AFL Round 18: Carlton v North Melbourne – Fear and Loathing in Corryong

“Put the pizza boxes on, we need to get it going.” There’s six of us huddled around the camp fire at the Colac Colac Caravan Park in Corryong, Eastern Victoria. This is long, open paddock country, so it’s cold. All day. Except for at night… when it’s freezing. It was Rhys’ idea to go camping once Jack and Mikey had returned from their four month Gap Year to Europe. I own a loyal Pajero, so I’m the camel for the trip. Dylan rides shotgun with me, rotating with Nick out of Rhys’ squashy Ford Laser. It’s a five hour journey to Corryong. On the way up, I realise why truck drivers make such convincing sadistic psychopaths in horror films: when they push so close that you look over your shoulder and see your reflection in the bulbar…

Corryong is an endearing town. In the township there’s a great bakery, our caravan park, a school and a sports store owned by an 85 year old man called Ron. There are a couple of pubs, both owned by 85 year old men called Ron, and wide, rolling paddocks leading into the State Forest. This is where we go shooting after asking the permission of the property owner, an 85 year old man called Ron. We require the 4WD of the Pajero to tackle the slippery, rough slopes. It’s not as if the Pajero doesn’t have flaws (which the lads were most proficient at pointing out to me).
I tell girls that I’m a labourer, which is lying by omission: I collect and sell horse manure. Needless to say, the car stinks. And it’s thirsty for petrol. Rhys, ever the armchair mechanic, lists off some other faults: automatic gear doesn’t work; the engine temperature gauge is broken; the front demister is useless, yadda, yadda, yadda.
“You’re just jealous because your Laser is as useless as the Pope’s nuts to go hunting in.”
“At least it doesn’t smell like the Pope’s nuts.”
What can you say to that?
Hunting is always fun, but it becomes problematic with six people in the car. We spy a rabbit on the passenger’s side paddock. Rhys leans across with the .22, fixes his sights, leans forward and-
Ah. That’s the sound of the barrel hitting the car window. That could’ve been bad.

When we get back after a modest hunt, we start a fire and the rain properly sets in. We burn the pizza boxes, give up and go in to watch the footy. Jack and Nick are both Bluebaggers and Mikey is a Hawk. However, Dylan is indifferent and Rhys once asked if Lance and Buddy Franklin were related… so we have a full Bell curve of commitment and interest.
“We have to lose. Cameron McCarthy is the perfect key forward we need and he’s going to go number one,” declares Nick.
So it’s North Melbourne, resident split-personalities, against Carlton, as confident and level-headed as wet whippets. The Kangas start with the frustrating gormlessness they display against low teams: the Blues sidle out to a four goal lead as Jared Waite throws his rangy body around to pluck marks and kick two.
“We were relying on Waite to not be a dickhead this year,” bemoans Jack. Déjà vu in slow motion.

Chris Judd’s first half performance is one of textbook football smarts: without his pace, his game has changed to rely on judgment and timing. He roves and disposes in a single movement and wins contested ball with short bursts of speed. We’re expecting Carlton to stop at any point, but the question is now whether North will get going -at one point in the second quarter, Lachie Hansen nutmegs himself. When Marc Murphy slices through the wing and delivers a perfect pass to Henderson for a goal, the Blues lead by 23 minutes from half time. Crunch time for the listless Kangas. However, North have a far superior second half record in 2014, averaging sevengoals to Carlton’s five. Harvey, best afield for the first half, snaps a fantastic goal just seconds from half time. Jack and Nick squirm. Three goals is that awkward half time lead: too close to be sure of victory, so far that few will forgive a subsequent loss.

Harvey cleverly sets up a goal to Cunnington within nineteen seconds of the third. Murphy streams forward, panics and hits Michael Firrito on the chest. Two minutes later, Cameron Wood, playing his first game for Carlton in 2014, marks forty from goal and ignores Levi Casboult in the square. He misses. Harvey sets up a coast-to-coast goal to Levi Greenwood. Déjà vu in slow motion. Carlton fritter chances. Waite is the only efficient Carlton forward, a fact that the Blues are slower to grasp than the Kangas. Lachie Henderson and Curnow miss set shots as North erase the lead. Mitch Robinson stays down and allows Jack Ziebell an uncontested mark and goal from fifteen metres out. Sam Wright rises to mark and Chris Yarran hits him in the ribs. Carlton are fraying, their mental game lost. You can’t win while looking over your shoulder. At three quarter time, the Blues have eight more scoring shots and lead by three points.
Game over.
But not yet.

Henderson slots a steadying goal, his third, early in the last. Now, the Kangas miss chances as Zack Tuohy and Curnow repel grimly and Sam Rowe constricts Drew Petrie. Majak Daw, having played one of the better games of his career, fades into nothing. Robinson perfectly taps to Gibbs, who snaps a goal from a standing start, and the Blues lead by two goals with ten minutes left. From the bounce, Ziebell gives away a free and, as the ball flies forward, Lachie Hansen gives away another. Henderson sinks his fourth. Waite marks in defence and runs straight up the ground to mark, kicks his fourth and dives into the Carlton cheer squad. Game over. Send 22 strait-jackets to Arden Street.

“Who needs Cameron McCarthy?” Mikey grins to Nick and Jack. They’re already painfully aware of the irony that Carlton’s best win of the season has cost them a much needed key forward. The trusty Pajero bravely finds its way through hail, rain, low petrol and trucks to wobble off into the sunset. It’s really a fine, reliable beast. So it’s neither Carlton nor North Melbourne.

Carlton                              4.3          9.7          10.13     16.13.109

North Melbourne            3.0          7.4          11.4        13.8.86

BEST – (Carl) Waite, Henderson, Simpson, Judd, Tuohy, Gibbs.
– (NM) Harvey, Cunnington, Ziebell, Daw, Greenwood.
GOALS – (Carl) Henderson 6, Waite 4, Gibbs 2, Yarran, Wood, Judd, Graham.
– (NM) Thomas 4, Harvey 2, Cunnington 2, Greenwood 2, Ziebell, Dal Santo, Petrie.
VOTES: 3 – Jared Waite (C) 2 – Brent Harvey (NM) 1- Lachie Henderson (C)

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

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