AFL Round 4 – North Melbourne v Brisbane: The train rocks on

The service from Castlemaine is not much of a footy train today. With seats aplenty it sails ahead of a strong northerly across the dry Central Highlands, collecting quiet drabs of blue and white, the odd maroon, on its voyage to Southern Cross. Sprawled out in my old Fitzroy scarf, it occurs that had the winds blown a slightly different course back in ’96, we may well have landed at Arden St, and today I’d be still here on the train, but my wrap would be of the other hue.

So much what if. But the train rocks on.

My pocket radio drifts in and out of reception and I’m catching grabs of the ABC’s tribute to Black Caviar. My skin prickles to the emotion coming through the static, through Gerard Whately’s ecstatic calls and the tears that fell on Sandown yesterday. She’s off to the greenest of pastures, the exceptional mare, which I’m figuring to be a long way from the brown hills that fly by my window.

To say we need rain up here is like saying Etihad needs a soul. Too bleeding obvious. I join the tide of Northerners sweeping over the concourse from the station and sense their excitement. They expect to rack up their first points of the season, and having lost only three quarters for the season (all in the third) against some seriously good sides, they are entitled to do so. Brisbane sits higher on the ladder by virtue of a two-point squeak in against The Suns, highlighting the folly that is early season placement. By time I reach the turnstiles, tucked in the foyer of some concrete apartment block, it becomes clear that the Roo buzz is not all about the expected result. The hub-bub at the gate is more about their thirty-eight.

I actually met Majak Daw a month or two back when he, with team-mates Swallow and Zeibel, came out to Newstead and wowed our kids at a clinic. He struck me with his humility, with his friendly candour and with his unfeasibly muscled frame. He has Popeye-like bulges that I heard Boomer Harvey refer to on radio as the shame of everyone else at the club. During Q & A at the clinic, one of our kids put to the players “what question is most commonly asked of you”. To which Majak wryly replied, “When are you gonna play?”

Well, I’m thinking as I bolt through Gate 7 to the siren’s double blast, he’s not going to have to field that one again. My rush lands me behind the Roo faithful (cheer squad variety) right on the knocker, and the electric vibe they give off all but blurs the view. For directly before them, springing about on the green like a two-year-old colt, glistens Majak Daw.

This vibe coalesces into a collective will that dictates the game’s opening minute.  For the ball touches not a lion’s paw and within 30 seconds is thrust forward in Roo frenzy, sending the thing down with scripted hang-time that allows the Sudanese sensation to float over two backmen and snatch it clean. In this and the subsequent kick, which was always to be true, there is both majesty and fairy-tale and for the second time this afternoon I am goose-bumped by the sense of something pretty damned special going down.

The celebrations on the field and in the stands are riotous. There is the sense of good and right and reward for the perseverance that has delivered this moment. And Brisbane? Well, they just have not come to the party. The Roos have a ball, and the Lions can’t get near it. Daniel Merret is mighty upset, having to watch this blue and white fiesta. Patch Adams is singing in his face and the raw-boned one loses the plot and his man, Petrie, who dobs North’s fourth unopposed. Not long after, with his beard still a-flame, Merret takes to Majak in a tackle that slings the first-gamer into his team-mate Cunnington. The resultant bang of heads delivers to Daw the down-side of the big stage and deprives the mob of their pin-up boy who, with only eighteen minutes of senior footy to his name, has already a cult following. You only need to count the number of African kids in the outer to know the splash this young man has made.

With their star now sidelined, those kids now have to watch whatever else is on offer out there, and North are doing an excellent job of snavelling  their attentions. While the Lions, through Rockliffe, Adcock and tyros Zorko, Golby and Paparone, are finding some ball and giving a yelp, the Kangas are killing them across half back and in the clinches. Zeibell grabs everything, Thompson lets nothing in, Atley cuts the mid-ground to bits and Mullet shows he is more than just a great name.

North are hitting targets, Brisbane are mostly missing theirs, and the Lions’ only glory is that they, like Collingwood, Geelong and Swans before them, allow North to win only three quarters of four. The second term is a draw.

And although it is all North today, and the fixture will always be the one where the first African to play AFL delivered 18 minutes of delirium before copping some himself, I just want to mention Jonathan Brown. Because I have never covered a Lions game and not done so.



  1. John Kympton says

    Thanks Terry. Great piece on Majak Daw.

    I was a dedicated follower of Fitzroy but there was no way I could support a club with a president such as Noel Gordon.

    I now follow North Melbourne and look forward to many years of Majak Daw.

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