AFL Round 20 – GWS v North Melbourne: making the most of Manuka

For a long time, my ambition – along with my parents –  has been attending a game of Australian Rules in every state and territory of Australia. The idea has never been more than just that; an idea, until this year, when Dad said he had a thought about flying up to Brisbane for the Round 15 game against the Lions. Thank god we didn’t go through with that. But I started looking into our remaining interstate games, and two jumped out at me. Round 20 in Canberra against the Giants, and Round 22 against Adelaide in Hobart. I floated the idea to my parents, and we agreed that a drive to Canberra would be a good way to spend a weekend, especially with my uni holidays coming to a close.

I leave Melbourne on the Thursday and catch the Shepparton train to home, and begin packing. It takes a total of 10 minutes to fold (kind of) all my clothes into my bag and get my toiletries together. If only my girlfriend Liz would take heed of this. We’re on the road by 11, picking Liz up at 11:30 and continuing on through to the nation’s capital via the Hume Highway, passing various towns and landmarks such as Albury/Wodonga, Gundagai with the Dog on the Tuckerbox, and Yass before finally, after six hours on the road, hitting Canberra.

It was hard to do much sight-seeing at night, so it was straight to the motel. Liz and I had separate rooms to mum and dad, to the delight of both couples I think. Once unpacked, we met downstairs and went to the Eastlake Footy Club for dinner, walking distance from our accommodation, where we bumped into none other than the Almanac’s John Harms and Pamela Sherpa. A wonderful dinner while watching the footy was followed by a play on the pokies, something I had yet to do since turning a legal age last year.

Mum won $40 very quickly, but I had no such luck. All exhausted from an early start and a long drive, especially Dad who had not slept the night before due to working night-shift, we headed back for the motel, a task made more difficult by the extremely brisk Canberra night. Unable to tune into the footy on the motel television, I was forced to follow the ending of the Richmond and Essendon clash which, by all accounts, sounded like one of the games of the season. Typical.

The vast amount of space on a comfortable king size bed was all I wanted to think about on the Saturday morning, but an early start was needed to get enough exploring packed in before the footy started. We were off to the war memorial on a beautiful day. Checking my phone from the motel carpark, my GPS app told me that we were just a short drive from our destination. Dad, seemingly knowing where he was going without the aid of technology, took us on a half hour trip that eventually saw us 15km out of Canberra before my phone was eventually put to good use.

The war memorial is a place you can easily spend a whole day in, and still feel like you haven’t seen everything upon leaving. We certainly felt that way, being able to spend just an hour and a half there. Even the gift shop was incredibly insightful. Back in the car, we found our motel a lot easier than we found the memorial, and we changed into our North gear. Mum wearing a pink Kangaroos Guernsey with a blue and white cap, Dad in a heritage style rugby top, Liz with a North jacket and beanie, and myself in the 2014 Indigenous strip. We must have looked like we were pulled straight out of the cheersquad.

Despite a pleasant Canberra day, we all rugged up in anticipation for the cold that everybody had told us about. However, I can confidently say, despite having never been to the place before in my life, it was the best day Canberra had seen weather-wise for quite some time. It was boiling in the sun with all of our layers on. Liz was even wearing thermals. We were sweating, and the game hadn’t even started yet. We were given a small relief when the sun would pop behind the clouds occasionally, but it would return soon after. We had fantastic seats in the front row on the forward flank, but if we wanted to see anything while the sun was out, sunglasses were needed. Something I forgot to bring, so my arm was substituted in.

I was ecstatic to see Kayne Turner get a debut. ‘Sugar’, as he is affectionately known, has surprised all North supporters with his relentless attack on the ball in the VFL despite being just 67 kilograms when drafted onto the rookie list. His chances of playing a senior game in 2014 back then were incredibly low, but given his form in the seconds, he seemed like the only logical replacement to help give some zip and defensive pressure to our forward line. I was also looking forward to seeing Ben Brown in action again. I was highly impressed watching his debut against Melbourne and again against the Hawks and, like Turner, would never have thought I’d see him in the senior side at the start of the season.

It was Brown who got our game off to the perfect start, clunking a great contested mark and slotting the first goal of the afternoon. The Giants missed several chances at goal, while Luke McDonald, another first year player who has been very impressive, couldn’t capitalise on a chance to kick the first goal of his career. That honour fell to the youngest player in the competition in Turner, who ran onto a bouncing ball and snapped North’s third of the day. Devon Smith got the Giants on the board but a reply from Leigh Adams had us leading by 15 at quarter time.

Back to back goals to Ben Cunnington, who has suffered as a result of Andrew Swallow returning to the senior line-up, had our lead at 26 points. Eyeing off a percentage boosting win, I cheered for us to put our foot to the throat of the young and inexperienced Giants. But they came hard. Josh Kelly, who should be wearing the blue and white, replied for GWS before Smith kicked a ripper from tight on the boundary. Mick Firrito, ever-reliable in defence, floated forward and slotted a goal, but the final three majors of the quarter went the way of the orange and charcoal, and there was just four points in it at half time. Confident the Giants would run out of legs in the second half, I relaxed, but was still annoyed that we were giving them a sniff. They’ve shown this year what can happen when they believe they’re a chance. Just ask Sydney, Hawthorn and Geelong.

I missed Drew Petrie’s fantastic snap goal as I was returning from the toilets at the start of the third quarter, but was able to see Ben Jacobs take a huge risk at half back, leaving his man and intercepting a ball sent for Jono O’Rourke, sending it to Boomer Harvey before ending in a third goal to Cunnington, a career-high. Aaron Black, horribly out of sorts at times in 2014, kicked his first, before Brown showcased his contested marking ability, clunking the ball in between two GWS defenders. He kicked his second, before Petrie booted two in a row.

All of a sudden we’ve blown the Giants out of the water with a blistering run of goals. Boomer kicks another, before Petrie trickles through his fourth of the quarter with a dribbling ball from the forward pocket right in front of us. He sheepishly apologises for pulling a party trick out of his backside, which frustrates me. Tom Hawkins or Lance Franklin would’ve gone to another level after kicking a beauty like that, but Petrie almost goes back into his shell. That’s just the man Drew is I guess.

Ryan Bastinac and Harvey kick goals to start the final quarter, stretching the lead to a massive 67 points, and we’ve kicked 10 unanswered majors. Will Hoskin-Elliott, perhaps Greater Western Sydney’s most promising youngster, bombs a long goal to the delight of the few GWS supporters left. Cunnington misses a chance to kick his fourth goal, while Petrie misses three relatively easy shots when he could’ve ended with a real haul. Jack Ziebell chimes in with the final two majors of the match, and we’ve won by 75 points. Too good for the Giants, I wonder what the match would’ve looked like if Jeremy Cameron, Stephen Coniglio, Tom Scully and Lachie Whitfield were out.

With footy in hand, I await for the second siren to sound around Manuka Oval, eager to have a kick on the turf. With thousands descending onto the oval at once, it was risky business trying to find a patch of grass to play kick-to-kick with Dad. But we did, shaping passes around people, marking over kids, dodging stray footy’s and finally feeling the coolness of Canberra in the air as the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

Back to our motels, we set about finding our dinner for the night after some disappointing stadium food. A pizza feast with a side of fried rice, chocolate mousse and a triple dip pack was more than adequate for the four of us as we chowed down on mum and dad’s motel room floor together. Tired again from an early start and a big day, Liz and I returned to our room, where I looked forward to viewing bits and pieces of the Geelong v Fremantle game at Simonds Stadium. Forgetting that we were in New South Wales, the Swans taking on the Power was on our screen instead. In the morning I discovered the Dockers had lost with a kick after the siren. Again, typical. I go away for one weekend and don’t watch as much football as usual, and I miss two of the games of the year.

Sunday morning brings about the dreaded packing as our small holiday comes to a close. We are greeted by another fine Canberra day. I make a mental note to take my board shorts and tanning oil next time I visit the ACT. Parliament House is on our schedule for the morning. Like the war memorial, it is a place you can easily lose a whole day in. As the clock neared midday, we returned to the car and bid farewell to the capital city of Australia. I hear a lot of criticism about Canberra and what it has to offer, but I was impressed, and look forward to my next visit. But, with Manuka Oval crossed off our ‘footy bucket list’, I eagerly anticipate our next trek, whenever that may be. I hear the Adelaide Oval is nice.


Atmosphere: I was genuinely surprised at how strong a following Greater Western Sydney has in Canberra. I expected to see the blue and white faithful outnumber GWS, but you could definitely tell when the Giants kicked a goal or won a free kick. The atmosphere felt fantastic. The hill on the wing was jam-packed, and it didn’t look like there were many spare seats, with the crowd the highest of the three games at Manuka Oval in 2014. Plenty of noise was made at the appropriate times. However, on the Friday night and even Saturday morning, you wouldn’t know there was a game of footy happening just hours away. 4/5

Food and beverages: Poor. Mum ordered a hot dog, which she received on a stale bun topped with raw slices of onion and it was barely warm. She also bought some nachos at $9 for us to share, which were barely eaten given their quality. Extremely pricy and the length of the lines was very off-putting. The ice-cream van was a nice touch, but again it was not worth waiting in line for half an hour for. The Mrs. Mac pies were a lot better than the Four & Twenty’s at Etihad Stadium though. 1/5

Facilities: As far as we could tell, there was only one ATM inside the ground, and just one toilet trailer was hired out on our side of the ground, once again equaling long queues just to relieve oneself. If Canberra is ever going to host games on a more frequent basis than three times a season, this area needs to improve drastically. 0.5/5

Surface: Excellent. In Round 4, the Giants hosted the Western Bulldogs at Manuka Oval and the ground was criticised for clumps of sand on the surface, making for an ugly game of footy at times. But the surface on Saturday looked as good as I’ve ever seen on a footy field. Top marks here. 5/5

Proximity: Score is largely dependent on where you stay, but given the number of accommodation options close to Manuka Oval, you can suggest that it is well-situated in Canberra. It took us about two minutes to walk to from our motel. Parking looked fairly simple too, but that was well before the game and could’ve turned to chaos close to game time. 4.5/5

Greater Western Sydney 1.4 – 6.5 – 6.6 – 7.9.51

North Melbourne 4.1 – 7.3 – 15.6 – 19.12.126


Greater Western Sydney: Patton, Smith 2; Kelly, Hoskin-Elliott, Treloar.

North Melbourne: Petrie 5; Cunnington 3; Ziebell, Harvey, Brown 2; Turner, Firrito, Black, Bastinac, Adams.


Greater Western Sydney: Greene, Shaw, Treloar, Smith, Patton, Buntine.

North Melbourne: Cunnington, Petrie, Goldstein, Harvey, Bastinac, Adams, Turner.


10,211 at Manuka Oval


3: Ben Cunnington (NM)

2: Drew Petrie (NM)

1: Todd Goldstein (NM)




War Memorial


Jack Ziebell shooting for goal.


Drew Petrie celebrating one of his five goals.


Some helpful advice for Kayne Turner in his debut.


That’s using your head, Heath Shaw.


Ben Brown takes on Shane Mumford.


Boundary umpire spots something he likes in the crowd.


Brent Harvey has words with Tomas Bugg on the half time siren.


Sam Gibson goes in for a mark.


Moments before the final siren.


Me looking for a target.


Kick-to-kick on Manuka Oval.


War Memorial.


Parliament House, Canberra.

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great stuff Josh travelling is always fun when you win. As a Norwood man I am a huge fan of Trent Dumont, where is he at? Good review on what Canberra has to offer also. Thanks Josh.

  2. Dave Brown says

    Nice work, Josh. Funny you found it so warm – my coldest ever football experience is watching your Roos beat the Crows at Manuka in the early 00s. Canberra people left the ground early that day as it was so cold.

    Given the proximity of the war memorial to Manuka, a most impressive piece of navigation by your dad. In my experience the memorial is best done in two visits so you can take it all in without having to do it all in one day.

  3. for the record,its called STAR TRACK OVAL not manuka oval,come on guys keep up with the times

  4. Pamela Sherpa says

    What a comprehensive report Josh . I’m glad you enjoyed Canberra.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Josh. Spent a few days in Canberra in 2001 (I think), around at North v Collingwood game at Manuka. Loved the venue, loved the city. So much to see and do in the capital.

  6. Josh Barnstable says

    Thanks Malcolm. ‘Froggy’ Dumont has been playing very well in the VFL. Had 35 touches and kicked three goals a fortnight ago. Looks like he’ll be a very good player, but being an inside midfielder, he has the likes of Greenwood, Ziebell, Swallow and Cunnington ahead of him. I think we should trade two of those.

    Andrew, I prefer not to call the stadiums by their commercial names. It’ll always be Subiaco Oval, Football Park and Marrara Oval instead of Patersons, AAMI and TIO to me. Plus Manuka sounds a lot better than Startrack.

  7. Laurie Laffan says

    Manuka Oval always will be Manuka Oval. By the way ,that Jack Fingleton scoreboard is the old MCG scoreboard. The day always depends on whether the sun is out and the wind is blowing. A still sunny day at around 14 degrees after a minus 6 frosty night is fantastic. Most winter days in Canberra are fantastic. Canberra has a great number of attractions to offer and it would take a couple of weeks to cover them comprehensively.

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