AFL Round 16 – Geelong v Western Bulldogs: The twilight saga

The author enjoying a twilight game.

The author enjoying a twilight game.

‘Dad, they’re winning!”

The microwave says 4.41. Isn’t this a 4.45 game?

“It hasn’t started yet mate.”

“It has started. The Cats are winning.”

I wander into the lounge room and Kersten has kicked his first. The Foxtel clock says 27 seconds have elapsed. Bugger. I missed the first goal. I missed Kersten’s goal. Big wraps on him before he even played. Word had filtered down that Steve Hocking said this was the kid he was excited about.

Plenty of goals in the VFL and looked at home on his AFL debut a few weeks ago. Luckily  I can rewind live TV these days. Magic – keeps his feet, bullocks through, genuine class and poise to slot a goal on a tight angle under genuine pressure.

It looks like it’s going to be a percentage-boosting win reminiscent of the recent St.Kilda game. That’s handy, as I’ll have my hands full today. Two busy kids peaking just as the AFL schedules the Cats at twilight.

Their mum’s cooking tea; minestrone soup with a ham hock delivered from heaven via the Preston Market.

“Do you need help?”

“No, you keep it up. We need you.”

I’m on my own; fucking twilight games.

(My full sympathies to the Bulldogs supporters et al who cop these timeslots regularly. Sunday and Monday nights receive the headlines, and quite rightly, but these Sunday twilight games are just as obnoxious. They clash with Sunday night tea for Christ’s sake – what if it was a roast?)

I have a feeling the Geelong hierarchy may be second guessing (ever so slightly) their decision to plant the lights outside their ground. Yes, they now have a real ground; yes, Geelong is now a real city; but yes, the AFL will now schedule whatever times they want to appease their broadcast partners – Thursday night; Sunday twilight; Friday night – and the crowds will suffer; and they have suffered.

The pay-out most clubs received from the recent $1.2 billion TV/internet rights deal was bugger all of what they were hoping. Granted, most clubs weren’t expecting 1/16th, but the eventual pay-out shocked most. The most poorly-performed clubs received little more than $4 million each with huge slabs carved out for two new clubs, the brand new AFL “media” team and the AFL executive. Yet for the money paid, the clubs are now beholden to a TV industry with little feel for the game and an appetite for experimentation.

So Kersten kicks the goal and we’re off for the ride of our lives. Or so I thought. The afternoon soon finds its rhythm, and unfortunately it’s a grind – and so is the match.

The game is playing out before me – yet I find myself wrestling one enthusiastic opponent with my left arm, pushing him playfully onto the couch again and again, while trying to protect my glasses from his younger teammate who is fascinated with them.

There are points scored. There is pressure. The rain arrives. Out of nowhere there is a goal so I hit the rewind button. It is Bartel who can’t take the mark but manages to find enough space to guide the ball onto his boot and through the goal.

[I was lucky enough to be invited to the President’s function at the recent Geelong-Carlton game. There was a chap, a dismissive type, who knew all about the game. I mentioned at one stage how I would have always chosen to retain Bartel over Ablett, reflecting on a conversation I’d had with a friend in 2007, many years before the Suns were contemplated. He looked over his shoulder and caught my eye before raising his eye brows dismissively – You know nothing about the game.] 

I’d still take Bartel over Ablett and he proved why again tonight. Ablett’s a great player. He gets plenty of the ball and produces the miraculous. My friend many years ago said that’s why he would choose Ablett – because he could produce the miraculous, and when games get tight, that’s what you need. He wasn’t dismissive though, he just believed it. I’d love to play with Bartel though. He does what’s best for the team without question; and he does it with courage and skill, and what’s more, he gets the job done.

Tomahawk works hard and soccers a goal through late in the first quarter. I wonder if the neutral fan enjoys watching Big Tommy or Travis Cloke more. Cloke to me look a big brute who can clunk a ball and kick a goal (most years anyway) but seems to lack the joy of the game. When he slots an important goal, there’s the big fist pump and roar; yet Hawkins still looks like the big kid playing in the paddock, driven by the love of the game. Is it just the team colours I’m seeing?

Duncan kicks a couple of goals in the second. He’s a beauty. I remember watching him in 2010 on debut and thinking Stephen Wells was made to wait until the second round of the draft to grab him. How good could the kid they selected with the first round pick have been? Turns out Daniel Menzel, when he made his debut the following year, proved his worth. Yet Duncan gets better every year. His obvious class now matched with hard work. Duncan, Motlop, Christensen, Horlin-Smith and Guthrie – Geelong’s future won’t lack an engine.

The winter rain continues to fall after half time. Blicavs is asked to do more as the Cats have gone in without big Simpson.

[I know Majak has a lot to learn himself, but he’s obviously athletic and Blicavs matched him all night last week. Old mate’s eyebrows again – do you spend hours in the mirror to perfect that dismissive glare? Is it a corporate thing? “Blicavs doesn’t know how to play.” Clearly mate, he needs to learn, it’s his 21st AFL game, his 36th Aussie Rules game, that’s the thing about Blicavs, he doesn’t know the nuance of the game, he is learning….] 

But he if keep playing like he did today, his 100th is going to be a gem, be it on the wing, in defence…probably on the wing.

[…and my invitation precluded me from saying it, but you are the epitome of a flog, and why the outer is preferable.] 

The Cats kick 3.4 to 4.8 after half time. There are moments – both on screen, on couch and on table – that are highly enjoyable. Not many feats from the field come to mind (Goals from Kersten and Hawkins, Motlop’s class in the wet), although the memory of the minestrone lingers. I think there’s a small serve left in the fridge, I hope so.

Johnson and Bartel showed form but this is not the year for the Cats. Hawkins is in form but the team isn’t. If only Hawkins was in form last year and not inflicted with back pain. C’est la vie.

The future is bright, but not glaring. There are very good, potentially great, players (and clearly league’s best in Motlop), but the recent era was one of a generation, and will be regarded even more highly as the years progress.

I read yesterday that Geelong may be in the market for Frawley from Melbourne. Has it come to this? Poaching the key defenders from the worst team of the past decade to underpin your future? I hope not. Aim higher. We are Geelong.

Cats: Momentum_LogoHOD White Back Orange Font

About Stephen Cooke

Cumbersome ruckman of the garden variety


  1. Hadn’t really thought about the TH/TC dichotomy until you raised the question. Tom’s joy after kicking a goal seems to include team mates and fans where Trav appears a bit more Lleyton Hewit-ish. Eyes down on the ground or pumped fist.

    I’m liking Trav’s workrate at the moment. He played very high for much of the game against GC but he doesn’t seem to create as much as TH for those around him. Tom on the other hand had a few learning years but I always felt he would go alright after a bag of 5 in an early game, (debut?). He’s more like Jonathan Brown in his heyday.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Cookie. Love the photo, can well relate.

  3. Neil Anderson says

    Bartel might be good for his crunch goals, using the wet ball better than anyone, but how would he go wrangling a couple of kids and a baby at 4.40pm on a Sunday? Could he clean up the spew, change a nappy and get rid of the cat pee in the corner in between the Channel 7 ads? He’s good but not that good!
    I was hoping there would be some consternation that the Dogs were finishing strongly in your report with the slightest possibility of an upset. I guess when your team has had a decade of success you can relax knowing a Bartel or Selwood or Johnson will step up and save the day.

  4. Yes, the outer is speculative, not definitive; playful not pompous. Maybe it’s just the crew I go with but people don’t take themselves too seriously, fully aware that they are in no position to (because, who is?)

    Ablett or Bartel? Good question. I love how in sport – esp footy – players retain a way of playing, a way of being. Consider the differences: Bartel, Ablett, Selwood, Johnson, Enright, Rooke.

    I think Ablett is the PA MVP because players from all clubs compare him to themselves and hence respect and admire how individually brilliant he is at getting the ball, being elusive, and kicking the footy. I don’t think he is top of the class in bringing others into the game – but he is very near the top of the class in that and is improving. (A. McLeod is right up there for me)

    I think Bartel is the class. In 1899 he is stood down by Geelong because he has chosen to tour England with Joe Darling’s side. In 1925 he wins Wimbledon. In 1958 he teams up with Peter Thomson to win the World Cup.

    Travis Varcoe is the fourth dimension – and I believe in him.

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    Twilight games are just that – played in the twilight zone. I had to put up with one on Saturday evening and then another, due to family allegiances, on Sunday evening. And I did cook the roast. Lost concentration. Stuck the thermometer in the lamb leg when everything else was done and the meat wasn’t ready. I blame Demetriou for the overcooked broccoli.

    BTW – I would take Cloke. And yes – Helen did object to my twitter contribution on Sunday twilight.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    at half time in the 2011 GF I would have gone for Cloke and Ablett.

  7. Nic McGay says

    Cookie, paragraph 7: how dare you complain?! I was at the game with ten kids for my Bulldog-mad young fella’s birthday, sitting in the uncovered outer. Soaking wet, supporting neither team, and with ten hyper lads to feed and accompany on toilet runs, it was hands-down my worst football moment. PS – nice report as usual.

  8. Nic,
    Sucks to be you.

  9. Nic, and when did your young fella turn to the Bulldogs? He was West Coast a few years ago wasn’t he?

    Phil, brilliant response.

    Harms, I believe in Varcoe, I just wish Varcoe would believe in Varcoe. It was he who was in the right position – something he still does as well as anyone – to feed Hawkins the winning goal against the Bombers. When he makes position, I wish he’d put on the jets, or kick long to advantage, rather than looking for a teammates 5 metres away to handball to.

    Gus, exactly how I see it re Cloke/Hawkins celebrations.

    Crackers, you still have my 3 votes driving from Colac to the G last Sunday night with your boys. Stellar commitment.

    Neil, a lot to like about the Dogs, but they’ll need to find more. Their talent plus age may get them into the finals, but do they have what it takes to push further? Only time will tell. I hope McCartney gets a full season next year. (Funny to hear Cam Mooney commentating on Foxtel – he’s a part-time coach at the Bulldogs and didn’t seem thrilled when the Cats kept pulling away.)

    AF, a spoilt roast can ruin the week. Send the butcher’s receipt to Gil for a refund.

  10. Nic McGay says

    Yes Cookie, still have the pint-sized blue and yellow pyjamas as a reminder of more loyal times. A shade more treacherous than Oedipus for mine.

    By the way, Agree with your Bartel v Ablett opinion but only if it rained every match.

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