AFL Grand Final – Adelaide v Richmond: It’s Us

 

The Old Man can’t sit still at breakfast. He’s feeling ill, sick in the pit of his stomach. I don’t share his nerves.

 

Maybe it’s because I’m going to Punt Road, not the MCG, to watch the last game of the year.

 

Maybe it’s because the journey here has been so brilliant. It has filled up afternoons, giving me something to write about, something to talk about, and something to hope for.

 

Maybe it’s because of the way Pyke and Walker spoke at the Friday presser. They believe they are the best team and they will win. I feel like their confidence has become arrogance. I feel it’s a dangerous position for them to be in.

 

But really, it’s none of the above. It’s because in the humdrum of daily life and work and university, I haven’t stopped to realise my football club is on the brink of achieving the first thing I can remember hoping for and wanting. We are dangerously close to recognising my childhood pipe dream and I dare not admit it. I don’t want to be let down again and so, I am pleading nonchalance.

 

We catch the train to Richmond, amid a humdrum of activity. At Punt Road, we part ways. Dad heads for the `G. He wondered early in the week if he should give me his ticket. I’m glad he didn’t. As sobering as the thought is, I can’t have him taking any chances. He has less years ahead of him to witness premierships than I do.

 

Georgia (sister, younger) and I queue for half an hour to get into the live site.

 

It’s the closest thing to being there if you can’t actually be there – literally, geographically, figuratively. None of my memories of Punt Road Oval involve 20,000 people, though. The one I mull over as we queue is from 2004, the week after our own fans spat on Danny Frawley and the players after a loss to the Crows. Dad and I were the only people at training, leaving Channel 7 with no one to interview except us. I’m sure we still have the tape of my television debut somewhere.

 

The place is barely recognisable today. From the back of the Jack Dyer Stand to the edges of the boundary line, Punt Road swells with our people, hopers and dreamers in yellow and black. There are few places in the world where 20,000 people can look around and know that every person in sight wants precisely the same thing.

 

More importantly, there’s no safer place on earth to express disdain for Taylor Walker’s moustache, or the Crows’ ludicrous national anthem stance.

 

Sitting on the grass gets boring. I just want this thing to start. The Killers are as good a distraction as a man could hope for, and their version of Forgotten Years is undoubtedly the highlight. As we wait away the final moments, I ponder the significance of hearing that song today, given Tony Abbott’s recent insistence that sport and politics don’t mix.

 

“The hardest years, the darkest years, the roaring years, the fallen years,

These should not be forgotten years”

Midnight Oil

 

I also ponder 37 dark and hard years of a totally different sort. I hope today will make this year the first roaring year of the 37.

 

Finally, it begins. At Punt Road we hang off every tackle, every smother, every kick, mark and stray handball. Every moment feels significant. Every moment is significant.

 

Rory Sloane is our most immediate problem. He kicks the first and Betts kicks the second from a Vlastuin error. The mood drops. As usual, there is nothing for us to do except hope.

 

Jack gets into the game, lifting spirits with grabs and early touches but not with goals. The thought nags – will we end up wondering what might have been?

 

Finally, Caddy kicks our first. Punt Road breathes a collective sigh of relief. Houli dispatches our fears with his beautiful running snap, relieving furrowed brows. But two late crumbling goals for the Crows are a big kick in the teeth we’ve only just started to show.

 

Still, I feel okay. We’re stifling their ball movement, matching them around the contest and they aren’t getting cheapies out the back. Our winning blueprint is in play. I’m convinced the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the game.

 

They call the third term the premiership quarter, but I feel it won’t be so today. The Crows kill games off before half-time and we’re the opposite. If we can keep with them for another half-hour, I reckon it’s ours to lose.

 

What follows is better than anything I’d dared to hope and dream of. After the Crows let two early chances go begging, Jack finally kicks a lifter, and from there, it’s all yellow and black.

 

They want to play like millionaires against the kings of the one-percenters. We smother and we gang tackle and we shepherd to help ourselves in the air and on the ground. They whack the ball down the line time and time again. We pride ourselves on squaring contests and we keep refusing to be beaten.

 

When the stalemate breaks, we have all the run.

 

Townsend and Graham kick big goals. Suddenly, we’re more than just level with them – we’re beating them, deep in the first-half.

 

Sensing the moment, Dusty goes forward. It’s timed to perfection. A clean break from the middle drops straight into his lap. He kicks truly.

 

We repel them again and again to close out the quarter, with a bit of help from the men in blue.

 

At half-time, in the shadow of the Jack Dyer Stand, the hopers and dreamers are becoming believers. We’ve poked our food with our chopsticks for long enough. This is the half where we finally eat it – alive.

 

The quarter starts with a huge set shot from Graham, and then another from Grigg. When Lambert gets out the back and smashes our seventh in a row over the cheer squad and towards us from inside the goal square at the `G, we’re up at the old ground as if one of us might actually be able to mark his kick.

 

Adelaide have to respond now, or they’re perilously close to falling into the abyss. Betts has a shot from fifty, but misses. Jacobs lifts and takes two huge defensive marks. Then, a fifty-metre penalty takes them up the ground and a well-placed chip leaves Tex Walker with a shot from just inside fifty.

 

He kicks the captain’s goal.

 

The next bounce is huge, but we eventually win out and go forward. Nank hits up Graham, who is all over the ground and all over Sloane. He goals from a difficult shot. It’s the biggest goal of the day. Surely, now, it’s going to be us.

 

Thunderstruck blares out the speakers at three-quarter time. I’d prefer some Tom Petty.

 

You take it on faith, you take it on heart, the waiting is the hardest part.”

 

Jack takes a huge mark and goals to start the quarter, but when the Crows bag two in a row, we all start to feel a little sick.

 

It doesn’t last long. Goals from Townsend and Butler reduce the rest of the footy to nothing more than semantics. Now, we really are just waiting.

 

I know how the rest of this scene goes. It’s the same year upon year. The camera will start to flash around to famous faces in the crowd. Ex-players, ex-coaches, and administrators will cry tears of happiness. Every mark on the field from the winning side will be cheered. The siren will go. A song will play. Teammates will hug, cry, fall over in each other’s arms. They’ll jump on their coach. They’ll bend down so an Auskicker can put a medal on them, and they’ll ruffle the kid’s hair before they punch the air and leave the stage. A great champion of the winning club will bring the cup up onto the stage. And a captain and a coach will lift it to an almighty roar.

 

This is all so familiar. I watch this scene every year. It’s just that it’s never yellow and black. And now, finally, it is.

 

It’s Cotch marking on the wing to rapturous applause. It’s Peggy O’Neal and Benny Gale crying in the stands. It’s Dimma walking down from his box and embracing everyone on the bench. It’s our song that starts blaring on the siren, and our boys who are falling over each other.

 

Soon, it’s Dusty hugging Peggy. The tattooed arms of our brutal hard nut, best known for pushing people off him, are softly embracing the slight figure of our president, complete with her Tigers scarf and her pearl earrings and her neat, cropped blonde hair.

 

Bachar is bending down to get his medal and kissing the heavens. Nank is too tall, and has to kneel. Cotch can’t bring himself to leave without hugging his Auskicker.

 

And then Richo walks onto the stage, the face of all this heartache, the face of our forgotten years, the man who kept us coming through the turnstiles for years. It’s just so right that he’s carrying the cup, complete with yellow and black streamers, onto the dais.

 

He leaves it with Dimma and Cotch. They raise it above their heads as our players stream in to join them.

 

We at Punt Road cease to be hopers and dreamers. We even cease to be believers.

 

We are premiers.

 

READ MORE OF OUR GRAND FINAL COVERAGE HERE

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Congratulations Jack. On a great win for the Tigers and for a wonderful piece of writing.
    ” There are few places in the world where 20,000 people can look around and know that every person in sight wants the precisely the same thing.” Brilliant

  2. You had me reliving it all again Jack. And thanks for the heads up on Pyke & Walker’s efforts at the Friday presser. i didn’t know about that. Serves them right, eh?

    Eat ’em alive e Tigers.

  3. Paddy Grindlay says:

    I want that month back.

    Thanks JB. Go Tiges.

  4. JBanister says:

    Thanks fellas!

  5. It’ll be out in a box set for Christmas Paddy.

  6. steve todorovic says:

    And will be sold out the day after it becomes available, Wrap. Many thanks, Jack. Thought that the emotions were in check, given a week has passed. I’ve watched the DVD countless times and I’ve read every square centimetre of all the press and media articles. I was getting in the zone to get back to work ( teacher on school hols….didn’t just take the week off, but probably would of anyway.) But you got me!
    “And then Richo walks onto the stage, the face of all this heartache, the face of our forgotten years, the man who kept us coming through the turnstiles for years”. As Jackson Browne once wrote….here come those tears again!

    I mentioned to Paddy that he should send his article to Punt Rd and I implore you to do the same. They both perfectly focus on the human story behind this flag as well as recounting the efforts of the strong and bold men in yellow and black Again, thanks for stirring up the emotions.

  7. I’ll second that Steve.

  8. JBanister says:

    Thanks Steve – appreciate the kind words. So much has been said since the game and I imagine there will be stories to read for some time to come!

  9. E.regnans says:

    Love it, J Banister.
    That’s a mighty story of a mighty occasion.
    Magnificent.
    You never know what’s going to crop up in this life.

  10. Joe De Petro says:

    Great work, JB. Love the Richo and the forgotten years stuff, it is so true.

  11. Absolutely love it, Jack. Your passion and conviction throughout the whole season paid off beautifully. Very happy for you and the Tiges fans everywhere. The reception Richo got when he presented the cup was something else. Hope the celebrations are still going strong.

  12. JBanister says:

    Thanks all – returning to normal life is weird!

    Already looking forward to 2017,

  13. How do you return to normal life? I’m still in a daze.

    I had two days of premiership leave last week; I think I needed two weeks.

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