AFL Semi-Finals: Bulldogs fire in my first finals match

By Callum O’Connor

This year, I had expected to go to the finals. I would be there, urging on my Tigers with my uncle as they played their first final since 2001.
Well, here I am. Going to the finals? Check. To watch a big cat team with a relative? Check. Pity it’s the wrong feline.
This has been the most disappointing year for me in my eight years of barracking for the Tigers. Worse than ’03, ’04 and even ’07. The expectation and hope that was so brutally crushed (as early as Round 4 for even the most optimistic fan) was the biggest letdown yet.

I could’ve followed my Dad and barracked for a team that would give me three flags by the time I was eight and a bright future. Instead, my uncle sucked me into a seeming loop of rebuilding, hope and then disappointment. But it will turn around. Maybe. Besides, I get to have some distant relationship to Nathan Foley, which is pretty cool.

It may seem disloyal for me to have my first final seeing a different team, but better safe than sorry. Hearing the fast rate that Damien Hardwick is pushing through the delisted (ten in less than a month), I might not get another chance.

Dad and I enjoy each other’s company. We’re similar people who bond well. Tonight, the discussion seems to slide the way of the Doggies, their leg speed the key factor. Besides, it would be more romantic if the eternal bridesmaids got up.

We have to wait around outside Light Tower 3 for Dad’s friend Joey, who has the tickets. At around seven, she turns up with her brother Leo and son Ryan, who’s a year younger than me. Tonight will be the last game for Leo’s least favourite player. In our minds Tim Notting has been very serviceable. It’s not as warm in Leo’s analysis.

For some reason Joey decides to have a drink in the Haydn Bunton Bar. One hundred and fifty people crammed into a small room drinking beer so loudly that I had to yell into Dad’s ear to tell him it was boring.
The match starts with the national anthem. Normally, the roar goes up on the last note, but it started on ‘Advance’ when the camera picked out Kevin Rudd. Rudd’s animated celebrations as the Lions won against chokers Carlton were a highlight of the last quarter.

A terrible wind circulates around the stadium, making it impossible for Brisbane to kick a goal. Their one legitimate chance, as Sam Sheldon missed an open goal for what would have been a Goal of the Year contender, goes begging. Akermanis and Griffen show them how to do it.

The grimness is broken about fifteen minutes in when Mitch Clark, who could be All-Australian, can’t quite hold onto a brilliant specky. He doesn’t even land on Will Minson properly.
“Charman would’ve,” chuckled Dad when I tell him this.

“Yeah, knees, elbows, and a subtle kick when he got up…”

“Permanently angry, that bloke…”

Bulldogs by three goals at quarter-time: 4.2 to 0.6. The wind will be a big factor.

In the second quarter, Brisbane peg a couple back. We just gape as Black somehow hits Brown on the chest with a fifty metre pass as the wind should be throwing it right, left, up and down. Bradshaw and Brown are starting to really impress me. Their attack on the footy pulls down just about every mark, but their service isn’t as good. Travis Johnstone is the main offender.
“Why anyone would choose to look like Chuck Noland is beyond me,” mutters Dad as Johnstone fumbles in the back half, allowing Hahn to kick a crucial one that stems the tide.

The Lions pull back a goal in the second. It’s clear that the Bulldogs are the best team.
Brisbane supporters are the most intelligent, polite bunch of fans I’ve ever met. They’re the bankers, the shop owners and the people doing society a service. A five-year-old cub, loaded on V, becomes the eternal voice in the third quarter as Brisbane butcher the footy under magnificent pressure from the Dogs, Akermanis in particular. He’s good, he is.
Try to imagine the following words being said in a very loud, but high-pitched voice.
“BOO AKERMANIS! Punch him in the face! Miss it!”

Most of us are chuckling.

Hahn streams in and judges the wind perfectly to nail a goal. The margin is forty points. The game is over. That ‘Bulldogs (clap-clap-clap) Bulldogs’ chant is running through the seats.

“Brisbane! Brisbane!” exclaims the kid desperately.

But his power, as extensive as he thinks it might be, can’t stem the flow. Sheldon is having a shocker. Black has been beaten by Cross. Lake has done his job on Brown. The last quarter is a procession. Will Minson swings onto the right and hooks a huge goal. Interesting how they put the camera on Kevin Rudd after every goal last week. Nothing tonight.
The wind has nearly been an OHS concern tonight. At one stage, a Twisties packet is lifted out of Ryan’s hands and all in the vicinity watch as it twirls against the deep blue night sky.
Then I giggle. Here it is, a finals game, and three rows are sitting with their heads back looking at a Twisties packet that hits Justin Sherman. Sherman is having a good one. He and Power have been brave.
The kid isn’t giving in. Then again, being five, he might not be able to count, or see the scoreboard for that matter.
“Punch him in the face! I hate you Aka!”

It provides a welcome distraction for the tortured Lions fans. We all chip inwith a one-liner.
“Say it again mate, I don’t think he heard you…”

“Atta boy.”
“Take his Red Bull off him.”
“He’s still got three flags…”
The siren goes. Fifty-one points, not a fair indictment of the difference between the two sides. Notting is chaired off. Leo claps politely. He didn’t have much influence tonight, but he’s been a very serviceable player.
All the Bulldogs fans are delighted, filled with hope. It’s a pity that only one of the Saints and Doggies can make it to the Grand Final. They are the teams that most need this one. Geelong needs to win to shake the nightmare of ’08.

Collingwood? Well, to shake the disappointment of ’64,’66, ’70,’77, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’02, ’03…

It’s a long list for a Tigers fan.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. pauldaffey says

    Hi Callum,

    I enjoyed your report. I remember marvelling at Black’s performance in putting the ball on Brown’s chest in difficult conditions. They’re a remarkable pair.

    Your report has also brought home to me my luck in growing up as a young Richmond fan in the ’70s. My first final was a Richmond game, the 1972 Grand Final. I was 6. Never mind the result.

    The next year I saw Richmond beat Collingwood in the Prelim and Carlton in the Grand Final. I just thought this was the way of the world: Richmond played in finals and usually won them.

    I now realise that’s not the case.

    I hope for your sake that the Tigers can get back there soon. They’ve made some promising moves in recent months.

  2. Thanks,Paul!

  3. Michael Allan says

    Nice report Callum.

    Loo0ks like you and I are in the same boat.

    You didn’t miss out on much in 2001. Matty LLoyd kicked his 100th goal against us and that was about as excting as it got. And I was on the third deck so I didn’t even get to run out on the field!

    The next week was good when we beat Carlton and at the time I didn’t realise how signifcant it was that we had made the top 4 and only one vioctory away from the Grand Final.

    Like you I feel that this year hurt more than 07. 07 we had terrific victories over Collingwood and Essendon that I will never forget.

    This year all I will remember is the false hope that was crashed during the opener against Carlton this year.

    Hardwick’s the right man, he’ll get us back up to the top with the good kids that are coming through.

  4. So when will we see these Tigers in the top 8?? 2020 maybe??

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