires are required to recall a wayward bounce. So I like to think of Derek as a pioneer, a man ahead of his time, in the way that in all other areas of his life he is not.

Educated at the Church of England Grammar School in Brisbane, he is reactionary to the core, and bemoans the absence of good leaders like Joh and Attila the Hun. He has recently had lunch with Malcolm Fraser (“He’s a really good bloke”) He played footy at the University of Queensland Football Club where he was known as Humper – but only because of his name. He is now one of those celebrity lawyers who prefers briefs that get him mentioned on SEN, or onto the golf course. During the national anthem he looks disappointed: he wishes it were God Save The Queen.

Murray Bird is also in the crew. He is also an ex-AFL-umpire and Philosophy graduate from the University of Queensland. I used to play cricket against him – nearly 30 years ago. He played for Easts in Brisbane. He’s the bloke who cost Diesel Williams the Brownlow.

And we’re also with Rick Aylett whom I am meeting for the first time. He has strong teeth, but those teeth are nothing to write home about.

We are in the southern stand, on the fourth level. The prevailing wind is from the city end and it’s seriously cold. We could get wet.

“Good seats Humper.”

I am quietly confident, and deep-down expect Geelong to win. From the early comments I reckon all four of us hold a similar view.

“Not many here,” says DHS as the Freo chant reverberates around the stadium.

“Too cold,” says Muz. “It’s on TV.”

There is now a countdown clock, to the bounce. Ridiculous.

There are no huge trends in the opening minutes as both sides concede nothing, although Enright, who has picked up Ballantyne, drops a mark. Eyebrows are raised when Sandilands sweeps a fierce and fast left-handed handball centimetre-perfect inside to one of the runnners who finds Pav.

“Not bad for a big bloke,” says Muz.

Pav, having missed one set shot, goals.

Then Pav gets rid of Lonergan (dubiously?) and marks again. Two-zip.

There is not much concern. DHS likes to watch the Cats and I suspect he is supporting them and may have backed them. (Maybe invested $5 at $1.32) So when Freo continue to apply the pressure which causes a few banged-on-the-boot clearances, one of which falls to Crowley who goals, the first piece of analysis comes.

“Harmsy,” says DHS.

He doesn’t need to say anything else.

It gets worse. The Freo pressure is brilliant. The Cats have no time, and the effect is insidious. The premiers – the champs – have no composure. None. They are reduced to under-age panic. And The Dockers are on a roll.

Further disintegration comes at the hands of near-marks, and blatantly dropped marks. Meanwhile Nathan Fyfe climbs into the air, extends an arm, and plucks a one-hander of sublime skill.

Pav dobs a long one and the Dockers have five.

We are very quiet. Muz and Rick are bemoaning the one-sidedness, I am wondering how the Cats can possibly come back. It could easily be nine goals to nothing.

The Cats try to settle. They string a few possessions together but then muck it up. Pods marks but dishes to Chappy who has to stop.

“Chappy,” DHS groans, “why call for it?”

Even Jimmy Bartel has the staggers. He misses Joel Corey with a handball, and a few seconds later fumbles like a man who’s lost his glasses.

It’s a big headstart.

Johnno, where are you?

The second quarter promises a new beginning. The Cats need to get themselves into the game. But they can’t. Freo continue to dictate terms. They keep the pressure on at the contest where they have numbers, and they keep the forward line open. They seem to be running an attacking pattern which allows their forwards to lead straight up the ground.

More marks are dropped. More fumbles. And a few free kicks are missed. Finally, with almost 20 minutes gone, Mackie kicks Geelong’s first. Only he and Joel Selwood have any assurance. The Cats are so rattled that they look for their skipper, even from the kick-outs.

Chappy drops one he should have taken 20 metres out from goal, but then Selwood wins a free to give the Cats their second. He’s at it again in the middle, winning the clearance, and eventually a long bomb to the square is marked by Duncan. It’s a team-lifter. He goals. The Cats have three and are back in it.

We’ll be right now.

But Freo return fire with a sustained period of attack where the Cats can’t clear – putting the footy out on the full three times in a minute or so. Corey, on his own, finally has a chance, but he fumbles a loose ball, is tackled, and the spillage is soccered through.

It’s an even contest now but the Cats are still making poor decisions. Pods marks in the clear as the Cats stream forward. He has a simple over-the-top to the pacey Motlop. But he hooks his kick, straight to the lone defender who is surprised that his dyke-bound finger should prove so effective.

Bartel drops another. Tommy Hawkins can’t get near it.

It has been a half of painful dystopia, the game as it shouldn’t be played. The Dockers have been outstanding.

Surely, the Cats will come back.

They start the second half as they needed to start the first. Motlop goals having roved in the forward pocket. Hawkins creates a couple of contests, but the Cats miss a few times until Stokes gets another one back.

It’s on.

But just when you think it really is on Pav marks and sends a 55 metre arrow through with a graceful, unhurried kicking action. The Cats continue to feel the pressure, and their chains of handball are not quite pure. They put an attack together and Vardy, having demanded the footy at centre half forward, lands an important set shot. The Cats are within four goals.

They attack again. Pods is not rewarded in a text book holding the ball (which will have amused all Hawthorn fans) and the Dockers go the length for Ballantyne to slot through a fine running goal. Freo get on top again and they’re seven goals up. What?

Is this the end? We’ve been with them all season. Willing their weekly comeback. Some successful, some not. Used to playing off a handicap of five goals. But what about 38 points at three quarter time?

Mackie, who has been one of Geelong’s better players pinches the footy and dribbles one through. Then Christensen goals. And the Cats are coming. They attack again and Duncan has it. Hunt runs by and launches from 50. This will bring the house down. It hits the post.

Ballantyne gets a settler and the Cats fire up again. They get to within three goals with 10 minutes of footy left. Surely. But they have a catch-up mentality and turnovers prove costly.

When Hunt goals the belief is there. The Cats can finish over the top.

From the bounce Freo bobble forward to a chaotic contest. The footy is knocked from the defenders and lands in Pav’s hands. He does not panic. With supreme poise he makes time. Baulks. Straightens. Goals.

Superb. Pavlich has all the physical attributes, and the skills. He is the best player on the ground tonight. He’s among other mega-talents who have performed very well: Fyfe and Hill. The three of them have the class of players who lead sides to premierships – at some stage in their careers.

The Cats rally yet again, but it is the gurgling breathe of the consumptive.

Freo, deserved winners, are home.

“Bugger it,” I think.

The four of us sit quietly. The significant Freo contingent belt out their song. It’s like a Frank Walker tiles ad set to synthesised musak. It has the appeal of halitosis. My phone, which I have not looked at, is chockers with messages. I contemplate throwing it onto the half forward flank.

“What do I do now?” I think.

We look towards Scarlo. The absurdity of him walking off to Yo Heave Ho.

What a player! When he arrived he looked like a kid from a skateboard park. He seemed surly. Like someone had made him play. But he grew into his role, built his strength and fitness, and started to use and develop his talents. He had more talents than we first realised.

From the terrace, he seemed enigmatic. He won a cult following. We grew our hair, and if we didn’t have the natural locks, we bought Scarlo wigs. We watched as he handled the big one-on-one tasks Bomber Thompson would set him. In the premiership years when we cheered goal after goal, sometimeswe only noticed that Scarlo had started the attack when we got home to watch the replay.

Scarlo helped change the way the game is played. He had the skills, and such confidence, that at any moment he had more options than most defenders. Ever. That first kick or handball is now the key to getting clear and opening up the game.

He also had determination and eladership. History will record that Scarlo was there as the side was developing, and when it was successful. He was one of the foundations.

He walks down the race with little fanfare. Is that it?

On the tram home the reflection has started. The clunk of the engine. The squeak of the wheels. The bell. Up past the Exhibition Building and I realise I have managed , in my disappointment, to get the wrong tram. I feel terrible.

But I feel pretty good as well. It’s been a tremendous blessing to be in Melbourne at this time.

Although it well might, I suspect history will not remember this as The Scarlett Era. Nor The Harley Era. Nor The Ablett Era. Nor The Bartel Era. There will be another name.

As long as they’re crumbing chicken at the Sawyers Arms, my grandkids will sit in the bar among the Geelong faithful, watching replays of great victories and say, “Tell us about The Selwood Era again Pop.”

And that, God willing, means we are right in the middle of it.


Twitter: John [email protected]

Email: [email protected]







About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. JTH – my view of the game exactly – with the confused thoughts and deep sense of loss. But you are right, context is important.

    Funnily enough I hope Freo goes all the way.

  2. Dips, last Friday morning an old uni mate of mine claimed that the two sides who won the elimination finals would play off in the Grand Final. That was a squillion to one then. We’ll see how far his prediction goes.

  3. John I reckon I was after the Evans sisters myself until I suddenly realised it must have been their Mother I was after.

    So there it is –Football is over for 2012 and I don’t want to even think about it. Just dreaming of happier days.

    And reminding the Handicapper and yourself of your duties to the Club for 2013!

  4. John, I got worried early when 1-2000 Freo fans out-chanted 20000 plus Geelong supporters who barely gave a peep all night, me included I’m afraid.

    A great win for the Dockers who looked a six goal better side almost all night. Pavlich’s composure and execution at critical moments was a sight to behold. What a great player he is.

    The Cats now have a few extra weeks to review the list and re-load for their 2013 campaign. The VFL team’s win against Box Hill gives us cause for optimism. It certainly lifted my gloomy spirits on Sunday.

    Matthew Scarlett will be remembered as one of the greatest players ever to pull on the hoops. A true champion. Thanks for everything Matty!

  5. I’m with Gareth. England expects, as it were. Saddle up JTH.
    In reality the Dockers smashed us. But we’ll always ask ourselves if Stevie J would have made 16 points diff? Defeat is always confusing when it’s happening, but can usually be studied and known in hindsight. But this one is still a mysterious event. It seems to me the vicious session I enjoyed in the Percy Beames Bar before the game made Geelong’s backline drunk and left me sober. A footballer’s version of the virgin birth? But I’m half liquored-up before most games and they play like rechabites. I’ll explore this phenomenon further next year.

  6. AJC, Have just added a Johnno line in the piece. Exactly.

    Four kids?

    I’m in need of two months in a sanatorium in Queenscliff as it is. I’d love to have nought to do but amble around the grounds and ponder my next selection from the Arnott’s Creams jar. Occasional visits from the children and Joel Selwood would be welcome.

  7. It was impossible for me to synthesise my thoughts for quite some time. I had an uneasy feeling about the game, and thought Freo were a danger but that did not make what happened any more believable. I was in denial.

    But as you say jth, some things just happen…

  8. Pamela Sherpa says

    JTH -snap out of it and be realistic. Freo were better on the night and deserved their win and it’s fantastic for football. Console yourself with 3 out of 5. A lot of fans from other teams would settle for that

  9. Cats fans here and everywhere
    Are trying to remember
    What the hell they’re s’posed to do
    When free in late September

  10. Trevor Blainey says

    well John take the mercies that you’ve been dealt. a golden period maybe not yet over. cannily managed through many sound things including, i think you’ll conclude on reflection, a coach and footy department who look like they’ve set up the next crop of great players by giving 8, 10 , 12 games to tyros while shepherding the greats gently out the door. its no mean feat. as you know I’m a Don and our years of abundance (mid-80’s, early 90’s, early ’00’s) have been followed by mass departures/defections that have proved hard to claw back. and yes the Cats might easily be merely in the middle of the Selwood years. the bum note i guess is that 18 teams suggests long periods for most in the wilderness. 20-30 year gaps will be the norm for many.

    still, as you say, there’s always that script to write.

  11. Dennis Gedling says

    Great stuff.

    I like to see it as ‘The Max Rooke Era’ despite his one game from 2010 to retirement. I wasn’t too gutted at the end, I’m looking at in the context of what we’ve achieved since 2007 and we won’t be waiting another 44 years. This glass half full notion that I had expressed after the game didn’t go down too well with others at the Perth Cats venue might I add. I’ve picked a bad year to Melbourne for my first GF.

    I’m assuming that if DHS supoprted a soccer team it would be Glasgow Rangers.

  12. Free weekends in September are a foreign thing to me.
    It’s not that I don’t have them, it’s just ordinarily
    I’d be following the mighty Cats and roaring with delight
    As they rip apart the other team and set the ‘G alight.

    I’d be reading all the papers, all the websites, and the BLOGs
    And having online arguments with all the Hawthorn flogs.
    The TV would be always on, on every footy show
    And I would have the biggest smile and have that finals glow.

    But now I’m like a Tigers fan, the Dockers are to blame,
    Thanks to Rossy Lyon who coached the perfect game.
    And so I have some time to kill, the only problem is,
    It’s been so bloody long that I need to get some tips.

  13. Dips, I never thought I’d hear you say that you hope a Ross Lyon-coached side goes all the way!

  14. I thought Geelong played as though easing into a long finals campaign with the hard stuff a week or two away. They of all teams should know it doesn’t work like that. They’ve shown it a bit this year and have dodged a few bullets but on Saturday they deserved to lose to a hungrier side. This might be just the wake-up call needed to stimulate an extension of the Selwood era.

    When Richmond lost narrowly to Freo earlier this year at the G, everyone rushed to bag us for losing the unloseable. We might just have to admit now that the Dockers are actually bloody good.

    And if Pavlich’s game that day wasn’t the individual match-winning performance of the year, then it was only because he personally eclipsed it on Saturday night.

    “And, while we feel bitterly disappointed, and were left thinking about…” that decision to draft Aaron Fiora!!

  15. Pamela, I think it’s called Hypotenuse’s First Law of Independent Footy Events. Those who lose will be sad. But actually I was making the point that in the context of the successful era it wasn’t AS sad as the old days. We’ve loved it.

  16. Stephanie Holt says

    not even the smell of raison toast? wow, this is really getting serious!

  17. JTH

    I’m looking forward to the day when Dogs’ fans can understand multi-contextual sadness. Those of us too young to remember ’54 and ’61 have got just a single context right now.

    Did you tell Theo the sad news about Pluto?

  18. I often wonder why Scarlett played on after last year.

  19. Notwithstanding that Geelong lost, this was a great game of footy. Fremantle played very well and had a better game strategy plus a matchwinning performance by Matthew Pavlich.
    The last decade has been a great era for Geelong and I see it as the era of Mark Thompson, Brian Cook and Frank Costa and their legacy will see the club continue to be successful. Although the Cats did not win a premiership for 40 odd years, they have been one of the most successful clubs which have played finals more often than not and have played in more grand finals in the last 20 odd years than any other club. I also believe that we supporters should not individualise and heroworship. My best memory of the 2007 premiership win was that all 22 players played well.

  20. Lovely piece, Harmsy!

  21. Incidentally, the Cats threw away their premiership chances by not letting Footscray beat them at Kardinia Park in Round 22.

    In 2007, Geelong lost to Port at KP in the second-last round of the year.
    In 2009, Geelong lost to the Doggies at Docklands in the penultimate round.
    And in 2011, it was Sydney’s turn to beat Geelong at KP in Round 23 of 24.

    But no, you couldn’t let us have that win, could you!

  22. Turn it up, JTH.
    ASelwood – GF 2005; Premiers 2006; Finals 2007, 2011; 2012????
    SSelwood – Finals 2011; 2012???
    Our “Selwood Era” predates you and is therefore clearly copyrighted, and in 2012 and beyond it postdates you.
    Hands off our era!!!
    The door was slammed shut on the Scarlett Era on Saturday night.
    The Eagles and the Dockers were just making sure that Mr and Mrs Selwood (and Mr and Mrs Scott) don’t have any invidious choices between their offspring this September.

  23. Gigs, John. Don’t tell Theo but rumour has it that Pluto was put down following a controversial ruling by the Interplanetary Match Review Panel. Pluto’s connections say it was yet another Mickey Mouse decision in a poor year for the IMRP. An appeal is likely.

  24. Good account, John …and great discipline to sit down and write it.
    Pre-match it didn’t feel like a final …cold, blustery night and the ‘G not even half full (shoulda been at Kardina Park Saturday arvo) …none of which is a problem if the mind’s right. Geelong started flat and Freo were on-song …that pretty well ended it.
    There was a definite height miss-match …replacing Johnson with Simpkin probably didn’t help.
    The incredible thing is that we only got done by 16 points.
    I was disappointed, but also felt an odd sense of relief …haven’t quite figured out why yet.

  25. Like a few other almanacars, I felt troubled all week about the game but put it down to a life long footy neurosis.
    The game was won off Pavlich’s silky boot and champion heart. I refuse to give credit to a coach who, a couple of weeks ago, wrote his number 1 ruckman on the team sheet as an “emergency.”
    Good piece, as ever John. Relief and sadness is a strange mix. But it does ignite that sense of excitement towards the future. There is, however, considerable cloudiness around the AFL’s lack of transparency around the free trade rules. The question has to be asked “why?”

  26. Neil Belford says

    beautiful John, great discipline, great story. I am not game to comment at all, although I am overflowing with comments – I dont want to upset anything – but I have located and made safe my one betting slip for the year – $20 on Freo to win the flag at 250:1

  27. Skip of Skipton says

    Scarlo cannot be praised enough or his contribution overstated. He, Tom Harley and Dasher Milburn locking down the key backline posts, still as young men, were the foundations upon which the great crops of ’99 and ’01 could flourish. Insert Ottens and off you go.

  28. Very true Skip. I’d also throw in Sando as a pillar and mentor in those early days.

  29. nathan jarvis says

    We all know the seamless interval between hating cardrivers when you are riding shank’s pony and being convinced all pedestrians are dickheads once you get behind the wheel, the unfelt and complete 180-degree flipflop, well, I felt that last Saturday night.

    In the pretty much Freo-less finals series of the last 18 years or so, I have vicariously (and rather emptily) cheered on Scarlo and Chappy and co as they exercised their cruel rule of law over assorted hapless chumps and Hawthorn bumps. Saturday night rolls around and all of a sudden Scarlo is revealed as a grumpy old dickhead, who I am glad to see the back of, Chappy is the baldyheaded sociopath he probably has always been and Mackie, Mackie – don’t even get me started on that lipstick-wearing fingerpointer.

    With the slam of a cardoor, everything is different now. The world is righting itself.

    With the slam of a purple Monaro cardoor, everything has changed.

  30. Nathan, your purple haze certainly left my Cats in a fog.

    If the Swannies can’t do it (my dad is a Bloods man) and the Crows can’t do it (Sando was one of my favourites at the Cats), I hope your boys get over the line for you, if for nothing else than to validate that the Cats lost to a pretty good side.

  31. Nathan, you should be a writer. Oh, that’s right…

    (Very funny comment from you)

  32. nathan jarvis says

    Not too many teams drop the bundle as comprehensively as Geelong did – and still only lose by three straight kicks. I think that might be a little bit overlooked in the general shock and confusion.

    I would give someone else’s left nut to get Geelong’s recruitment team in the Imperial Purple. There’s plenty to like there. Especially given where they enter drafts, the guard is changing very well.

    Cheers for the nice words. I look forward to the day when neutrals stop looking kindly upon those nice chaps from Fremantle, doing so well, and start hating our miserable, mean-hearted guts.

  33. Nathan, I have wanted a 69 Monaro all my life. Once wrote about it in The Australian. I should dig that story out. Now they’re about $50,000 and little chance of getting the decision through the Upper House.

  34. One of my favourite memories of playing under 14s cricket in 1977 was driving to the grounds on Saturday mornings sardined into the back of the coach’s ’68 Monaro. All windows were wound down, and ELO’s “A New World Record” was played at 10 (this is before Spinal Tap introduced us to 11).

    If you weren’t quick enough to squeeze into coach Tiny’s Monaro, second prize wasn’t too bad – Simmo’s dad’s red ’65 Mustang!

  35. I’d been deluding myself with the thought that having done us over like that, Freo could go on to win the lot. But no, they get turfed out at the next opportunity. Rubbed it right in..

  36. The 2 best first-quarter starts of the year, and we were involved in both; the second one on the receiving end in contrast to what we inflicted on Haw less than 2 months ago.
    In Perth, I had a sense of it in the week leading up and just hoped the coach would not be too complacent based on his reasonable knowledge of Freo’s stock. Many have improved significantly in 2 years. Not least the Freo captain who I recall, with his team hot favorites at Subi against us in (was it?) 2006, drew boos from the Harbourmasters for large parts of the game for shamelessly playing for free kicks when Scarlo was dominating him, and us his team.
    Still, coach has credits from his debut year and at worst has only used some of them.

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