AFL Round 13 – Brisbane v Geelong: Turning point

I arrived at the Gabba to sit in my usual area. Unlike most games, I had arrived without my parents, who were getting a lift in with my sister. My parents’ friends Rob and Fran were already there. We talked about the game. Rob asked us what we thought would happen. Fran said Brisbane would get beaten but it would be “respectable”. I said Brisbane was going to get pumped.

The game started in a predictable manner. Geelong had all the possession and the signs were ominous. Hawkins was beating Merrett comprehensively, the latter not appearing to have benefited from his enforced holiday. On the other hand, Jimmy Bartel was reaping the rewards of his.

At half time I went see Leigh, who I used work for, and his wife Lynn. Leigh savaged the Lions’ list in one of his self-confessed critical moods. They was going to Launceston next week to watch Brisbane play Hawthorn. I asked what else they would do while they were there. Nothing said Leigh, in a rather grim tone, just the football.

I missed the first minute of the third quarter and a third goal for Hawkins. Geelong was dominating now and the game was on the verge of getting ugly. Fran observed that she thought my pre-game prediction was coming to fruition. It was playing out in a familiar way – Brisbane had teased early and then fallen away and was now fighting to make the margin respectable, a fight it was also losing. It was a script I had become too used to over the years. Steve Johnson kicked a goal and the margin hit 52 points.

Early in the fourth quarter Steve Johnson gathered possession and stormed out of the defensive 50. It looked ominous but he shanked the kick and it bounced off the ground awkwardly towards umpire Stuart Wenn. He tried to get out the way by jumping but made contact with the ball, which rebounded into the hands of Rich. Rich passed to Zorko who kicked a goal. I thought that perhaps that was a turning point in the game, that it would be the start of a momentum-shifting drive from Brisbane. It seemed an improbable and unrealistic thought.

But the goals kept coming. Brisbane was playing like the premiership champions of 2001-2003, fearlessly, confidently and accurately. It seemed impossible for them to make a mistake. It didn’t matter what happened now because it seemed certain to me that Brisbane was going to win. It was as if the inner arrogance that characterised Vossy, and had been best exemplified when he absorbed a bone-crunching hit from Scott Burns in the 2002 grand final only to get straight back up and assist Black to kick a goal, was present in every player out there. Not only did I know they were going to win, but they knew they were going to win.

I noticed that behind me was a corporate box full of Geelong supporters. They were growing quieter with each Brisbane goal. Stevie J goaled and they came back to life. But it wasn’t a momentum-stopping goal that halted the comeback. Instead Hanley goaled almost immediately and the freight train kept charging.

Golby gathered and booted a spectacular swinging goal. He had kicked one out on the full on the wing only minutes before and I thought this was adequate redemption. Then Rich goaled and scores were level. Geelong won the centre clearance and quickly found Hawkins on the lead in Aker’s pocket. He missed.

But Geelong gathered possession in their defensive half and managed a couple of kicks to soak up time. Brisbane had manned up but still Simpson was able to take a mark. It seemed over. Geelong still had possession and the natural tactic would have been to play keepings off. Natural to anyone other than Geelong. But that isn’t their game. Their game is Simpson playing on with a handpass to Corey as he charged past him towards the 50. In retrospect it was perhaps a mistake. But it is difficult to criticise a playing style that had seen them largely dominate the competition since 2007.

Corey long kick into Cats’ territory was marked by Merrett. I would like to give you the movements of the ball in the frantic seconds which followed. But the truth is I couldn’t remember them, until I saw the replay. All I can remember after having witnessed the game was that the ball was still in Geelong’s 50 and the corporate box TVs indicated there were 15 or 20 seconds left. It seemed now that perhaps Brisbane would not win. I couldn’t bear to think that we would get this close and not get the points. But again Brisbane played with that inner arrogance of our premiership years. It was our game to win and we went straight down the corridor by foot, with precision under pressure. McGrath took a jumping mark on the 50 and the crowd erupted. The siren sounded but I couldn’t hear it, it was only confirmed by the umpire. McGrath would be kicking for goal to win the game after the siren in his 200th game. It seemed like an impossible scenario and read like a Hollywood script with one of those unrealistic endings.

But it was happening and again it seemed certain that McGrath would kick the goal. And he did. I could see the crowd behind the goal erupt and ecstasy ensued. I hugged my sister. I hugged my dad. I hugged Rob. I hugged the seat behind me.

It had been so long since I had seen Brisbane play like it knew it was going to win. It was the kind of win that made so many seasons of torture, disappointment and false expectations worth it. But I’m not sure I could handle another game like this. As we left the round Fran exclaimed that she thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was still shaking.

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