AFL Round 5 – Hawthorn v North Melbourne: Is This How Footy Should Be?

It is Saturday morning at 9, and I am standing between the goalposts at an oval half-way across the city. I have on a tight-fitting white wind-breaker, and am bearing two white flags. Time relentlessly pushes boys up through the age-groups, year after year; the number of parents watching their sons seems to steadily decrease. It’s only Under-18s, but many of the players have either driven or car-pooled from Williamstown to Kew. But here I am masquerading as a goal umpire, having volunteered prior to the first bounce.

I would love to be able to say that my son’s team won, and that he played well. But the truth is that his team gets pummelled by 153 points; their well-drilled opponents are far too polished. All I can take away from the match is a suspicion that I have contracted RSI in my shoulders from waving the flags so often. The journey home is a silent and sombre one. Try as they might, even the Coodabeens can’t even provide solace. I keep asking myself: is this how footy should be? Should a group of 16 and 17 year-olds be subjected to this type of cruel defeat?

It is Sunday afternoon at 2, and I am standing between the goalposts at a school oval not too far from my home. Today there are more parents about: after all, this is the Under-15s, and the breaking of sport-watching bonds has not yet begun in earnest. I am wearing an ill-fitting long white jacket but am a little better prepared, because the team-manager’s email had nominated me for the gig earlier in the week. All too soon it is apparent that my youngest son Luke’s team is in for a long day: they are 45 points down at the first break. The match follows a predictable – and for me, strangely familiar – course. The final margin is a massive 160 points. It has almost been unbearable to watch. After the match, whilst I self-massage my aching shoulders, there is enough time on the brief ride home for Luke to come to the sad realisation that 2013 will be a long season. For the second time this weekend I ask myself: is this how footy should be?

It is Sunday afternoon at 4:40. I am a little more relaxed now – perched on a stool in the bar of the Stag’s Head Hotel, Foxtel on three screens, fire blazing, and not a goal-umpire’s flag to be seen. The memories of last year’s Launceston fiasco, in which Buddy booted thirteen, are fresh. Happily, North Melbourne look to be up for a scrap today and seem intent on not being monstered again by the Hawks. But a couple of late lapses allow Hawthorn to get red-time goals, and the quarter-time buffer is 11 points. That same story is played out over the next two quarters: North scrapping for every possession, but wasting opportunities, then watching as Hawthorn rebound from defence to goal all too easily. The positives are that Scott Thompson is frustrating the hell out of Buddy, Lindsay Thomas is kicking straight, Swallow and Ziebell are dominating the clearances and everything Wells is doing looks effortless. The negatives for North are that Cyril Rioli is putting on a masterclass, and Drew Petrie’s underwhelming start to the season is continuing. But at three-quarter time, with a week-end of one-sided junior footy behind me and a couple of pots inside me, I am starting to believe that North can win this. Do North have that same belief?

All the cards fall the way of the Kangaroos in the final term: Majak Daw is subbed off for the more mobile Liam Anthony, Rioli pings a hammy, and the umpires are benevolent. But still North are unable to seal the deal. Sam Wright has the opportunity to ice the game but misses; Jack Ziebell blazes away rather than centring the ball; Hawthorn continue to be more efficient when going inside 50. These moments only serve to bring into sharp focus the differences between the good teams and the average.

The siren sounds with the Roos, 3 points down, surging forward. It is an even more shattering defeat than the two games in which my sons have played – and their teams were beaten by a combined 52 goals! North has made a lie of all the KPIs, and proves that the only indicator which really counts is age old: the scoreboard.

It is Sunday night at 8. I am at home on the red wine now, attempting to drown the disappointment of North’s loss. And there yet again is that gnawing question: is this how footy should be?

HAWTHORN: 5.4 8.8 11.11 14.15 (99)

NORTH MELBOURNE: 3.5 7.9 9.15 13.18 (96)


Hawthorn: Rioli 4, Bailey 3, Hill, Smith, Gunston, Roughead, Osborne, Burgoyne, Mitchell

North Melbourne: Thomas 5, Black 2, Mullett, Petrie, Wells, Gibson, Ziebell, Adams


Hawthorn: Rioli, Lewis, Mitchell, Lake, Burgoyne

North Melbourne: Thompson, Swallow, Wells, Ziebell, Thomas

CROWD: 42,103      UMPIRES: Stevis, Farmer, H Ryan

OUR VOTES: Rioli (H) 3, Swallow (N) 2, Wells (N) 1.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

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