Almanac Footy and Life (and Lunches): Engaging the Cats




Footy is curious. And getting curiouser. A team ties itself in knots one week then burns like a phosphorous flame the next.


Friday I was at the North Fitzroy Arms Hotel in Melbourne’s eclectic inner city north. It’s a wonderful little wedge of Melbourne where the good folks take themselves a tad too seriously and furiously dress down. Designer op-shop if you like.


Ron Reed was speaking at the lunch and telling the audience about his new book War Games, which is described as a father and son memoir of war and sport. He spoke beautifully, concentrating on his father’s remarkable survival in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped on Japan at the close of the second world war. He also spoke fondly of the incredible story he unearthed in 1994 that involved Alex Jesaulenko. I won’t ruin that story here. You’ll need to read the book.


I had a big Saturday night coming so I was determined not to stick around too long after lunch and consume a ridiculous amount of Carlton Draught. My plan was thwarted. My wife suggests I’m easily led. She’s right. But with sparkling conversation with old mates Flynny and MOC and Smoke (who wisely did leave earlier) and one of those impromptu gatherings with Ron himself and his son and the very witty and entertaining Julie, meant I was still there at 7.30pm (I think?). A multitude of “one mores” morphed into a cartload of one mores (I think the collective noun for one mores is a “laugh”) and before I knew it lunch had passed into dinner. At some point I managed to muster up the commonsense to grab an Uber home. I flowed through the front door.


The next morning. Eyes open. Hint of headache. The aura of Carlton Draught was all around, floating on my breath, in my clothes, and sticking to the roof of my mouth. It was like those mornings in the 1980s when you awoke after a big night at a pub in a cloud of passive Marlborough smoke. But I’d survived the night. I wasn’t feeling hellish.


Saturday was going to be a big day. I was to play a key role in the transportational sector of the venture dubbed “Operation Get Ready”; a military-like undertaking that was organized to prepare the function centre for our oldest daughter Clare’s engagement party. (Coincidently the engagement party was being held in a venue about six doors up from the North Fitzroy Arms. If I had the keys last night I could have slept in there and saved an Uber fare!). I have a Ford Territory. Put the back seats down in one of those and it can fit in more dense matter than a black hole in space. So I was given a few things to take across to North Fitzroy – ten boxes of drinking glasses, champagne tubs, 15 bags of ice, platters, small dip bowls, ironed table cloths (don’t let them crease!!) and other stuff that I was told was really important.


But before all that it was to the footy to watch Clare play for Marcellin against Xavier. I was meeting Fish and Sally there – the parents of Clare’s partner Libby who also plays for Marcellin. It would be good to see them again as a few months had drifted past since we last had a dinner together. The girls had a good win, both played well. Libby’s highlight a delightful left foot snap goal out of congestion, Clare’s a ripper one-grab pack mark at centre half forward. I heard the leather slap into her hands.


“Nice grab” a few spectators muttered.


We left the footy as the girls were singing the club song. It was ringing in my ears as I started the Ford. The sound of victory. The day had started well.


Fish and I worked feverishly all afternoon. So hard that we worked up a sweat. Fish, like me, is a Cats supporter. We had the radio on in our respective cars as the Cats took on the ominous looking West Coast. The Eagles started well as we drove off in different directions; he to pick up tables, me to reload with more really important other stuff. When we reconvened the second quarter had just finished. The Cats had reeled off 10 goals to one point.




Mitch Duncan received a free kick 50 metres out. Siren. Can he kick it?  He goes the barrel. It twirls through the air and covers the journey. There is something utterly beautiful about a torp. Its poetic. Like all the laws of physics in perfect harmony. The commentators go nuts. Its our day. The Eagles fluff about and look sad, like a kid left alone in a playground. Kardinia Park holds no good memories for them since 2006. Except for Tim Kelly who should still be playing there. I miss him.


“Beer?” asked Fish about 4pm.


Reaching into an esky he pulled out a stubby of my old foe Carlton Draught. We greeted each other fondly.


At 6pm the engagement party was up and going. The room filled with laughter like a Shiraz glass filling with Grange. The atmosphere was light and airy and happy. It was such a joy, especially after 2020 which produced so little of those things. Engagement parties are rather touching as we, the invitees, watch two people embrace each other and thereby embrace life. It’s especially touching when one of those involved is your own child. I know they will have such an adventure together. It won’t all be fun. In fact a lot of it will be a hard slog. But they’ve decided to give it a crack and that’s just so magnificent. There is much dancing and drinking (yes more beer!) as the two broader families meet each other and hit it off beautifully. Good folk running into good folk. One of Libby’s brothers, Archie, has promised to get me into the waves with him at Ocean Grove one morning. He’s young and fit. I give him a bravado filled “no worries” as we enjoy a can together.


Its one of those nights that you don’t want to end. Everyone is happy. EVERYONE. Nanna (who’s 88) gets up to dance. Grandma (age undisclosed) darts around the room finding out everything about everyone. She’s a genius at that. By 10pm she’ll have all the facts.  Young people dance too. The dance of youth and exuberance that makes me jealous. I stand with a few old mates and just soak up their company again after a year of little or no contact. The walls are bursting with good cheer.


When the night ends we pile into an Uber and head home. Weary but drunk on life. Kate and I sit in the very back seats of the people mover car.


“I’ve got some very good news for you” I say to Kate.


“What Dad?”


“Cats won today.”


“I know Dad.”


She’s dozing on my shoulder in seconds.




For more from Dips, click HERE.






The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE



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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Nice one, Dips!

    Sounds like a great couple of days.

  2. Like your Friday I enjoyed the first half of the story but the denouement was painful. You are welcome to Tim Kelly back – he is a fine footballer but was flattered by being fourth banana to Dangerfield, Duncan & Selwood. The Eagles thought they needed a Porsche when they needed to be putting $ in the superannuation account. The draft picks we gave up would be handy now.
    Eagles have multiple soft tissue issues to stars in their 30’s. Who knew?
    I’d pay to Zoom in the Almanac lunch speakers. All the fun without the hangovers. Cheers.

  3. Alas, Williamstown is a long way from the North Fitzroy Arms via public transport, which is one reason why I make an early exit. A 6am Saturday work start was not ideal either.
    Great to catch up with you old muckers, and best wishes to Clare and Libby. May their union be joyous.

  4. John Butler says

    Congrats to Claire and Libby, Dips. All the very best to them.

    Carlton Draught. A distinctly proletarian choice, comrade.

    I’m hoping circumstances will allow me to get to one of these lunches soon. Does MC Smokie wear a bowtie? Just for me?


  5. Cheers lads. Thanks for the comments. And the congratulations to Clare and Libby.

    PB – we’ll have T Kelly back whenever you’re sick of him.
    JB – I reckon Lord Fauntleroy would have drunk Carlton Draught.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Dips, lovely you could all get together to celebrate. Congratulations to Clare & Libby for their future together, and for their football careers.

    I couldn’t get to the NFA on Friday but can’t wait to get there for a lunch soon and join you for a few “one mores”.

  7. Daryl Schramm says

    Sounds like it’s all happening Damien. 2 great days for you and yours and a very nice read. I’d support PB’s idea of zooming the luncheon proceedings.

  8. Thanks Luke – hope to see you over a pot soon.

    Cheers Daryl – It was a big weekend!

  9. E.regnans says

    Love it, Dips. I recognise and celebrate the skill of people who bring people together.

    Terrific description around the issue of “very important things.”

    Congratulations and best wishes to Clare and Libby.

  10. Thanks ER. Good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

    People coming together was sadly missed last year!

  11. ‘But they’ve decided to give it a crack and that’s just so magnificent.’

    Dips, this is a bloody great sentence.

    It says a lot about Claire and Libby, you and Kate, Fish and Sally.

    Congratulations to both families.

  12. Cheers RTB. Appreciate the good thoughts.

  13. Dips- I love pushing open the front door of the NFA at noon on the Friday of an Almanac lunch and hope to do this soon. Congratulations to all. Isn’t it great when families get bigger?

  14. Its a great door to push Mickey!

  15. Ripper. Congrats to Clare and Libby.

    (Also, obvious solution is to rent a room upstairs. Failing that, set up camp under the gum tree on the roundabout)).

  16. Gee that tree looked inviting when I waltzed past at about ??? o’ clock.

    It was a good night.

  17. Enjoyable read Dips Congrats to Clare and Libby

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