AFL Round 19- Sydney v Essendon: Team Conversation

On Friday morning I popped in to see the two baristas. They’re working together on Fridays now, instead of Mondays, so we’ve changed our review to a pre. We’re on first name terms now; let’s call them J and D. J’s the Roos man, D the Swan. We exchanged the preparatory hello. North up and down. The loss Sydney had to have. The battle of the Scotts. And then J cut straight to the chase; it was admiration tinged with bitterness. Hopefully my coffee wasn’t heading the same way.

‘It won’t be a blow out tonight, you know. Have you got a plan B if Buddy doesn’t bring his A game?’

‘Well,’ I offered after a moment. ‘There’s this guy, big, tall, what’s his name? Wears the number 8. And … oh yeah, there’s another guy, won a few awards, played a while, that number 37.’

J was smiling behind the chrome. ‘You going to the game?’

‘Yep! Oh and there’s that kid, shaved head, good mark, got a brother who plays for Collingwood. Number 20. Read or Reid or something.’

J was nodding now. But I had one more to go.

‘There’s a little one too. Midge. One of those gifts from Hawthorn. You know, the little one. Number 21 on his back.’

‘I’m so impressed,’ J said.

It was quite a list. And– I kept it to myself – there were so many more. A pair of snappy captains. A brigade of greedy midfielders. Parker, Josh and Harry – they all like a goal. And remember Hannebery?

‘I’m so impressed.’ J handed the coffee over the pass. ‘That you know their names and numbers. You’re bona fide, the true deal. Definitely pass the test.’

I was quietly taken aback. I didn’t realise that, after more than half a season with the machine and banter between us, I was still being appraised.

He’s a serious footy nut, J. It’s couched behind his crafted barista calm. I guess much of the footy chat he gets comes from suspected pretenders. I’ve heard young folk talk the Friday Swans talk under the charms of his dark good looks. But they haven’t walked by Monday. This is Sydney. I showed the correct propensity for detail.

‘Thank you,’ I said.

The coffee was the perfect temperature, strong with a sweet caramel finish.




That night, I dropped the tired Cygnet to his grandparents – he opted (post recorder ensemble and the long school day and trapeze) for reverse cycled comfort, homemade chicken soup, a hot shower and the flat screen. I headed to the ground, walked down Moore Park Road alone, overheard a conversation about a virologist who accidentally outbid a banker at a charity auction to the tune of $18 000. He thought the prize was 2 not 20 thousand. The real story was the humiliation of conceding the mistake. I passed the bag check and was on my way to Gate E, when one of a trio of fifty something males expressed his bemusement, at the top of his voice, over an Instagram post of a Vespa that attracted him 14 likes. When it was re-posted by a young female office worker, it attracted ten times that many. This is Paddington, Sydney.

The O’Reilly boys were there to shield me from a biting wind. And Gwen was there with her shortest shortbread, a (Captain) Luke Parker badge from the MCG and a handful of card packs for the Cygnet. Bless her! The Cob texted in from Edinburgh:

So if the Cygnet’s at Mum and Dad’s, who’s your date?

J, I tease. The Cob knows the stories.

Nice work. Say hi to him for me.

I haven’t told him about you yet.

Games are questions and answers. One side announces something. What has the other got? The chat with the Hawks last week was superb, a proper conversation. Sometimes there’s genuine, seamless repartee; you go and go until one side doesn’t have time or energy for a final answer and things are left over ‘til next time. Other times, one party can’t get a word in edgeways. Or just has nothing to say. And sometimes the exchange you can hear over your shoulder is more peculiar and telling than the one you’re in. I wasn’t sure what was on the agenda tonight with Essendon.

The Swans were loud early. Up and about and the home crowd with them. We were loving Rohan’s pace in the O’Reilly. Loving him off half back. We were loving the man in the fluoro yellow boots, Malceski, marking intelligently, kicking impeccably. Speculation swirled. Would he or wouldn’t he go? We were fearing him into a ménage à trois with Ross and Kirky in the west. Rohan looked like the right-footed apprentice.

We admired Jetta on Friday night. Turn and he was there; Jetta the conjunction. We used to imagine them, Rohan and Jetta, in 2010 when they debuted together, we imagined them streaming down the wings in unison. The configuration looks different now but it looks good. And the defence, run by a Teddy, held by a Reg. And Rampe, contesting with the same short-groined intensity of the previous #24, down but back up like the bop bag Jude was too.

At the height of the first half poetry, I leaned into one of the O’Reilly boys and mentioned the hands. I’m so impressed with their hands. But it occurred to me that hands are only good if you’re in the right spot. They’re bona fide movers this year, these Swans, familiar with the arcs of the team conversation.

I relish going to the footy for the art of conversation, not only with the neighbours but with the game. Invariably the internal dialogue of a match talks to our own lives, where they stand, how they are proceeding, what views are in need of attention. The Swans on Friday night made a certain early assertion, a kind of pattern to which the opposition might formulate a response.

And then in the third, they just stopped talking.

A different conversation took over. Not one to overhear but one we couldn’t hear over. We’d been aware all evening of a traveling party in the row behind, a hangover from multicultural round perhaps, an Aussie fella and his friends – a solo male from the subcontinent donning a Dons scarf alongside a clean cut couple from Canada, firmly wrapped in red and white and looking for Mike Pyke. Rules had been dished out during the evening. And as the volume went down on the game, it rose in the student ranks.

Early in the third, with three consecutive Bomber goals, our sub-continental brother came to life. Each time an Essendon player received the ball – each and every time, no effective disposal required – he would yell, at top volume: Oh yes! Come on BomBers, with particular emphasis on the second B. And when the ball was turned over, he yelled at top panto volume, Oh, no! Stop them BomBers!

Miss Canada, by the fourth, had consumed enough to be barracking with the same verve as a local. Heppell lined up for goal 7 minutes into the third. C’mon number 21, your hair looks stooopid. I’m afraid she’d learned it straight from O’Reilly Max who has taken a strong dislike to the Hurley/Shoenmakers samurai pony. For the hard chase and contested ground ball she cried, C’mon, let’s get this butterball. Intermittently she stopped, What’s happening? I don’t know what’s going on? Mike Pyke where are you? Beacon that he is. For the free awarded to Reid in the square, her diagnosis – Oh it was a chopping, tripping, falling kind of incident. And when the Swans scored against momentum, she cried Aoooorwl; she was all the wolves of Canada.

Miss Canada may not have had the dialect quite right, she may not have known any of the numbers, but I was impressed. I loved the inexpertness of her commentary. Life is part certainty, part chaos; part strong narrative line, part digression; part bold statement and part farce: part talking and mostly listening. The main characters don’t always have the best lines. Sometimes it’s the cameos that shine. No wonder football appeals to writers.

With minutes to the final siren, Miss Canada drew breath and came to a halt. What does Q B E stand for? As things were about to go off topic completely, that big guy, that #37 kicked from straight in front. And with minutes to go the human conjunction sent it long to the square, off Rohan’s hands and into the path of the little one, McSomething, the number 21. Full stop.




About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Love the conversational metaphor, Mathilde. The previous week’s Hawks and Swans was the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
    Last year’s Hawks-Dockers GF was Abbott and Rudd.
    When the Cats midfield starts running and slinging the pill around its the Algonquin table.
    Unfortunately my Eagles are more like chatting to Gough in the nursing home. Great memories, but a bit incoherent these days.
    Well played.

  2. In conversation terms the Lions/Demons was the 2am taxi queue. Nothing made a lot of sense. It had no direction. Even though a punch was thrown, it continued on in much the same manner and ended when both protagonists staring pie-eyed at each other declaring they loved you man.

  3. A brilliant read, Mathilde. As soon as I saw barista and conversations, I simply had to take a break from my study, make my own espresso, sit back and enjoy! There is nothing like being at the game and taking in the conversations that accompany the footy. Oh, and I share the same dislike for the samurai pony!

  4. Great to see you back Mathilde – perhaps I have missed some pieces but I haven’t seen one for a while.

    Gus – that is a great review of the Lions/Demons right there – all you need to do is add your votes and submit it.

  5. “I’m afraid she’d learned it straight from O’Reilly Max who has taken a strong dislike to the Hurley/Shoenmakers samurai pony….”

    Is it wrong that I’ve always thought of this hairstyle as the Jedi Padawan and never the Samurai pony? Whatever, I’m with O’Reilly Max. Shocking hairdo. Just shocking.

    Lovely work Mathilde

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Another great read Mathilde. Loved the text exchange between you and The Cob.

  7. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Entertaining as always thanks , Mathilde keep em coming

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