AFL Grand Final Preview – The Last Game of the Season, at Last. 



Full forty strong, before the throng,

We file in colours gay;

Fling in the ball, we’re players all,

We’ll ‘see it out’ to-day.

The ground is wet, but never yet

Did rain our ardor dim;

To places all, and watch the ball;

The umpire – look for him.

Watch the bounce, strain every ounce,

To win this game this day.

The crowd shall roar, and a thirst for gore

With the barracker’s come to stay.

The Ballarat Courier, 1894




I’ve been getting lost in thought all week. At my desk. Walking down Swan Street. Driving over the Bolte. Drinking my morning coffee.


I imagine Cotch, on stage. I imagine winning. Premiership posters in the Herald Sun. I think about the days, even this year, when making it seemed beyond us. About cutting my hair like Joel Bowden for the best part of five years. About talking to Richo on the Punt Road fence while he stretched another recovering hamstring.


A tingle goes down my back. I shiver. A tear wells in my eye, but doesn’t make it out.


This week is ours. I never thought it would be, not yet, not this soon, but it is.


My year, my winter, my season, has revolved around the fortunes of the Brunswick Hockey Club too. As we tallied up wins and rode through the home and away season undefeated, I wondered what that would mean after the Grand Final, our last game of the season, the one Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s reckons you have to win for anyone to give a shit.


Brunswick won the flag but as the Tigers face their day of reckoning, I’m stuck on the same question – what does it matter, if we should lose?


But this year matters.


It’s changed our story, the way people view our club. Our pain has always been the pain of mediocrity. We are not the Bulldogs, who stumbled in Preliminary Finals time and again until last year. We are not the Cats, who tallied up Grand Final losses like loose change until 2007. We went year after year knowing the train ride home was more likely to be a sad one than a happy one.


For the first time in a long time I’m more likely to watch my team win than lose. We’ve won finals, convincingly, without doubts and last quarter panic. Tigerland is a truly happy place for the first time since the 80s.


Sometimes, it all seems awfully peculiar. Why is the town hall glowing yellow and black? Why is there a new mural of a man pumping his fist? Why are people queuing up to have photos with this mural? Why are we all wearing yellow and black and screaming about the Tiger, an animal which isn’t even native to our country?


But a week from today, the weather will once again trump Dustin Martin as the best topic for small talk. Maybe I’ll be forced to actually think about Trump himself, a far cry from the past month where the MRP, the injury list and the direction of the wind have occupied far more space in my head than the possibility of nuclear winter.


It matters. This matters. And it will still matter come Saturday evening.


I wrote last week about the Miller-Banister Trophy, about growing up in their territory. And this Grand Final is about much more than just Richmond.


It is fitting that these two sides meet, and not just for me personally.


I remember the murder of Phil Walsh. I remember Mum waking me up to tell me. I remember not believing it half awake. I remember not believing it fully awake.


At a dark Adelaide Oval after Port Adelaide beat Collingwood, the lights went out and every supporter in the ground held a phone torch aloft. ‘Lanterns’ by Birds of Tokyo played while a montage of photos from Phil’s life flashed across the scoreboard.


It was solidarity, a collective attempt to understand what had happened. I don’t think we ever can, but it was a reminder, in the most horrific way, that this game, sport and life are about the people you encounter along the way.


The Crows, as they say themselves, are now Don Pyke’s team. They’ve grown a long way from the team that was applauded off at Subiaco in their first game after Phil Walsh’s death.


They used to call Subiaco the house of pain. This was a pain far worse, and one that the appreciation of West Coast’s faithful couldn’t soothe.


All things considered, it is a huge achievement for both of these sides to be where they are. It is significant. And we should give a shit about both of them.


It feels right – the right teams and the right way to end a wonderful season.


And so, onto the result. Like most predictions this week, I’d just be going on emotion, but I do believe the Tigers can win. But we should all know, after a lifetime of yearning, and after the horror that befell our opponents, that this is about much more than winning and losing.


This week has been about celebration and the day itself should be, too.


So Crows and Tiger fans, don’t forget where you’ve come from, the barnstorming footy you’ve played, the joy you took from victories in weeks one and three, and the fact that this week, finally, has been all about you, and your teams.


Don’t forget the majestic footy of Rioli and Eddie and Dusty and Rory, fist pumping in total joy, and how easy it has been to get out of bed this week.


Find your seats, piss before the game, or if you’re one of the unlucky many, find a suitable pub (you’ll probably still need to piss before the game).


Enjoy the hum of your song and the roar after the anthems. Enjoy the crunching sound of another tackle from your big, bulldozing ruckman, whether his name is Nankervis, or you prefer your bone-crunching tackles with extra Sauce. Enjoy it all.


Because come next Saturday, you’ll be searching for something to do. And that, I think, is a much bigger loss to us all.

About Jack Banister

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


  1. Brilliant Report!

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