AFL Round 7: Paddy Ryder has legs like springs

by Richard Holt

Paddy Ryder has legs like springs. He’s one of those rare players who doesn’t so much climb opponents shoulders when he takes a screamer as land on them. From the time he leaves the ground, to when he returns, ball in hand, somewhere in the world someone has taken their first breath and someone else their last. Twenty-five minute mark, first quarter, Paddy takes a classic floater—seems like he’s flying. The signs are good.

I’m in standing room behind the Hawks’ cheer-squad. It’s not my normal spot but the Dome is packed to its substantial rafters and I’ve just bumped into some old friends. Anno, Helen and Rocky are Hawthorn through and through, products of a defunct Catholic girls school a few punts from Glenferrie Rd. Rocky’s sister Rachel is there too. I haven’t seen her for ages.

I’ve come prepared to cop some flak tonight so it might as well be friendly fire. Rache is up for a chat with a fair bit of ribbing thrown in. She reckons she’s worried. But she doesn’t look it. It’s cocky-worried.

The reality is that with Fletcher down the Hawks are unbackable favourites. It’s universally accepted that their power forwards will fire up at some stage. The Dons have thrown teenagers at them because Ryder’s needed in the ruck. It’s all set up for a mauling.

I’ve got one eye on the game as Rachel and I try and work out what we’ve both been up to for the past decade. That’s when Ryder livens things up and that rational part of my brain, the sombre cortex, starts considering unlikely things.

It’s not getting ahead of itself (can a brain get ahead?). It’s more an incremental thing. Ten points up at quarter time and I’m telling myself we can win the half. The Bombers have been cleaner, faster and more determined. But the Hawks still look ominous. When they find space they’re irrepressible. Essendon gives them as little as possible. Rioli doesn’t need much. He stakes his claim for goal of the year. Franklin bangs one long and logic returns—Hawthorn grabs the lead. But it hasn’t been easy. They’re like a prize fighter who can’t find the room to use their reach. With Hodge looking proppy, they’ve been forced to play on Essendon’s terms. They win the half by just one point.

Soon after the restart Lloyd takes a great grab and feeds it to Lonergan for a goal. If you were to tell me, at this point, that that would be the last lead change I’d say you were nuts. But two minutes later Hocking bounces another major through. Rachel’s starting to go quiet and the Bombers are finding voice. Maybe. Just maybe.

Monfries, who’s running Hodge ragged pops up for a screamer of his own. His centring kick finds the captain for his ninth mark. When Neagle and Stanton goal within a minute of each other the margin is nearly three goals. The Hawks get one back before Bellchambers adds his name to the highlights reel with a pack grab against four Hawks and a coolly slotted goal. It’s seventeen points at three-quarter time. I’m allowing myself a little excitement.

The last quarter belongs to the young Dons. Franklin‘s fifth at the four minute mark is the premier’s last hurrah. By siren time it’s 44 points the Bombers’ way and the girls from Glenferrie have slunk home.

Sometimes football is miraculous. Recent tight wins in the final seconds against Carlton and Collingwood felt like that. Sometimes it’s like death—a siren blast could have lowered the curtain on either of those memorable games. Today is different. Sometimes football is all the good stuff—it’s life, bursting out exuberantly. That’s what tonight’s win feels like.

At Spencer Street Connex have a trick up their sleave. The only thing special about the football special is that once it’s full it just sits at the platform for twenty minutes then makes the slowest trip possible through Flinders Street to Richmond. This gives ample opportunity for conversation to fire up.

There’s the usual mix of families and oldies and cocky teenagers all decked in black and red or brown and gold. For the victors a realisation seems to have set in. These are the reigning premiers. No point giving them shit. To really rub it in there’s nothing like reasoned discussion. Every rational argument cuts like a knife. The Hawks supporters are obliged to be magnanimous. Every nod of acknowledgement turns the screw. Poor bastards. “Yes, yes. Your young bloke (that’d be Tayte Pears) sure kept Roughy honest.” (towelled him up, let’s face it). Ouch. It’s a glorious night.

I catch the start of the replay on pay TV. Twenty five in Paddy Ryder soars. Beautiful.

Essendon  4.2  6.7  12.10  17.14 (116)
Hawthorn  1.8  6.8  9.11  10.12 (72)
Lloyd 3, Lovett-Murray 3, Monfries 2, Neagle 2, Zaharakis 2, Lonergan, Hocking, Stanton, Bellchambers, Lovett
Hawthorn: Franklin 5, Roughead 2, Dew, Williams, Rioli
Stanton, Monfries, Lloyd, Davey, Winderlich, Pears, Lovett-Murray, Watson

Rioli, Birchall, Lewis, FranklinINJURIES
Lovett-Murray (corked thigh)

Bateman (calf)

Reports: Nil


Umpires: Vozzo, Grun, Chamberlain.
Official crowd: 50,475 at Docklands

OUR VOTES: Stanton 3 Monfries 2 Winderlich 1

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