AFL Round 15 – Geelong v Hawthorn: Colonists and Dirty Dogs

I’ve been reading the diary my great grandmother penned as she made the trip from Midleton in County Cork, Ireland; to Melbourne, in 1895 (The Cats played in the VFA Grand Final that year but lost). It makes for some extraordinary reading. This rather petite (I won’t say diminutive) woman must have been as tough as nails; like most women of that era. Her writing displays a thoughtful but pragmatic approach to life. She had neither an expectation nor any aspiration about her new beginning, but she does display a robust faith. The world must have been so different then. There were no superannuation funds, life coaches or social commentators to spin a faux reality. Life was what happened to you every day.

“Oh, how shall I leave all those dear to me” she wrote. I could almost see her tears on the paper.

“It’s been very very hard to leave all on earth that’s dearest, still, what am I to do?”

I suppose it was poverty that provoked her move away from Ireland. Perhaps not abject poverty, as I know she was reasonably educated and that she left Ireland as a recognised dress maker, but the constant stress of privation that wears one down. Being one child of eight there would not have been too much of anything to go around. When the invitation came from her uncles in Australia she probably looked upon it as a way out. But a way out to where?

“When I look around at each dear place where I have spent my childhood and dearer still are those whom I’ve loved so much, well, the thought is almost unbearable” she wrote in describing the heartache of leaving, “Still, I am facing it. I will pray for courage and strength although I will part from all I love, from father and mother…..If it is God’s will I may return (one day).”

She records how she got off the boat in Port Melbourne on Monday 14th October 1895 and a few days later was loaded on to her uncle’s trap to make the arduous journey up a heavily corrugated unmade road called Sydney Road, eastward onto the Samaria track which skirted around the Warby Range then into the high country, before swinging northward again onto the Lurg track and a quiet place in the Wattle Creek valley.

The quiet place must have been at Tarrawingee, north of Wangaratta, for that’s where her uncles, James and Eugene Egan cut their farm out of the thick bush.

Four years after stepping down from her uncle’s trap and taking in her new “home”, which was a small rudimentary farmhouse, she married William (Bill) Dalton and raised six children on their own farm on the Four Mile Creek near Baddaginnie. Baddaginnie sits just off the Hume Highway today, not far from Benalla in Victoria’s north east. One of those children was my father’s mother. Mary Egan never did make it back to Ireland.

The story of Mary Elizabeth Egan isn’t unique and in many respects would not even be considered remarkable as it was a path often travelled by Irish immigrants. But I find it extraordinary, because it is part of my story. When I peer into the grainy, scratchy photo of her posted on the front of the diary I’m searching for a resemblance. And I’m sure I can see it.

I was thinking about Mary Elizabeth Egan as I sat at the MCG on Saturday night with my own family and 85,000 other spectators. What would she think of this place I wondered? Mary’s blood is just a piece of my family’s genealogical jigsaw, but it is a part nonetheless. And some of it pumps through the veins of my children. I hoped that somehow she could see what I was seeing.

Whilst the nervous tension always builds before a Geelong and Hawthorn clash, my thoughts of Mary Egan did put them into context. Tonight’s game would be another installment in that story, another chapter in a tale that will continue. There will be a winner and there will be a loser, but the narrative won’t conclude tonight.

The Cats started the better as they cut the Hawks up through the middle. Mitch Duncan and James Kelly were the central links, Corey Enright and Jimmy Bartel the anchors at half back. Not even Dirty Dog Mitchell, who was once again racking up countless, meaningless possessions across their half back line, could stem the flow. The Cats’ coaching staff seems to have developed a theory about Dirty Dog Mitchell. Every time these teams clash they appear happy enough to let him chip away like a palaeontologist scratching at a mammoth’s carcass, so long as he’s not getting possessions forward of the centre. I watched Taylor Hunt quite closely as he tagged Dirty Dog around. He only put the hard tag on when the Hawks went forward. Still, the “experts” will probably put Dirty Dog in their votes. Not me. Stratton and Roughie had far more influence on the game, as did Lewis and Gunston.  Breust, who I really rate, was having trouble getting involved in the contest, much to my relief.

It was a game that ebbed and ebbed. After quarter time it didn’t really flow at all. Between quarter time and three quarter time, the Cats kicked one goal thirteen. The game should have been all over. The Hawks didn’t fare much better kicking two goals seven. During this time Dirty Dog Mitchell managed to elbow Taylor Hunt in the throat, sending him to the turf clutching his larynx. But there will be no tribunal hearing or even a report. Not sure why. A bloke called Steve Johnson would get a month for such behaviour.

The crowd was engrossed. The tension was boiling away just beneath the surface. Cats’ fans marvelled at Selwood’s intent. Strangely, Hawks supporters booed every time he got caught around the neck, which happened quite regularly as he burrowed relentlessly in for the footy. Not sure why they booed. The Cats kicked clear early in the last quarter as Rupert (Murdoch) found his feet. My kids were celebrating.

“Hold your flow” I counselled, “this aint over.”

Sure enough the Hawks grew a leg. Buddy, who had been subdued by Lonergan for most of the evening, loomed as the match winner. His chest was even more puffed out than usual. He’d stopped waving his arms at the umpires after every contest and started playing footy. When he got near the ball, the excited murmur in the stadium built into an expectant rumble. He’s the type of player who causes fans to undertake innumerable probability calculations when in possession. But he wasn’t quite getting it done, unlike Simpkin, Hale and Gunston; especially Gunston. His snap from the boundary to bring the Hawks back to a 15 point deficit was Gary Ablett-esque. I hope he meant it. Hale’s goal, to bring the margin back to 9 points is best forgotten. Absurd rules introduced to stuff up our great game are succeeding.

When Dirty Dog Mitchell deliberately and maliciously sat on Joel Corey’s head and knocked him out (once again no report from the umpires) the game was as tight as a soccer goalie’s sphincter. The margin had crept in to just three points. Cyril, who had been released into the contest in the third quarter, was causing as much grief as carp in the Murray, and the Hawks supporter who was sitting two seats up from me was, well, standing. He looked like a bloke with a bad case of gastro; petrified that taking a seat might bring on another ghastly explosion. He wasn’t on the edge of his seat, he was way past that.

These games are supposed to simmer then boil, and this one didn’t disappoint. It was tough and uncompromising not flashy and brilliant; in many ways that made it even more nail-biting. It took a pinpoint pass from Mitch Duncan to Caddy, who duly slotted a goal almost as good as Gunston’s, and the elusive Rupert Murdoch in snapping his third for the quarter, to get the Cats home. When the siren sounded the ball was near the wing. In dispute. A fitting way to end. Or should I say a fitting way to conclude this particular episode in an ongoing saga.


3 – Bartel, Selwood, Lonergan, Duncan, Kelly, Mackie, Blicavs

2 – Murdoch

1 – Roughead

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Rick Kane says

    Dear Mr Dips

    Your Great grandmother’s diary resonated in a peculiar way. In her words I can imagine the unbearable grief refugees feel having to leave, literally, everything behind in hope (that’s all, hope) of something better.

    As for the game, well, well done to the Cats. They seem to have the Hawks measure (curse or no curse). Hodge, Sewell, Burgoyne and Franklin couldn’t get in the game. Franklin and Hodge have to stop trying to bully their way into games like this. That’s exactly what the cats are waiting for.

    Having said that, I thought the second and third quarters were terrific. What an arm wrestle. Sometime the flight of the game is what makes it so special. Sometimes it’s the sheer fight. The Cats and Hawks gave us both, again.

    I won’t try to convince you of the Mighty Mitch’s brilliance, you see what you want to see. Hawkers know he’s special. And if you thought Roughy played well then wait until you see him fire because he was only lukewarm in comparison to how he has been playing.

    Whatever is the case, the hawks must (MUST) find a different way to play the Cats. Otherwise … (gulp)

    Cheers & good report (through gritted teeth)

  2. Pretty accurate account of the latest instalment of the Cursed Clash, Damian.

    I enjoyed the family history too.
    Hawthorn have tried every trick in and out of the book to beat the Cats in recent years. They usually bring their own umpires (e.g. the deliberate out of bounds decision, Lake holding Hawkins’ arms all night, the non- reports on Mitchell, the overall free kick tallies) . This time they also had the assistance of an interchange official. What a disgrace! It was about as professional as the half-time Little League officiating.
    I totally empathised with Chris Scott, watching his reactions on TV to the soft frees the Hawks were gifted all night. Against the odds, the Greatest Team still prevailed.

  3. Mr Kane. Thanks for the comments. Somewhat tongue in cheek about DD Mitchell, but still……….

    It wasn’t a classic encounter in many senses but another wonderful instalment nonetheless. The story continues. The Hawks will regroup.

  4. Dips,
    You set the context of this game perfectly with your introductory paragraphs re. your great grandmother.
    Those who govern the game seem to give Geelong some sort of out of towner/refugee non-status. Consequently the land lordly, arrogant, rowing-club-song-singing club are given the benefit beyond all doubt when it comes to the rules of the game.
    Despite this, and like your great grandmother, the out of towners stared into the moment and set to work.
    Great piece, Dips.

  5. Loved Granny Egan’s story. The footy was ho hum, but how could it compete with that yarn.
    Bartel, Selwood, Mackie, Lonergan, Murdoch, Kelly, Duncan, Mackie – all sons of the Old Dart and her dominions.
    How does Blicavs get a game???

  6. Careful Dips, your great grandmother sounds like an economic refugee.

    As an impartial observer, my favourite bit was when Chris Scott almost flung the whiteboard. Not sure how many weeks you get for a decapitation of a club mate. Reckless, above the shoulders and high-ish impact. About two weeks going off the McKernan incident.

  7. Great read Dips. At the risk of Harmsy and Cookie turning this into “there’s a lot of love for Geelong out there” moment, my favourite bit of play was Selwood’s vicious tackle on an opponent as the final siren went that turned into a gentle hug. That’s professionalism!

  8. Neil Belford says

    Hey Jen – that is definitely the first time I have seen Geelong FC, scion of Grammar, chosen destination for College and St Joeys boys and generous employer of professional footballers from around the district, cast as some sort of working class hero. They do know a fair bit about rowing at that club.

    Great story Dips, like you votes, you should get into some sort of profession that involves arithmetic.

  9. Neil, there’s no Corio in the leafy eastern suburbs…

  10. No VFA grand finals to lose in 1895. The premiership was awarded on proportional points from the season results – Geelong finished second on the table to Fitzroy in 1895.

    1895 season results and final ladder are here:

  11. Thanks for the clarification, Michael. Makes me feel better about 2013 for some reason.

    All teams who won flags in the old VFA should have them recognised now.

  12. Nervous Nellie says

    Dips we were in Canakkale,Turkey,having toured the Gallipoli Peninsular the day before. We had no wifi and Nervous Ned was like a cat on a hot tin roof wondering about his Cats on the chilly MCG. Finally found wifi to see the Cats got home. Calmness is restored and smiles on two touring Cats fans. Thanks for your summary!

  13. Grant Fraser says

    The only joy I can obtain from the game, and a lot of the narrative above, is we clearly still get under a lot of Puddy Tat skin. Small mercy. Bring on 28 Sept.

  14. Paul Spinks says

    As a Benalla boy with Irish heritage on my mum’s side I can relate to your ancestral tale.

    Re Mitchell, I reckon it’s Hodge that gets away with pushing the legality envelope.

    Don’t the Hawks know unsociable football is passé?

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great read , Dips love your ,Irish family write up evolving in to the game and rapt that you gave froggys son in , Murdoch a strong mention . Balmey says it makes him feel old to have froggys son playing . We wait and see with , Chapman leaving whether this will change the cats v hawks rivalry . Thanks Dips

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