AFL Round 13 – Melbourne v Western Bulldogs: Jack’s back

Bitter cold was accompanied by fog. The MCG, which at times this season has felt like an ancient ruin due to the team that has been disgraced on it, was accompanied by a sparse group of fans who probably wished they had more of each other to fall back on. But it simply wasn’t to be, given the circumstances. “Neeld footy” had alienated many, perhaps the rational who reacted appropriately and withdrew when continuously afflicted with pain. The footy addicts and the oddly passionate, the ones who will always be there, speckled the Punt Rd end in dozens. But we had one thing on our side: Footy is footy. It doesn’t have to be the destruction of a once great dynasty, a thousand daggers in the chest, public humiliation or like watching the same movie a hundred times. It has no agenda, even if a room full of men in suits says it does. There’s a lot of things to see, and a lot of things can happen.

The players went in to position. Jack Watts, forward fifty. Tick, good, off we go. The game began and we didn’t even get the regular few minutes of limbo, Cordy nailed a set shot from a quick clearance. It wasn’t looking good at all for the best of the next minute until Watts roved and angled a lightning quick ball on his boot in response. The game then settled into perhaps an old fashioned style. Plenty of tackles, contests and forward ball movement, teams in their traditional strips. You could see the players’ breath at the stoppages. And most traditionally of all, the Melbourne Football Club was a force again. The Dogs conceded four rushed behinds and the ball was inside our fifty for most of the quarter. When it wasn’t there, McDonald, Terlich, Frawley and Garland repelled opposition entries. We shared the ball like never before and should’ve been much further in front.

The game continued with us having an unspectacular edge over the Dogs. Watts led well and kicked two goals from the same pocket. Fitzpatrick nailed a fantastic banana. Having three talls inside fifty was refreshing, having had none or one in games previous this year. The forward potency was a huge bonus as the Dogs’ was nonexistent. A 26 point half time lead was so foreign; I was as dazed as I was happy. A pie and a nice chat with a fellow fan later, Rodan kicked a fantastic goal (although strictly speaking, threw it to himself on the boundary). Blease, as he so often does when he backs his speed, kicked a fantastic goal on the run. Dawes, in long sleeves reminiscent of Yze, added another with an enormous snap from 55, which bounced perfectly to avoid the post in front of me. Fitzpatrick, inexplicably playing well, sent one home on the run. The situation seemed too perfect, but it wasn’t brilliant. It was hard to know what to think, knowing the disaster that had plagued us for too long. While we were playing some decent footy, the Dogs just seemed lifeless. In a way, it was too easy a three quarters and I didn’t quite feel secure. Leading by 39 points, having not lead at three quarter time (or half time) this year was uncomfortable. Though I got up from sitting on my hands and jumped to celebrate each goal, unusually I felt an undertone of resentment and unfamiliarity towards the club. Why this game? Why did we recruit these players and that coach in the first place? What a waste of time the last two years have been!

The final quarter was the key, if we could continue to hold them off with inspiring bits of play, surely I’d go home with a warm feeling. Two quick goals from the Dogs immediately stirred the bad feeling inside of me, but I began to feel a lot better as Dawes hoisted one through over the horizon at the other end. It was followed by two from Watts and Howe. Maybe we had turned the corner. I suddenly saw a powerhouse side. Great work Craig, look what you’ve done to this team. We’re home.

The Dogs, as if after a sequel to Brisbane’s effort the week before, finally reminded us they existed and whispered a dirty secret to our players, as if to expose them for their true selves. For the first 2-3 goals, the term ‘consolation prize’ was tossed around. After two more, it was a message from the devil. A (literally) incorrect umpiring decision went the Dogs way and Minson took an easy mark in the goal square. Eight points. When Ayce Cordy marked and squeezed one through, I swear I saw the ball wink at me as it appeared from behind the post. Liberatore (who had amazing stats for the night), Griffen and Cooney were doing as they wished at the clearances. I thought about how Griffen’s always had the same haircut. I saw Rob Murphy and imagined him as writer first, then footballer. I suddenly couldn’t sit still and keep a straight face. I was all over the place and felt real sickness. If you were to do an MRI on every Dees supporter at that point you’d diagnose them with something. There was still plenty of time left. I felt like we didn’t deserve to win and I’d been cheated, but if we didn’t win I’d never be able to do anything again.

The Dogs cleared it again and defeat looked probable. That frenzy of worried hush voices in a close game never ceases to amaze you. In came Jack Watts, considerably filling a hole in defence and taking a brave mark. It’s been him against the football world for a few years. With a career high four goals and a mostly permanent forward role, he was prospering. We cleared the ball and Sylvia kicked a low shot on the run that barely missed. More nerves. With the quarter length going deep into the thirties, a stray Dahlhaus kick fell into the arms of Clisby in his second game, and the siren sounded. The song played and I sung the song with a cheer squad thinner than it once was. I was almost jumped on by a supporter I’d never seen before. Watts, visibly relieved, hugged a fan and I managed to touch his shoulder. He’d been close to best on ground, despite several early fumbles.

Hopefully it’s not too late and we are now on our way forward. We are playing more freely. All of the changes this year have been hard to adapt to, even things such as Rodan, Byrnes and Dawes celebrating a close victory instead of Green, Moloney and Petterd. But footy is footy.

Melbourne 3.5 8.8 12.12 15.13 (103)
Western Bulldogs 2.2 4.6 6.9 15.10 (100)
Melbourne: Watts 4, Dawes 3, Fitzpatrick 2, Howe 2, Rodan Gawn, N.Jones, Blease
Western Bulldogs: Cooney 3, Giansiracusa 3, Griffen 3, Cordy 2, Macrae, Dahlhaus, Dickson, Minson.
My Votes: 3. Tom Liberatore (WB), 2. Jack Watts (MELB) 1. Dean Terlich (MELB)
Crowd: 21,217

About Steve Healy

Steve Healy is an entity of a Melbourne supporter.

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