AFL Round 4 – St.Kilda v Essendon: (Red and) Black Magic

By Jake Norton

Forgive my self-indulgence, but when the call from the Chairman of Selectors came during the week, mentioning the possibility of an opportunity to cover the round four meeting of St Kilda and Essendon, the hyperventilation and cold sweats were unexpectedly overwhelming.

I immediately conjured images of Sunday morning’s headlines.  “The ‘Norton Curse’ strikes again,” and sundry words to that effect, they would say.

Such is the paranoia that has consumed me since covering the corresponding fixture in round 15 last year, when I had all but written my report in my head – in essence, an essay on Michael Hurley’s possession of the key to the meaning of life – before the ball had even been bounced.

As history tells, my complacency on that occasion was decidedly misplaced as the Dons were cruelled to the tune of 71 points, largely at the rodent foot of five-goal, 250-game hero (and former Bomber), Stephen Milne.

In fact, my complacency wasn’t merely misplaced.  It was the root cause of a hoodoo that would surely continue to match the longest of premiership droughts – even the Saints’.  At the very least, this was a curse of Kennett-esque proportions.

Nonetheless, I accepted the chairman’s offer with faux gratitude, which concealed crippling fear.

Accordingly, on match morning, I was despondent following a sleepless night.  A textbook 3-0 start to the season, including fiercely un-Essendon-like comeback road wins against Adelaide and Fremantle, would be rendered meaningless.  Just as a similarly powerful position was ahead of the same meeting last year.  All at my hand.

Déjà vu of the teams’ last encounter was everywhere I turned; the Dons would even be wearing those hideous “heritage” clash jumpers partially to blame for the shemozzle of 2012.

As the day progressed I searched high and low for anything that might possess sufficient power to conquer the curse.

As I stood in the mounting yard at Caulfield Racecourse, where I ply my trade as minion of the Melbourne Racing Club, just hours before the game, it came to me.

More to the point, she did.

She, of course, being our equine empress, the celestial sprinter, Black Caviar.  It just so happened that today, 20 April 2013, was the day that we were to bid her a final farewell from the track, at her home track, a week after a 25th and final victory in an unbroken sequence from debut.

I’m not suggesting that her emergence from the stripping sheds into my view in any way foretold an Essendon victory.

It was simply a feeling, palpable and calming, that nothing else mattered.  Four points may be lost this evening, but in the context of this magical day, trivialities like that would be hastily forgotten.

As I gave the characteristically strutting Nelly a scratch behind the ear, despite knowing it may be the last time I enjoyed the honour of laying a hand on her, I was overcome with a feeling that everything would be okay while she walked on this planet.

From then on, what had loomed as two or three hours of gut-wrenching viewing was instead two or three hours of almost supernatural tranquillity.  Again, notwithstanding the flow and result of the game.  Both of which, on this occasion, in Essendon’s favour.

Heck, when “Frankie” Gumbleton has 18 touches, a dozen marks and bags a haul of four goals, something supernatural is at work.  Much like Black Caviar, I suppose.  Perhaps even evidence of the existence of God.  It’s so banal, I know, but just for today let’s call it Black Magic.

The unfortunately stark similarity between last year’s 71-point deficit and this year’s 37-point surplus was that Michael Hurley was in the red bib midway through the third quarter once again.  (Which is still only slightly less becoming than the puerile granite clash strip.)

The first significant difference between the 2012 and ’13 matches was that Brendon Goddard was playing for a different team.  Although had you witnessed his mournful post-match interview with TV boundary rider Cameron Mooney, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

The other was the impact, or lack thereof, of the 2012 hero Stephen Milne.  Slaying Essendon with his rodent foot scarcely ten months earlier; it barely touched the Sherrin today.  One could almost sense the sun setting over his commendable career, much like it had at the Black Caviar parade earlier in the day.

Today was Essendon’s day, and it was Black Caviar’s day.  Of least consequence, it was also the day that the Norton Curse was banished to the realms of absurdity, where it belongs.

St Kilda                 3.2          5.6          9.9          13.13 (91)
Essendon            6.2          10.7        15.8        19.14 (128)

St Kilda: Riewoldt 3; Maister, Saad, Dennis-Lane 2; Gilbert, Milne, Armitage, Steven.
Essendon: Gumbleton 4; Hurley 3; Davey, Stanton, Watson, Bellchambers 2; Dempsey, Goddard, Howlett, Merrett.

St Kilda: Riewoldt, Armitage, Fisher, Roberton, Jones.
Essendon: Watson, Heppell, Gumbleton, Hurley, Goddard, Hibberd, Stanton, Myers, Zaharakis.

UMPIRES: Dalgleish, Chamberlain, Ryan.

CROWD: 46,965.

OUR VOTES: Gumbleton (Ess) 3, Watson (Ess) 2, Stanton (St K) 1.

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