AFL Round 7 – GWS v Port Adelaide: The Ballad of Phil Davis’ Moustache

by Sean Lawson and Cody Atkinson


Footy in Canberra is a strange beast. It’s been part of the landscape for a hundred years but never exclusively. Our position is assumed by outsiders to be north of the Barassi Line, described as “Rugby” territory by people who can’t tell the difference between what our Brumbies and our Raiders play. The truth is Canberra is a “mixed city”, attending both forms of rugby and Australian Football games in high proportions (there’s ABS statistics to prove this). But of course, Canberra has no AFL team.

Canberra’s AFL experience to date has been one akin to speed dating; cycling through lot of potential suitors without finding a good match.

There was a game for premiership points at Bruce Stadium in 1995, between the Eagles and ’Roys. Preparations for the Sydney Olympics, however, prevented this from becoming a regular occurrence, and Bruce became a rectangular stadium.

The Kangaroos began their flirtation and introduced Manuka Oval to the AFL mix, a beautiful boutique oval near heart of the capital. They seemed taken with our potential, playing 18 games over a decade. Eventually, though, they decided it was “us” and not “them”, and looked to the Gold Coast for more money, which didn’t end well either, and they ended up at some place called “North Melbourne”.

The ACT was left to pursue one-day stands, but none really fit right. The Bulldogs and Demons sold home games against Sydney in the hope of dragging Swans fans down the Hume. Canberra was left desperate and dateless in a time of national expansion.

When the AFL’s powers decided new teams would be placed in Gold Coast and Western Sydney respectively, a deal was quickly reached for 3 games a year to be played in Canberra by the Giants. Canberra had a team again.

Sort of.

Waking up on Saturday morning under several layers of bedding, hearing the rain outside and seeing that the weather won’t get above 7 degrees, it’s easy to see the arguments against a team here. How bad would the crowd be today? Manuka’s worst? Worse than anything the Swans ever drew? The worst since Fitzroy got just 5k? Even the worst since the Bears scratched together 3k back at Carrara?

The weather really wasn’t pleasant.

At the ground, under the shelter of the Bob Hawke Stand, rugged up in layers and scarves and gloves, our conversations wander across topics like crowds and the game’s future in Canberra. While sitting in the Hawke you cannot help but look out across the beautiful ground towards the old Jack Fingleton scoreboard, originally from the MCG. It’s not hard to imagine bigger grandstands, more shelter. Just imagine night games in July, a team for whom the ferocious (but usually crisp and dry) cold would be a genuine home advantage. Imagine the Canberra Senators, the Canberra Cyclones, the Canberra Wolves.

The game before us reasserts itself over such flights of fancy. After various flirtations from other teams, after all, Canberra seems to be expected to settle for this orange team and its occasional visits. It’s not all bad – their first win was at Manuka and was most definitely fun. The Giants are an entertaining team with characters like Devon “the Devonstator” Smith, Jeremy “Punch-On” Cameron, Tim “The Samurai” Mohr, Tom “Moneybags” Scully and Rhys “the Rhys Palmer Experience” Palmer. It’s great to have footy, but this team will probably never really be ours.

A match between the ladder leaders and the flotsam is never expected to be a fair fight. To their credit, the Giants are gallant early. GWS have emerged as one of the better wet weather teams in the competition, with good wins over Sydney and Melbourne in the slop.

Port Adelaide, however, are just flat-out good. It takes them a while to get going today, but when they do you can’t help but watch with your jaw hanging well below your head. GWS eventually falter and the better team takes over. The result seems decided early but the game is still entertaining and of surprising quality. Once Port Adelaide adjusts to the wet conditions they pile it on with metronomic regularity, exactly five goals three each quarter. The Giants exhibit the opposite approach; fits and bursts, stalls and starts.

Cameron ends up in defence for some reason. Schulz convinces us to chuck a tenner on him for the Coleman. The Giants may well have the best individual performance on the day in Callan Ward. Port win the battles across the rest of the ground, other than Ward, Giles and Haynes in defence, and maybe whoever kept Wingard subdued. “Canberra’s team” go down pretty easily and Port Adelaide claim something called the “Transfield Services Shield”.

Some say Shane Mumford wasn’t sighted at Manuka, however we can exclusively reveal that he was sitting in the Hawke, tucking into what may have been a hot dog and a Coke, putting in an MVP performance (Most Valuable Patron). Canberra’s own Phil Davis also turned up, gloriously moustachioed, which is a great sign for his recovery. The Giants could have used both out on the field.

The crowd turns out to be 6,549. Low but not catastrophic – merely Manuka’s worst ever AFL crowd. In the biting cold and wind, the crowd has thinned out to maybe half the official figure by the time it’s announced. Even at the ground it was clear that it would be a topic for the talking heads during the week, a fate perhaps only averted by Jack Viney’s excellent bump against Adelaide.

However, in these conditions, maybe it’s something to build on. At the very least we now know the bedrock figure for footy support in Canberra. If 6,549 of us rocked up in that weather, surely we’ll go to anything. Let better minds than ours work out if that’s good enough for the Canberra Senators.

Our votes: 3 Callum Ward (GWS); 2 Robbie Gray (PA) 1 Jay Schulz (PA)



  1. Peter_B says

    Good report lads. Maintain the rage.
    I was at the ’95 Eagles v Fitzroy game at Bruce Stadium before it became the Raiders home (they used to play in Queanbeyan from memory).
    They had some players like Chris Johnson and Martin Pike who became fixtures in the Brisbane Lions premierships. Also Matthew Primus became a pretty handy ruckman at Port.
    I barracked for the Roys that day as it was 2 more years before I moved to Perth.
    I remember stories of ACTAFL games where it snowed, so you had it pretty easy on Saturday.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Canberra and Hobart have clearly drawn the short straw in the national expansion. I’m sure there would be far more support in both cities for a team of their own rather than part time teams who are there for the cash and a few extra membership numbers. Hopefully one day the Canberra Senators will arise!

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