AFL Grand Final – Sydney v Hawthorn: One day in September

The beach at Mornington is postcard perfect. I’d never seen it before, yet on Grand Final morning I was sitting on the deck of one of the small beach boxes, drizzled in spring sunshine.

Kids in wet suits were led by their father into the freezing sea. My kids played in the sand until the sight of our host with a sea kayak brought them to their feet. They were soon skimming gently on the calm sea, issuing directions to their dad.

About 60km (as the crow flies) from the G yet I’d never felt so far removed from footy.

We had to leave our hosts by 1 if we were going to arrive at our BBQ destination for the first bounce. By 12.30 I was in no mood to make the trip down various toll roads and freeways to do so. The morning’s sunshine was clearly going to linger until dusk.

I told the kids 5 minutes; it was met with devastation. Sun, sand, the kayak, a couple of star fish to have another look at – sorry, it’s time to go. I was sad too.

Kisses and thanks and up the hill to the car.

Two sun-kissed babies in their car seats were the first to nod off; my co-pilot not long after. This was never in doubt.

* * * * *

We pass Linen House, home of the Saints (for now). All I knew of it was from the snippets I’d read – that the players were unhappy travelling this far; that they couldn’t get a decent coffee nearby. Having seen its location, the players are mad not to live on the Peninsula and make the trip from the east instead of the west. Really, kids today.

We pass the sculptures that adorn Eastlink that provided the Working Dog team with enough material for an episode of Utopia. I love that Hotel, I’m just disappointed there’s never a car parked in front and a weary traveller peering through the door, wondering how to get in.

I click on 774, there are a few minutes of discussion before an extended “highlights” package of radio commentary chosen from the seasons of both teams. The biggest game of the season and they’re filling in time like this. Those budget cuts are already biting; bloody Government.

I click on 3AW. Ads.

I think of clicking onto SEN – but only very briefly.

The car returns to silence. I am convinced the Swans will win by 10 goals. The talk of a close game doesn’t feel right. They play the contested game as well as anyone; their defence is as good as anyone’s; they have Buddy who I’m convinced will win the Norm Smith; and Hawthorn looked weary against the Power last week.

I turn the radio on again in time for Tom Jones. It wakes Mady. Unexpectedly, Ed Sheeran (Ed Sherrin/Ned Shearin) starts.

“Who’s this?”

“Ed Sheeran.”

“It’s not working, is he playing an acoustic guitar? What’s this song?”

“It’s a massive hit everywhere.”

“Well there you go.”

With a crowd on the edge of their seats, wouldn’t you give them someone who could fire things up?

Tom did. Many asked in the lead-up to the game, Why Tom?

Tom can sing, and he sings songs people know, and he appeals to a greater cross-section than others often mentioned. The Almanac faithful, among others, will bring up Australian legends like the Saints, but that’s not going to cut it. What was their hit? How many at the crowd would know them?

I ask Mady: “Who would you get?”

Silence. I answer my own question: “AC/DC the only universal crowd pleaser.”She agrees. We don’t really care.

Tom signs off. He certainly wasn’t Meatloaf, and that’s all the AFL wanted.

* * * * *

We arrive at our Thornbury destination with 10 minutes to spare.

Hawthorn had this year’s Grand Final won halfway through the first quarter. The Swans looked ominous early but missed their chances. You can’t afford to do that. The tell-tale sign was Heath Grundy’s punch in defence under minimal pressure. He should have marked then found someone on the chest. He was rattled and the Hawks had it won. You could tell.

Collingwood had it won in the 2010 replay when Heath Shaw smothered Riewoldt’s kick in the goal square in the first quarter. You could tell. Geelong had it won in 2007 when Brad Ottens chased down Michael Pettigrew late in the first quarter. You could tell.

The sun had followed us from the Peninsula. My best mate was tending the BBQ. Others were talking; asking whose team the player they had drawn for one of several sweeps played for; had the first goal been kicked; what’s the Norm Smith medal; how’s Buddy going. Not a footy crowd.

Kids would run onto the deck from the backyard; from inside the house. What’s the score? Wow, ?? points to ?? points. (Kids are obsessed with the score, it gets repeated ad nauseum, helps their math though.) I look for my two – inside quietly colouring in. Oblivious. Bless.

The half time siren blares and I congratulate my Hawks friend, holding her kids wearing matching jumpers. Their dad has his Bombers jumper on. He has a good sense of humour, he knew we’d enjoy that.

I see the Cats have a runner in the halftime sprint. It’s Murdoch, I’m not convinced he has a long-term future in the hoops but he does have a bit of toe.

The build-up is hilarious. 8 blokes with no shortage of pride; in a colosseum packed with 100,000 people; with millions more watching on the telly. Some blokes laughing, giving themselves an out – “just a giggle mate, not taking it seriously mate, could have won if I wanted to mate.”

Not Murdoch, he takes the sprinter’s position and once he takes the lead he’s never headed. I tried to see if any had pulled up early, clutching the leg, but the camera didn’t linger on the losers. It might be in their contracts.

I jumped up on the deck. “The mighty Cats! September is our month and we’ve made it ours again. You beauty!” I was genuinely thrilled.

The third quarter started and the Swans had to create history to win it from here. It wasn’t to be. How can you not be ready for the biggest game of the year, especially if you’d won it two years earlier? It seemed that three-quarters of the side were surprised that Hawthorn were going to hit them so hard. It’s a funny old game, football.

* * * * *

As the Hawks marched on to the inevitable result, I felt nothing.

We watched the 2012 Grand Final here too. That was a cracking game, made even more special to me by the result. I surprised myself that day from the level of satisfaction I achieved through Hawthorn’s loss. After 2008, I wanted them to feel the pain of losing a Grand Final they were expected to win. I felt vindicated.

Evidently I achieved closure that day as well.

I wasn’t happy the Hawks won this year, as I would have been if it were the Bulldogs, or the Saints, or even Sir (for services to the game) Ken Hinkley (I mean, the Power), but I wasn’t angry. Their victory wasn’t an assault on the past glories of my Cats. Even if they did achieve back-to-back success and we didn’t.

It’s just a game. And this year they were on top. Next year, who knows? Things move on pretty quickly.

* * * * *

“The dog needs a walk and we’re out of nappies.”

I attach the lead to the dog.

“Come on, Munchy.”

A Swans fan was also looking for nappies that night. He didn’t look sad, he looked confused, completely baffled.

“Sorry mate.”

“Me too, I just wish they’d had a go. If Roosy was there they’d at least have come ready to play.”

“Sorry mate.”

At least one of us had a win that day. Go Murdoch, you good thing.

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety


  1. Grand perspective, Cookie.
    (though momentarily lost, I see, following the sprint).

    Hats off for making it away from the beach.
    I saw that “kayak and beach box” setup once in a movie.

  2. Hi Cookie

    Lovely piece mate.

    If you aint got skin in the game then your day was a pretty attractive alternative. I’m glad the Hawks still bother you. I look forward to the ongoing Cats/Hawks encounters.

    Enjoy summer.


  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Footy scores have helped my Grade prep son’s maths improve heaps this year. Grand Final day well spent Cookie.

  4. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Cookie, oh for the ‘not feeling a thing’ of impartiality.
    I like Murdoch .. from what I saw this year. A lot more than them Hawks anyway.
    I will wait for closure …

Leave a Comment