AFL Round 18 – Collingwood v GWS: Where are all the Giants supporters, Dad?

“Where are all the Giants supporters, Dad?” says Louis, my eight year old in his Richmond gear (well, we’re at the G aren’t we?), thrown by the fact his Tiges seem to outnumber the fans of one of the teams actually playing tonight. I look around and, true, can see only bays of black on the lower deck. Not a dot of orange to be seen. Up top there is not much of anyone. Right behind the goals at the Punt Rd end there is a block of empty seats. It looks like the vacant chair of a no-show at a dinner party.

“I don’t know, mate,” I say. “Maybe they are still on their way.”

Charlie looks up from his Record wanting to join in the game of spot the visitor. Dressed in his black and white and poring over the player lists, he is the main reason we are here. At ten he is a keen student of the game and is looking forward to his first look at the newest kids on the block. The one name on the visitors’ list to jump out at him is Jeremy Cameron. Lately, he has been jumping out at everyone. No Lachie Whitfield, though, whom we were also keen to see, but I get how the kid must be tired. It is round 18 – they all must be.

The only orange to be seen is that on the dozen or so guys on the green, manning the GWS  banner. They look middle-aged from here –the players’ dads, I’m guessing. A couple of Magpie Army types run across to help them lift the thing. It looks a sheet of plastic, rather than crepe, hung between two lengths of poly-pipe. There are so many things to get right in building a new club from scratch. While I wonder whether any baby Giant will actually penetrate the run-through, what they have got right tonight is its message.

Today is the last time that Kevin Sheedy will conduct his business at this, the epicentre of his lifetime love. The banner tells us it is his 372nd appearance at the G, and while the GWS are possibly  not ideal trumpeters of things footy-historical, it is right and good they acknowledge the moment. Charlie smells the significance, and I am glad we are here. Louis meanwhile is still searching the outer for orange dots.

Then the players run out. Harry O’Brian leads with Captain Nick and looks emotional as they split their banner perfect. Harry has had a trying month. Then the Giants spill out, full of youthful bounce, clean and hairless but for the coiffed do’s on top. As they line up it looks every bit the boy-versus-man gig that you’d expect from their respective stories this season. But in the opening minutes, we are reminded – this is ever the young man’s game, is it not?

They look swift, the Giants, and, despite Reid slotting the opener to affirm his new life as a Pie forward, they seem hardly intimidated by the brutes before them. They are surprisingly smooth with ball, they run with purpose, they pressure and they push. And they have up forward a kid called Jeremy.  Is there a footballer anywhere who does not wish right now, just a little, that he was Jeremy Cameron?

The young gun is already loading up expectation. He is not just the shining light of Greater Western Sydney, the best crop of embryos in the land, he is the star of the MCG. By quarter time he is leading Collingwood 4 goals to 3, and it is only the everywhere strength of Danes Swan and Beams that stops the Giants really rubbing it in. The Giants have the Pies on the hop, and the crowd is quiet indeed.

It is about half way through the second quarter, when the Sydney kids kick their sixth (the first not by Cameron), that the uneasy silence turns to growl. It was only a week ago they were done by the Suns and the impossible loss suddenly looms possible. Nathan Buckley stomps down to the sidelines, the coach’s box suddenly too tight and too far away. Gerard Whately says the coach looks ready to crack heads; when half-time sounds and he strides past us on the fence to beat his players down the race, I wonder which of the those players is going to be game enough to be first behind him.

Sidebottom should feel safe from a coach head-kick and the new boy Grundy need not worry either. Big and hungry and with a Sumo-wrestler’s hairdo, the young South Australian is flying his hometown banner proudly. Meanwhile, the teens from NSW keep their bounce, and for much of the third quarter they will defy expectations of a crumble beneath the mature Magpie muscle. Scully and Ward show some leadership, Shiel and Hampton are still running, and of course Jeremy Cameron looms the ever-threat despite Brown’s close attentions.

But come the last, they simply don’t have the beards and tatts. Clean skin Cameron ends with seven goals from not many more kicks, but it is Swan (with ink and facial growth to burn) and his hairy mates who prevail, and the Pie army slide back into their plastic seats. For the last fifteen, the game blows out to a (flattering) forty point win and the umpire/teenager/Sheedy abuse they put away for another day. They will concede the exceptionality of that kid at full-forward and go home dreaming of the heaven that would be were he to line up next to Cloke in some future recruiting coup.

Meanwhile, who knows what Sheedy will dream up next. I watched him stroll out to the ¾ time huddle and his face was the picture of sly happiness. His kids were dishing it up, maybe about to deliver him a fairy-tale finale, but my read was that he was soaking up his last official stroll onto the hallowed. He addressed the young Giants, possibly the last of his long line of brainchildren, then took his leave of the ground. “There goes Kevin Sheedy” I say to my kids.

“You mean that guy in orange?” says Lou.

Comments

  1. e.regnans says:

    Good stuff, Terry.
    Lou’s ending is a beauty.
    We’re all just passing through in this life…

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