AFL Qualifying Final – Hawthorn v Geelong: It’s not over yet

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Friday night. People around the wide land are enacting their footy plans. It is one of the great weekends of sport for those who follow the indigenous game, if your team’s in it (and maybe if it’s not), wherever that teams’ from: Geelong in the big-time, or Fitzroy, or Willy CYs.

In Hamilton in the Western District (the land which produced Max Rooke), my young nephew, Angus, is waiting for Sunday. His father tells me Angus spent the last quarter of the Richmond-Sydney game cocooned in his sleeping bag listening to the radio commentary.

While this may appear a little unbecoming of the school captain of Gray Street Primary in Hamilton, it is completely understandable when you consider his great grandfather Maurie Sheahan played in two Richmond premierships, his grandfather Shorty donned the Yellow and Black before handing his Number 4 jumper to Royce Hart, and his mother Nell would

That was Round 23, a full six days ago. And Angus has bounced handball courts the asphalt ever since.

But he has to wait. Until Sunday. And Adelaide Oval.

My Friday plan gets complicated. I don’t like it. Focus will be a problem. I want a quiet day. Steak and eggs in the morning. A few beers. A rub.

But I’m off the bit all day: interviewing a solicitor for a story, at the Brighton Baths, where I spot a table of 30-somethings who will be in the Cougar Draft before too long (impressive pathways down there), drinking coffee, and looking back to the city through the last of the fog on a very sunny day (good for footy); battling traffic along Punt Road; dealing with a coding issue on the website (thanks Dermie from Diskman and, yes, I realise how nervous you are);  taking the kids swimming; getting to the launch of The Footy Art Show on Brunswick St to see the wonderful new works (including Yvette’s and Kate’s)  and hear John Von Goes (of RRR’s JVG’s Radio Method); before either heading in to the Waterside Hotel for a couple of sharpies with C. Down and co, or going directly to the MCG to have a couple of settlers with Percy Beames and J. Welch (down from Sydney). I’m chasing.

But while I’ve been chasing I’ve become increasingly confident. The phone keeps ringing and beeping and I keep saying, “We’re miles over the odds.”

I’ve had a good go at the boys myself. After all, this is the side that dominated Hawthorn in a match just a couple of weeks ago.

And this is a free hit. The Cats are not expected to win, so a win is a bonus. They can be cavalier. Confidnet. Speculative.

And, as the minutes tick by, on a magnificent Melbourne evening, the Cats chances are increasing. I’ve got them faves now.

I imagine the crew at home. What should I do? What do I want to do? Theo is just old enough to be disappointed he’s not going. I ring, and it’s too much: I end up heading back to watch this famous geelong victory with the whole family. Perhaps Theo will last the distance?

It’s a classic case of indecision. What is the motivation: guilt? I am unsettled. Poorly prepared, after such a positive build-up.

As the anthem is played, the camera catches the faces of Jimmy Bartel (stern, ready, confident); Jarrod Rivers (the face of unlikely opportunity) and Mark Blicavs (the most engaged I’ve seen him look). I like this.

The brilliant aerial shot of the MCG is a reminder of all things football.

The Cats start well. Really well. It’s a high-pressure contest where both sides appear nervous. Johnno keeps getting it, jinking, propping, defying the regular patterns of orthodoxy to create space amid the claustrophobia – and then misses targets. He beats all of Hawthorn and has a simple chip across to Motlop miles in the clear –and he kicks it over his head.

It’s the first time I scare the children.

Johnno’s got it again and has a man 30 metres in the clear on the wing – and scrubs his kick to an out-of-position Hawker. Butchered goal.

It’s the second time I scare the children.

The Handicapper appears, ostensibly to take an interest in the footy, but realistically in her role as Mother Hen. She is already giving me that you-should-have-gone look.

Doesn’t she understand that you have to take your chances against a side as brilliant as Hawthorn? They will have theirs, and they will take advantage of them.

Selwood snags an intercept and slots one on the run from 50. This is looking good.

Walker roams and climbs. He takes a big mark, more B. Stoneham than S. Reynoldson. And then another, a mark with a hint of the `37 Grand Final in it.

While Walker is taking his grabs, Tom Hawkins isn’t. The Cats have run hard and won the footy and they have separation, space, and hence a little time. They look for Tommy. He gets rid of Brian Lake with strength and timing. Then drops the chest mark. Twice. (“Dad, they can’t hear you.”)

Then he does it again. Good use of the body. Spilt. I have Doug Heywood in my ear, “Hawkins misses what he should have taken.”

Why’s Hawkins standing there anyway? Hard to see on telly, but surely he can lead back and away into that space and Lake won’t have a chance?

The signs are good though – in a way.

Bartel wins the footy on the flank. Now they’re just trying to get Tommy a kick. Jimmy chips down the line in a low-percentage option that Lake swats over the boundary line – when Mitch Duncan is 25 metres in the clear at full forward. Jimmy? (“Dad, they can’t hear you.”)

The inevitable happens. Roughy roves (one of his many skills) and snaps truly, and the pressure is released, the doubt subsides, and Hawthorn turn into Hawthorn. This means they win the footy and then explode. Brad Hill especially, in his space-finding role, and he is proving a handful for Mark Blicavs. I liked the match-up initially but there may have to be a change.

They can all get clear. All those Hawthorn blokes who all have the same name and the same kicking action.

The Cats make more errors. But Joel Selwood is just phenomenal with his physical presence and skill.

It’s tight at times during the second quarter but the Cats have a few down. Mackie looks flustered. What’s James Kelly doing? Josh Caddie? Travis can save the world but is testing the capacity of cardio units throughout the Geelong world; Stephen Motlop just wants to get away.

It’s a case of two teams who can both use the footy brilliantly trying to create the space to do just that. Hawthorn look more likely, and threaten to kick away. But a handful of stalwarts – Joel Selwood especially, and Jimmy – and the experienced defenders, mean that we’ve just got enough grip on their shorts to keep them from ripping it apart.

And then there is a twist. In the dying minutes of the half Murdoch goals and on the siren Walker takes  another big mark, and kicks the goal. Scores are level at half-time.

The kids have wandered off. Tired from swimming and a big week. Concerned for their father.

The Hawks make a few changes after the break. Someone contains Selwood (probably Langford) while Mitchell is let loose and does the damage. He is brilliantly creative and now the Cats really are desperate clinging to the raft.

But, despite a few shockers, they cling well. It becomes a game where the Cats are playing poorly, making errors, blokes down, yet if they can remain in touch (the Hawks aren’t quite top of their game either) they may come good and have a burst where they turn it around in the dying minutes.

That’s the hope.

They defend and defend. Chris Scott tries a few options forward. Lonergan takes a strong mark at the start of the last quarter and if he nails the goal we’re within a couple of kicks – and coming. He misses. Still Hawthorn look superior with the ball in their hands. Still Harry Taylor and Rivers manage to organise a defence which makes it at least difficult for the Hawthorn guns. When Harry goes forward thy look less secure. That might have to be the bet.

When Blicavs receives (from Bartel to Selwood to the running ruckman) it’s 14 points the difference.

At the 20 minute mark we’re just in it – still within three goals.

But the Hawks finish the better. They deserve their win. Sadly, they also have improvement in them.

By this time I am well and truly on my own.

The Cats have had a shocker. Half a dozen blokes were really down. Johnno was unsighted after the first quarter.

Sydney and Buddy hold out the brave Dockers. North are awful on the Saturday night with frustrating over-possession and an under-developed sense of direction until their only response was to attack in an effort to make up a big margin.

So to Sunday afternoon and Angus’s excited wait. He’s on the Dunkeld golf course with his father and grandfather before the siren sounds for half-time.

I’ve cracked a Cooper’s stout and I’m enjoying a thoroughly South Australian experience exemplified by Brad Ebert’s measured shot on the run from the pocket. Port Adelaide play the game as it should be played showing that if the ground is big enough, or it’s made big enough by making quick (and good) decisions, and a team is skilful enough, no defence can stop them. That is at the heart of the game.

Port have been all the talk in a week of mega-analysis. With a bit of bullish North chat, and the demise of Geelong thrown in.

It’s interesting how the result of matches has an impact on how the game is understood. Geelong and Freo were both right in their matches for much of the time.

Geelong may lose against North. That’s footy. If they had Matthew Lobbe they’d be hot favourites.

But they haven’t.

So we have to find a way.

I’m doing my bit. I’ll be preparing much better this week.


Votes: Selwood (Geel) 3, Taylor (Geel) 2, Lonergan (Geel) 1.

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 (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Lovely JTH. The Stevie Motlop of parenting – brilliant but inconsistent?

  2. Pete Granger says

    Harmsy, you couldnt squeeze one Hawk (36 point winners) into the best players? May I suggest Mitchell (36 disposals, six clearances and four goal assists), Hill (27 disposals and five inside 50s), and Lake (no Hawkins, no Geelong?)

  3. I know the feeling intimately: wife and kids staring at you, questioning your very sanity, as you yell and scream and rant at the television.
    I struggle to watch North Melbourne games on television these days, as the frustration I feel is just too great. There is just something about being at the game which makes you feel – just a little – more in control.

  4. Pete, they were good, but it’s inappropriate to be too tough on your own, and it would have been tough love (too tough really) to leave any of the three Cats out.

  5. Geez your voting system needs reviewing….

  6. My sentiments exactly, Smokie.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Enjoyable JTH and yep can not watch crows or legs on the TV with the family around
    Agreed folks are forgetting how long cats and dockers were in the game and the opposition they played re this week

  8. Grant Fraser says

    As you are aware, the secret to success for your Kee-yats lies in your proceation – no kid, no Cup

  9. After Friday’s lounge room perfromance (forgot to mention the viticultural anaesthetic) that is highly unlikely RGF.

  10. Love that you succumbed and ended up watching at home with the kids. In a few years you will be having a great time at such bigs games with them. I should get my wife to read this – she seems to think I’m an outlier when it comes to my football watching behaviour. Not sure I have scared the kids, but definitely woken up the baby as sent the dogs packing to the back if the house on numerous occasions.

  11. Sources tell me Razor Ray out for the rest of finals. That’s a big out for the Cats.

  12. “It’s the first time I scare the children.”
    You’ve just summed up my watching footy at home experience in 8 words.

  13. Earl O'Neill says

    Ah, Coopers’ Stout… Bliss in a bottle.

  14. Mark - Perth Cats says

    Great work as always Harmsy! Go Catters tonight…

  15. JTH
    I, with wife and daughter in tow, bumped into the abovementioned J Welch in the Longroom after the game.
    Later, on the way home. Daughter: ‘Dad, has he got a really bad speech impediment?’
    Me: ‘No. He’s had a really big lunch.’
    Daughter: ‘Dad, what’s he mean when he says Hawthorn give him a “Raison sofa tone”?
    Me: ‘That’s the way you say “Raging soft-on” after a big lunch.
    Percy Beams tonight? Blazer Bar?

  16. AJC

    We’re getting there near bounce time. I have a mad Queenslander (a school principal) with me. Would help you to understand the North were you to meet him.

    I’ll ring.


  17. Andrew Starkie says

    never in doubt. Dominated for 3 1/2 quarters.

  18. ‘Dad, they can’t hear you’ is a clasisic (and a great future book title to keep up
    your sleeve, if you have any old woollen jumpers with long ones left).

    Love the way you manfully took your share of the responsibility – in the closing
    par – for Geelong’s loss. But don’t overdo it, John! :)


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