AFL Round 17: Cats comeback revitalises fans

 

Geelong 15.9.99 d Hawthorn 15.8.98

 

I wasn’t sure Geelong’s prospects, nor who would line up, nor of their level of intent, nor of my feelings on these matters. I have spent most of my Geelong life in a state of battered confusion, but in recent times the parameters of my confusion had changed. What were Bomber and Neil Balme up to? Was this some type of preparation for finals?

 

Those of us who have grown up with a mixture of working class sensibility and Queensland fatalism tend to live in the moment. I reminded myself of that as the 112 tram chugged down Brunswick St, St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance, en route to the Windsor Hotel.

 

I’ve always loved the now. And now I was on my way to watch what should have been a good game amid a terrific footy weekend in Melbourne – Carlton-Collingwood, St Kilda-Footscray, Essendon-Richmond.  People were even feeling a little nostalgic.

 

The Cricketers’ Bar at the Windsor is one of the great sports bars of the world. Not in a fourteen-TV, everything-from-the-trots-to-the-US-baseball, framed-signed-Mark-Weber-gloves-on-the-wall sort of way. More in a we’ve-had-a-beer-here-before-and-after-some-really-important-sports-events (to us) sort of way. We celebrated after the 2007 Grand Final win. We celebrated before the 2008 Grand Final. And no-one went back afterwards.

 

I had arranged to meet J. Dunne and Helen who recently reminded us all on footyalmanac.com that Geelong supporters were lacking gusto as symbolized by less-than-vigorous flag-waving, and school-chapel singing of the team song. She was concerned. The group included C. Allan (arch-Hawk), M. Allan (regular contributor to footyalmanac.com), B. Allan (arch-Hawk’s daughter) and Gary Newton (arch-Cat) and a bloke called Dave. The conventional wisdom was that this mattered more to Hawthorn than it did to Geelong.

 

I wanted it to mean more to me.

 

As we reached the MCG we went our separate ways. I went to the members. The Cats started strongly, dominating the opening minutes. Despite setting up Mooney and Hawkins inside 50, they played through Max Rooke who was dynamic early. The Cats led, and looked comfortable.

 

But the Hawthorn beast stirred. A couple of bad turn-overs, and an error from Joel Corey, and the Hawks came to life. Clarkson’s tactics suggested he had a simple belief; his forward line was far better than Geelong’s. All he needed was to break even in the middle.

 

And so he set about ensuring a 50-50 result. He clogged the middle up. For a long-time during the first half 32 of the 36 players filled the space from half-back to half-back. The dimensions of that space were 70m (goal to goal) by 140m (wing to wing). It was congested, ugly, frustrating footy. The Cats had no space. The Hawks reveled in it. They began to win the footy and to get it in to Buddy and to Roughead. Buddy looked fresh and keen and the drug of kicking ridiculously brilliant goals had him on a higher plane and the Hawks fans just spaced out. He was about to kick a bag, win the game, the girl, and lead hawthorn into the finals.

 

Sadly, Roughead couldn’t go with him, missing some opportunities to really bury Geelong, who were under a lot of pressure.

 

After half-time I watched with (Knacker Craig Down) from the back of the top tier of the Great Southern Stand and it looked the same from up there, only colder. The imbalance continued. Selwood tried to lift Geelong, rallying the troops from in, under, around and through. Others tried to help but looked flat. Ablett had had flashes of brilliance in the first half, one of the few to play on confidently to get the ball in quickly while the Geelong forwards had space. But he wasn’t switched on, and certainly felt no obligation to lead.

 

He needed to because Scarlett had limped off, and Harry Taylor was also on the bench. And Andrew Mackie looked spooked as he stood side-by-side with Buddy. He’d lasted 11 minutes in the Round 17 clash last year. This year he had to survive a whole half.

 

Yet Hawthorn still hadn’t put the game away. And Craig commented that it was a little like last year’s Grand Final – in reverse. At three quarter time I said I thought Bomber needed to set the stars the task of lifting their team to an unlikely victory. To point at Ablett and Corey and Bartel and Mooney and challenge them. Like a grand old Lemnos footy club three quarter time address from the captain coach. Where for a moment, the dire circumstances mean that the various degrees of ability in players can be acknowledged. And to tell Andrew Mackie he was actually doing OK.

 

He didn’t need to say anything to Joel Selwood. In fact Selwood could have addressed the players himself.

 

Hawthorn scored the first of the final quarter to lead by 28 points and it looked tough. But the Cats stuck at it, much to the delight of fans around the nation. Hawthorn ninth is better than Hawthorn eighth. Hogan nailed a set shot and the Cats went to him like the flame was still flickering.

 

Although Mumford had had a serviceable game, Mooney went into the ruck. It was fine use of guilt from Bomber. Selwood in and under. Taking risks to open up the sequences. Corey and Stokes and Byrnes swarmed. Chappy got going. And Varcoe, well, you ripper.

 

Corey kicked a beauty on the run. The Cats defence somehow held. Franklin missed a couple of difficult chances. Rioli another. A turnover and the Cats ran forward. No-one was within coo-ee of big Tom Hawkins who sent Stokesy into an open goal. A goal the difference.

 

Mad skirmishes ensued and the Hawks tried to hang on. From early in the quarter Luke Hodge had looked worried. He was pointing and yelling at those in panic around him. And it really was panic.

 

Sensible adults were out of their seats at umpiring decisions. But the decisions of players were more relevant, and telling, as they faltered under the stress of what had become a superb game. Not Joel Selwood.

 

Josh Kennedy’s snap missed but the chorus of ‘handy point’ could be heard around the ground.

 

Helen Dunne will be pleased to know that any hint of the blasé Geelong fan was now gone. I was in the moment. Now. Come on Cats.

 

Jimmy Bartel had lifted. He got free at half forward and marked. His footy instinct told him to move it quickly. His footy mind told him to pause for an instant to see what was on. Long to the square. Long to the square. Rooke. Rooke. Goal.

 

A point the difference. The Cats all over them. Surely only a couple of minutes left. Varcoe back on. Selwood willing them forward.

 

The footy spills to Jimmy Bartel. Snap. Point. Scores are level. Scores are level.

 

The Cats go forward again. Madness. Up and under. Jimmy. Jimmy can mark this. He does. He does. Stop. Stop. Siren.

 

Jimmy just has to score. We are right behind him. He does.

 

I like the moment.

 

Votes – 3,2 and 1: Joel Selwood

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au 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 on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo11, Anna9, Evie8. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Great piece John. And a great game to listen to on the radio. One of those ones where you cannot stand or sit still listening to it. I wore a track into the kitchen lino in the last 15 minutes. And I don’t barrack for either team!

    As (self-appointed) official Almanac stats-person, I should point out that I think you’ve broken a few records yourself. I think giving the 3, 2 and 1 to the same player might be an Almanac first, if not a world first.

    And in paragraph four, you broke the Alamanac record for most hyphens in a single phrase (7), equalled it later in the same sentence, and then broke it with 11 in the very next sentence. Well done.

  2. Stainless says

    John
    Agree – great piece and what a stirring game that it’s getting neutral observers so involved (and I’m still stoked about Richmond winning today!) As an ex-PM might have said – “a victory for the true believers”.

    Having been at last year’s Grand Final and reading your account of it in the 2008 Almanac, it all came flooding back to me watching the Hawks kick the unkickable goals and forge clear. But this time the Cats were able to absorb that and counter so well. That must give the team enormous belief going into September.

  3. JTH – does it get any better than that? Sensational reading your take on the game. It was repeated amongst Geelong supporters from Melbourne to Moscow I reckon. Watching a replay in the cool of Sunday morning was enlightening.

    I thought Bomber coached well. I think he is almost enjoying our perceived vulnerability.

    That was a win for beauty over ugliness.

    Go Cats

  4. Dave Hyland says

    John,

    You sometimes just get those great days. The “we couldnt, could we?!!” just happens. It is truly a great memory of mine already as I believe that we owe Hawthorn for just about ever. I just cant stand them, their smugness and somehow implied superior character really gets up my nose.

    Nice to see the Hawk moving well and contributing on Saturday. It has never been more evident that Joel Selwood should be the next captain of this club. He is looking more and more like one of the great AFL leaders of all time. Wonderful listening to the rat, bluey McGrath and Mark Neeld on K-Rock. Their barracking was hilarious. No impartiality there, Mark Neeld was even reminded on a text message of whom he now assistant coaches after he was calling Geelong “we”.

    Just as long as we win this year.

    Go Catters!!

  5. Terrific read John. Is there anything better in home and away that beating that lot by 1 point after the siren?

    I can’t remember any win where we looked so unlikely for so much of the game. At three quarter time they looked dead and buried. But they all lifted when they had to. Corey, Bartel and Mooney were all superb in the last quarter. Much credit must be given to Andrew Mackie – despite being significantly outsized, Franklin didn’t add to his goal tally in the last quarter.

    It will be very interesting to see how Selwood fares on Brownlow night. I still think at this point Ablett will be ahead, but Selwood must get 3 votes for Saturday’s effort. Best game he’s ever played for us. Again, a heartfelt thank you to the 6 clubs that passed on him.

  6. johnharms says

    Dave

    I need to get into a bit more K-Rock coverage. I don’t usually listen at the footy, and when I’m not at the footy I tune into the ABC. however one day I was in thre Flanagan Room with J Dunne and they had the K Rock call on. It felt like the boys were all standing around with us having a beer and a chat and a cheer. Brilliant.

    JTH

  7. Rick Kane says

    Great piece John. That game was a heartbreaker and a half. Last week, against the Pies, I wasn’t convinced that we were going to take the points until midway through the last quarter. This week, at 3/4 time I was feeling pretty confident. No, we hadn’t put the Cats away but we were running on strong. Then our backline fell apart. Like you mention in your piece, I was watching Hodge in that last quarter frantically trying to rally the guys together to stay to a plan. What had been mostly a cool and measured attack, suddenly turned into a confused (and tired) pack. The Cats were too strong and hungry.

    We’ll be back!

  8. pauldaffey says

    Dips,

    Perceived vulnerability?

  9. Yes Daff “perceived”. We true believers knew they could do it!! (gulp)

  10. From—A bloke called Dave!!!

    Enjoyed the pre-match drink, We missed the first few minutes getting seated,Too long At the Bar!!
    What a great comeback,and a great result.

  11. John,

    Finals aside, possibly the best Cats win since the big run started in R6 2007.

    The Hawks showed plenty, but Geelong dug deep and got there in the end. Plenty of gusto in the singing of the team song afterwards.

    Haven’t listened to K-Rock during the game since the 3GL days. I used to love the ‘unbiased’ commentary of Ivor Grundy and Leo O’Halloran in the 50’s & 60’s. Showing my age.

    Maybe it’s time to tune in again.

  12. Peter Flynn says

    Enjoyed the piece and comments,
    On Saturday at about 4.15pm, I was downcast and had begun dealing with a mountain of dishes.
    45 minutes later, only some of the dishes were washed and I was on my 3rd beer after the siren.
    Those beers went down very quickly.
    I loved K Rock with Brushy and Cool Rocking Teddy.
    The talkback after the game was gold.

  13. johnharms says

    PJF et al

    I was wondering whether anyone other than the bloke called Dave and C Allan knew that J Dunne was the pivot in the 3GL coverage of footy c1989+. Problem is not even J Dunne can remember what his role was.

    JTH

  14. Peter Flynn says

    J Dunne rings a bell although my memory is hazy.
    Peter Pearson on stats.
    ABC Walshy cut his teeth with Cool Rocking Teddy in the early 80’s.
    Fair dinkum Bobby was an around the grounds man.

    Growing up in the 70’s in Geelong, 3GL used to broadcast Geelong West games on a Sunday.
    Brushy and another guy (can’t remember his name) did the broadcast.
    Names such as Radojevic, Gilmore, Friend, Lynch, Russell, Scarlett, Smith etc.
    I can remember going to the Geelong West Town Hall in ’75. Brilliant.

  15. I recall a Geelong West game, I think it was a final, when the special comments man on 3GL was Polly Farmer. I think it might have been in the Billy Goggin/Brian Brushfield days when West were a power in the VFA second division.

    Polly was pretty hard hitting in his comments. He hated anything less than 100% commitment and didn’t hold back just because he was on air. I also remember that he referred to some players as ‘the chappy’ where he wasn’t entirely sure who they were. It’d be good to hear him calling Geelong games featuring a certain bald-headed Chappy at the present time.

    Sadly I think the Roosters lost the game in question, perhaps to Prahran.

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