AFL Round 18 – Review: Roasting Rowdy

 

Saturday night. Wintery in Melbourne.

Hawthorn v Sydney. Two serious contenders.

The Swans are all the rage, well-backed to win the match. Indeed, well-backed to win the flag. Dan Hannebery might be out but Kurt Tippett is a big in for the visitors, and the Hawks are slowly putting the band back together.

Buddy returns to play his old side in Melbourne, having helped the Swans to victory (by kicking a bag of behinds) earlier in the season. His mate Jarryd Roughead – a player respected by his peers to such an extent he features high in the AFLPA MVP every year – celebrates his 200th game. The Hawks look a little short in the defender department. I can’t see them containing the Swans.

A big crowd braves the MCG elements. I’m not there. I am at a birthday party in the leafy eastern suburbs, which aren’t leafy at the moment. Rowdy is turning 50. He is a Western Bulldogs supporter, having been conned into following the Dogs by his Hawks-supporting older brother Tim when he was a kid. In a complicated footy card trade deal, Tim got Leigh Matthews and Hawthorn, Rowdy took George Bisset and Footscray on the promise he was the best player in the comp and played for the best side.

Much has happened since then. Hawthorn have won 11 premierships for starters and Rowdy has lived a cavalier life. Named by his cricketing mates because he never shuts up (no sense of irony at Wycliff CC), Rowdy has not considered the possibility of anyone choosing to attend a Hawthorn fixture ahead of his party. Being a sport-mad fraternity it is only the beautiful food and nice wine which are placating the revellers who are thinking of all things MCG.

There is a slow drift towards the family room and the plasma. Initially it’s a handful of diehards but as the game develops into a cracking contest it is most of the party, oldies seated, the rest of us shoulder to shoulder, like we’re on the terrace.

People yell at the TV. Hawks fans shout as Roughie leads the third quarter comeback. They were gone a few minutes ago.

The footy is scintillating: one of the best games in recent times. It has the pressure of a final, and the skill level in the greasy conditions is phenomenal. Both sides attack from the backline with raking passes to precision options. Back inside to runners. Defenders have to be super-smart, and mean.

Early in the final quarter the Swans look gone. But just as the senior players have lifted Hawthorn, so too they lift the Swans.  Jarrad McVeigh and Josh Kennedy save the day time and again; Adam Goodes wills himself to have an influence. It’s anyone’s game.

The Hawks pressure is enormous. They win a few key individual battles. Ben McEvoy takes the points in the dying stages.

Goodes dribbles one through and the Hawks partiers sigh. The Australian of the Year then flies for a huge mark in the goal-square and he’s got it. It’s stripped clear on the way down – and it’s not paid! That would have made for a stunning next-goal-wins scenario. Instead the Swans, in taking the risks they must to score concede the counter attack, and Luke Hodge calmly slots the sealer.

A classic.

At one stage I turn and watch the throng. Totally engaged. Inhibitions lost in the moment. Even the neutrals.

With the siren comes a huge release: victory and loss. Hawks fans are insufferable.

There’s something in this Australian game.

It is a surprising result to many, but Hawthorn fans (and good judges) had been quietly confident. And their optimism was well-placed. They are a fantastic footy side.

It would be unfair to compare the West Coast slide-fest and the Q-Clash to this match. But, of the weekend’s matches, the Pies and Crows enjoyed similar conditions (probably better conditions) and they didn’t look within coo-ee of the Hawks and Swans.

Geelong, Freo and Port (if they re-group) will have their work cut-out to match these two flag favourites on Saturday night’s performance.

Ladder positions become absolutely crucial – and so we have this wonderful situation where we’re going to have a nine-week finals series, starting this week.

As for the bottom half of the eight: the Suns, who tricked us a month ago by looking so good, have really withered on the vine; the Pies also have problems.

The Crows and the Bombers suddenly find themselves with opportunities – and the Crows have the better draw.

After the euphoria of Saturday’s game died down at the party, some of Rowdy’s mates roasted him beautifully in a series of well-crafted (short) speeches which left us with no doubt Rowdy is a crap cricketer who loves a beer and can tell a beaut yarn.

It was a classic night, the highlight of which was the gathering of dozens of people around the TV, a situation no doubt replicated across the nation.

Footy does that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am at a 50th birthday party for a bloke called Rowdy.

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 [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

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