AFL Round 21 – Collingwood v North Melbourne: The family club

Nephew Lukey was the lone family representative at Etihad on Saturday night. He went with his mate and his dad from across the road. My sister Anne had spent the week counselling him on appropriate behaviour in the face of both victory and defeat. Lukey doesn’t always handle either imposter too well. No prizes for guessing from whom he inherited that trait.

Most of the rest of us were celebrating cousin Lou Lou’s 40th at a swanky bar on St Kilda marina, quietly wondering why she scheduled her do on the night of a North match when a big chunk of the Cleary clan, Lou Lou included, are Northerners. Cousin Elaine quipped that Lou took our recent history against the Pies – recall the MCG Massacre last year – into consideration when circling the date on the calendar.

I had spent the week talking the Roos chances down. Injuries to Wells, Grima and Adams, as well as the Pies’ stirring win over Sydney, had me thinking our run was about to come to a thudding halt.

As I parked the car and stepped into the stiff southerly coming off the bay, Drew sprayed the first shot for goal and I wondered if it was going to be an omen. By the time I had said my hellos the Pies had kicked the first four. Anne shook her head, already regretting allowing Lukey to go. She had visions of a tanty on level 3.

By quarter-time I was chatting with Uncle Basil, mum’s brother, about his health – he has recently formed a relationship with a dialysis machine – and Prahran Amateurs, who he has served devotedly as a volunteer over the past five decades. The B&F award was recently named in Bas’s honour.

My mate, The Contradiction, the erudite Collingwood fan, watching the game from the front bar of the Great Northern in Carlton, sent a text saying North had kicked the last four and hit the front.

I felt confident from that point. This is a new North Melbourne. One steeled with belief and maturity. A far cry from the hesitant, easily disposed of mob of recent years. We’ll win, said Uncle Allan, Lou ‘s dad, and responsible for conning the majority of our generation into supporting the Roos when we were young and easily manipulated.

Just before half-time I ducked into the back bar to watch the TV stuck to the wall above the DJ. Daisy missed a set shot and North led by four goals. Three young couples stretched out on the couches in silence, all checking facebook.

Back at the party, Christmases past were being relived. Andrew Cleary told a story about flogging his dad’s booze and spewing all the way home in the car. The East boys of Bannockburn, who look more and more like Jimmy Barnes with each passing year, recalled knick-knocking on neighbours’ houses and giggling as we ran all the way back to their place in the dark. Falling in the back door, we were horrified to find Uncle Rob already on the phone apologising.

I showed photos of Eloise who was in Canberra with Linda, and the females gushed and cooed and oohed. Dennis Cleary, off the plane from Darwin that arvo, introduced his new bride around. Mum and her siblings discussed cleaning up their parents’ headstones at the family cemetery near Meredith.

We crowded around brother-in-law Dean’s iphone during the third term. North were holding their lead. I told ya, I told ya, Uncle Al said.

During the speeches, Lou’s husband, Paul, urged everyone to drink up and hit the dance floor. No one said it, but we were all thinking of absent family members, particularly those looking down from above.

Uncle Tom stopped on his way to the toilet to talk about the Cats. Mum’s family grew up on a farm in Elaine, on the old Ballarat Road and were injected with their dad’s love of Geelong. Aunty Helen has a photo in her hallway of their parents, Phonse and Vera, during their courtship, dressed in their Sunday best, walking to a game of footy. No one can agree on exactly where and when the photo was taken. Tom’s still spewing over the loss to the Eagles last week and is convinced they would’ve won if that bloody Tom Hawkins hadn’t knocked himself out. He doesn’t think the Cats are quite right this year.

North held on in the last term and a collective cheer went up at the final siren. Lucky Lukey Michael, Anne said, relieved.

Lou’s netball mates danced the night away in their tight mini-dresses while family posed for group photos. When the DJ packed up, the oldies drank coffee on the couches in the corner and the younger generation reminisced about dancing to Abba in the lounge room at Easter, endless summers camping on the Warrnambool beach, 21sts and weddings.

Some of the clan have had plenty to deal with of late, but in the warmth and constancy of family, they could forget for a while.

‘We’ve been lucky,’ Moose East said.

Yep, we are.


  1. There’s a Paul Kelly song in this somewhere…

  2. David Downer says

    A “new North Melbourne”.

    That they are, Stark. Enjoy watching them play. And I do prefer the above phrase to the one unconvincingly thrown about earlier in the year by coach and co, ie: “the real North Melbourne”.

    You are what you are at the time, and right now, they are flying!

    Exciting times ahead.


  3. Great yarn, AS. I think there’s a little in there for us all to relate to.

    “A far cry from the hesitant, easily disposed of mob of recent years.”
    Mate, that should read “recent months”.

    I too spent the week talking down North’s chances. But half way through the third quarter, my missus said “this is boring, can we change the channel?”
    I almost fell off the couch. “Not a chance. Don’t you know how much pain I have endured from this mob?”

  4. “North held on in the last quarter”?

    Starkman, that is an incredibly understated assessment of what I can tell you from eyewitness evidence was an absolute pasting.

    I’ve been joking with my Pie mates that they should come around and watch a replay of the first 12 minutes. Went south from there.

    September’s gunna be fun.

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