AFL Round 4 – Sydney v Geelong: An Occasion

Score a footy and Cats gear

Score a footy and Cats gear

Friday night. The days are getting shorter, the evenings finding their football chill. Theo and Anna are looking for sticks. We have wood for the season’s first fire: old red gum from last year, almost dry, and some fibrousy stuff from when Matt Zurbo cut down our Dr Seuss trees to make way for the trampoline.

The kids are excited: they’re in the PJs and about to light the fire and the pizza is not far away.

Their cousins are about to arrive from Adelaide. More cousins are coming tomorrow for the Richmond-Collingwood game.

The fire catches beautifully. The sun-dry prunings of the rampant bougainvillea do their job and the lounge room is filled with crackling fire, kids giggling and the wisdom of Lethal Leigh. (What is it about Leigh Matthews? Am I under his spell? Or should he just grow a long, white beard?)

I am treating this as an occasion (because it is), and have been looking forward to it all week. The Cats 3-0: Friday night on the telly from Sydney.

We are good at celebrating the ordinary in our house. We have been for years. We can make Nutri-Grain manna, collecting the mail a ritual, a full moon a rare moment of cosmic beauty.

The ordinary used to include the frustrating performances of our old Geelong (whom we loved just as much), a club which always recognised and nurtured talent, and could always thrill, but also left us grabbing at our guts in agony.

We no longer have to celebrate the ordinary on our household insofar as footy is concerned, at least. We follow an extraordinary football side; a band of man of extraordinary ability, who play with extraordinary cohesion.

In this new season that cohesion has been on display – mainly in third quarters. It has been enough . Just. So, as the players take the field, I am confident the Cats will put on a pretty good show against the reigning premiers – a very talented and disciplined unit themselves – although I am expecting a game which could go either way.

The next half hour is enough to bring a footy tear to the eye. I watch the game played as it should be played; two crack teams producing great end-to-end footy, the high-scoring not the result of poor defence, but of pure skill.

That is the beauty of the indigenous game. It favours the actor, the footballer who makes the play. If he is fast enough, if he makes the right decisions, if he has the skills. If he believes: that the football always wins. The actor is god. The actor has a hand (at least) in his own destiny. By contrast, defenders are reactors. No matter how pro-active, how clever, all defence is trickery. Defenders can anticipate but ultimately they must wait for the creators to create. And, in a 360 degree game, a defender cannot repel the perfect attack.

This is a wonderful game at the dear old SCG, so quick that players need do little more than raise the point of the Sherrin to have the poor old defender high off the ground in commitment. Eight goals to seven.

And we’re getting pizza.

The rellies arrive from the airport having listened to the first quarter in their car. They take up every possible vantage point in the lounge room and are instantly watching the footy. There will be time for other conversations but for now it’s all Horlo and Motlop and Sam Duncan. George Horlin-Smith has been exceptional. For a few games he has looked like he’s facing Curtly from 17 yards. Now he’s taking him at the full 22 – and forcing him through cover point.

“Done, Horlo,” says cousin Thomas who is in final year at Pembroke in Adelaide, as if he knows him. Because he does, GHS being a recent graduate and teammate of Thomas’s brother , Samuel (or Samuel a teammate of GHS’s more accurately, which Samuel won’t mind me saying).

Horlin-Smith has a bit of the Liam Pickering and Glen Kilpatrick in him (as Dips later points out), and a hint of the Toby Bairstow run (the way he looms on the outside, but without the urgency). More and more he looks a likely type. And he plays in winning sides: he won the medal in the VFL Grand Final last year, in a game that was there to be won in the final quarter.

The second quarter slows, facilitating the unplugging of corks and attention to life’s other necessities. The game remains in the balance.

It seems everyone in The People’s Republic of Northcote is having pizza; there’s no sign of our order turning up, but that’s not a huge concern as all focus is on the TV. The red gum has taken and the house is as warm as toast.

The Cats are about to be tested, although the Bloods are a player short with (the under-rated) LRT on the bench.

Horlo butchers one early in the third quarter which prompts a huge “Horrrr-lo!” Very familiar. Like he’s going to walk in and help us finish off the Capricciosa later on. (If it is ever delivered)

“That could be costly,” someone says of Horlo’s poor pass.

Taylor Hunt builds on his outstanding form of the opening rounds. He wins the footy in two tough physical contests which suggest winning really matters to him. Indeed, his physicality typifies the Cats effort to open the second half. But they can’t find the goals. Enright’s shot is touched on the line; then Harry Taylor fails to snap high enough to beat the goal-keeper; then he high-hooks a set shot; and then he boots one out on the full.

“We’re throwing this away,” someone says. We’re all thinking it.

Young Hannebery is crunched a couple of time, one a fierce smashing. This seems to happen to him a lot, like he’s that deer in the Larson cartoon with the target on his chest (“Bummer of a birthmark Hal”). He is a brave young footballer. But perhaps not the most aware.

By half way through the quarter it remains anyone’s game and fatigue and fortune may be factors in the way that fitness and fate can influence a game of footy.

Until Joel Selwood decides it’s time. He busts a gut to reach a contest (where others may have conceded the mark and re-set), spoils McVeigh, patting the Sherrin down, holds McVeigh off while keeping his feet, gathers, and finds Smedts with a left-foot pass. It’s the first goal since the break. It’s also a case of perfect balance.

The Cats go forward again. Hawkins looks out of position in the square but puts up one paw, knocks the Sherrin up, holds Richards out with the other, and takes it.

Motlop is having an influence, more so than Jetta, although Jetta is starved of opportunity. Duncan provides Motlop with another chance and the speedster burns off his opponent and has the defence wondering what he’s about to do. He calls Chappy out and squares the footy up. It is a decision of some poise.

With the Cats building authority Hawkins puts his stamp on things. He leads and marks despite the best effort of Grundy who is right there yet again, playing a game not unlike Micky Martin’s 1994 prelim final.

As if he hasn’t done enough already, Selwood is everywhere in the next ten minutes. At one stage he is pinged for a throw and Sydney follow up with a couple of set shots which result in a Mike Pyke major.

But really Joel Selwood plays as if there is a spotlight on him. He is at contest after contest either trying to bury some poor Swan into the Bulli turf, or running past screaming for the handball. Hawk gives him one and the skipper finds Johnno who darts through a six-pointer from fifty.

Then Selwood, at the fall of every ball, kicks one off the ground. And just when you think the quarter’s over, the boys chipping around out the back to use up time, Selwood flies in a contest across half back, punches the footy, chases his own crumb, wins it like his Hercules himself, finds Stokes at a hundred miles an hour, onto Hunt who goals as the siren sounds.

Vintage Cats.

They win comfortably.

Can this go on? The prism through which I observe all this is so blue and white that I feel my judgment is hooped. But, fair dinkum, the Cats look like a very good side. The old rams are at the top of their games (consider the role of J. Bartel the other night), the back six understand their craft, and the lambs are frolicking. Horlo looks like he could present a paper at a sports science conference, Stephen Motlop starts every play by banging two drumsticks together above his head, Taylor Hunt is the new Micky Gayfer only he runs off and sneaks a few goals, Mitch Duncan is learning at the feet of Johnno (and he may have the natural talent to take most of it in), Billy Smedts can get back on that horse whenever he likes, Josh Caddy has just arrived, put an Afro wig on young Murdoch and call him Peter Riccardi, and then there’s the big bloke Blicavs (you don’t run like the wind and jump fences without being either very coordinated or from Warrnambool – and I believe he’s from Sunbury). Then there’s the seconds.

So it looks like it can go on. The Cats can finish top four.

Especially with Joel Selwood about the place.

Oh, joy!


Postscript: After a nearly two hours of waiting The Handicapper and Aunty Irene, unimpressed with the hunting and gathering skills of the menfolk, take off to remedy the situation. They return with five steaming pizzas (perfect). The bloke behind the jump has been so intimidated by their demand for an explanation that he doesn’t charge for them. The pizza is top class. The red gum is still burning when the menfolk fell asleep in front of the replay of the second half of the Geelong-North Melbourne game.

Horlo doesn’t turn up – but he is in Sydney.


GEELONG                7.2     9.4     16.7   19.10 (124)
SYDNEY SWANS     8.1    10.3    11.3   16.7 (103)

Motlop 3, Hawkins 3, Taylor 2, Chapman 2, Stokes 2, Horlin-Smith, Podsiadly, Smedts, Johnson, Selwood, T. Hunt, Christensen
Sydney Swans: McVeigh 3, Goodes 2, Bolton 2, Hannebery 2, Malceski 2, Reid, Roberts-Thomson, Pyke, McGlynn, Kennedy

Selwood, Horlin-Smith, Motlop, Taylor, Corey, T. Hunt
Sydney Swans: Hannebery, Pyke, O’Keefe, Malceski, Goodes

Umpires: Donlon, Stevic, Stewart

Crowd: 31,060 at the SCG

Our Votes:    3. Joel Selwood   2. George Horlin-Smith   1. Motlop

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Always love the first fire of the footy season. Fire and footy (and pizza), (and beer) belong together. The Cats are looking very impressive.

  2. Lachlan Waterman says

    In one of my previos knacka pieces Culture is King I mentioned The Cats as the sleepers for 2013. In 1991 all the pundits suggested Hawthorn were too old, not hungry, end of an era etc and they came to the party in September.

    This Cats side reminds me of Hawthorn circa ’91.

    The fire still burns…

  3. Friday night for me was really a festival of the boot (thank you HG Nelson). Being in Brisbane I was interested in the ANZAC test which Aust duly won for about the 12th(?) year in a row, but it was the top of the table clash & the Cats which really excited me. A rum & coke and flicking over to the rugby league between goals made for a great night. How about that 3rd quarter, fantastic. Geelong are the real deal, this is a great team and a great era. I’m certainly savouring these years.

  4. Just love those “Far Side” cartoons.

  5. That line about Motlop banging the two drumsticks is immense.

  6. That hyphen kid can really play. Tough and creative midfielder with a touch of class. Exhibit A – that cool 45 metre left foot snap under pressure for the first goal. Composed and articulate in the post match interview – could be a future captain.

    This was a great game. A credit to two very good teams. The best game I’ve seen from Joel Selwood – and that’s saying something.

  7. Earl O'Neill says

    What was it about that game that inspired cricket analogies?

  8. Dingo of Perth says

    I had the pleasure of both meeting John Harms and being regaled with his unique sense of humour at a Perth Cats function last year, and I see nothing has changed. Let’s hope the Cats can keep on playing the way they are for a long time yet so we can continue to enjoy his love of footy and especially the Geelong Football Club. Did you get home in time last year John to the Handicapper to continue the trend??? You know what I’m talking about…!

  9. martin king says

    Great piece – great game – and I’m a Swans fan. Sydney were playing some brand of champagne football in that amazing first quarter which Bloods fans are unaccustomed to. Obviously it didn’t end well. I don’t think Mr Longmire was best pleased! Cats very impressive – top four for sure, and i think a GF berth beckons if core players stay healthy. The fire sounds wonderful – of course in Sydney we shun such things, prefering instead to appreciate Lethal while shivering in our boardies!!
    PS – i realise Sam Reid is a project but can we really afford to indulge him until he’s 82!!

  10. Keiran Croker says

    Nice piece John. Even considering my Swans allegiance. Missing my footy here in New Orleans but loving the music. Cheers, Keiran.

  11. Pretty sure you needto be in the country come September KC. The Swans are solid again although the draw has helped them and they didn’t handle the Cats this night. Big game this weekend.

    Marty, good to hear from you. Reid will be helped by Tippett I suspect. Which in turn will help others. Imagine Mummy wandering forward for 5 minutes late in the third quarter when the thrid defender suddenly needs to be four inches taller.

  12. Stephen Cooke says

    The Mummy is dead to me

  13. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great Peice JTH love the line about Lethal Leigh re Long white beard and yes Herlo is future Captaincy Material trouble is as several People at Pembroke bemoan it should be as Aust Test captain ! Well done re Free Pizza

Leave a Comment