Almanac Footy: Grand Finals




Grand Finals


It’s raining as I sit in my ute, near 1am, just up from home on the farm.


Jealousy is ripping through me. Two clubs in Tassie I respect, if not worship, will be full of alcohol and love for their teammates right now. For very different reasons.


Lilydale, that dot town 30 minutes north-east of Launceston, halfway to nowhere, just won everything! Seniors, reserves, in their 100th year. Blokes I played alongside when they were kids, 12 years ago, in my first flag at 43, are already immortalised in premiership podium photos, medals around their necks, lazily holding up one, or two or four fingers, or five.


Lilydale 2021 premiership team



Such a small club, so mighty. A mouse that roared and roared.


I watched them on the computer, in lockdown, while my kid played on an empty oval somewhere near Cobden in rural Victoria.


To see back flanker Bailey Hawes stroll up to the podium, unrushed, content, you can just tell he’s already won a handful. The few that are winning their first just have that bit more rush, tension. They pump their fists, carry on. Not Bailey, or half the team.


It’s not; WE DID IT! It’s; Yeah, we’re the shit…!



A carload of them phoned on the way back to the clubrooms, the dunny block of a building next to a cow paddock, under a mountain. To a one, they shouted anything they had to say. To a one every one of them answered anything I said all at the same time, then all laughed and agreed with each other. Bawdy, lifelong echoes.


I was so jealous so proud, that they should even remember me, that once upon a time we played together in flags. That I saw them grow from kids into the single most solid, ripper men.


My last year there was shit. An average year in the twos, a new senior coach, from a much higher grade. A professional man, a smart man. He didn’t want me, which was fine. They needed to evolve. To go up a level I could no longer reach.


The young blokes under him worship him. That’s plenty for me.


I love and am grateful to them all. Gee, Beau, the Venn boys, Rubin, Paddy the big Donk, silky Sonny, Knackers Lockhart, the mighty, mighty Box, my goddamn hero, Bill Tuckerman! Blokes I coached as knee-highs, or were mates from day dot.


The last grand final I shared with them, someone, around 8am Sunday, brought a sheep off eBay. We banged a jumper on it and kept drinking, burnt out, slowed down, glorious, around a lazy carpark fire, fuelled by every chair, bench, piece of panelling we had found.


Saturday nights, functions, in those clubrooms, were the best of my life. Everybody was there, the whole district. There was nothing else. We all danced. In this rough-arsed, logging and dairy country, where half of us blued at the pub, yet felt safe as family. Those rooms after Grand Finals were something special.


And it was the Sunday dawns after them that were always the best.


On this same day, today/yesterday, down south of Tassie, the most family club I have ever seen, led by two of the most family men I have ever met, lost both their semi finals.


Co-coaches Dolly and Hunt, leadership group, Jono, Jacko, Sig, Murph, Wal, Haydo, the rank and file, fringe ressies players, supporters, there was just something so honest about the Sharks, a simple fact of loyalty and respect. Jesus, it’s a good club!



Brad Jackson, Dodges Ferry, 200th game.



By now, the sting would have gone out of their losses, even though it will return tomorrow, and all summer long. By now, they will, without realising it, be celebrating them and theirs. “I luffs you mate!” and, to canteen ladies, bar staff, trainers, Bay 13 and couch-on-back-of-ute supporters, “Man, you’re so important! I luffs yas, too!”


They will be sharing something; ten months of sweat, aspiration, this thing that dominates our lives. They will be celebrating invincibility just as surely at the medal wearing Lilydale boys.


They will be celebrating each other, and being alive!


In clubrooms all over the country, pissed bastards in shouts will be turning from the bar, fingers spread holding newly poured beers, smiling like best mates to whoever is behind them before knowing who they are, because, whoever it is, odds are, they are.


I wonder if the Tassie teams know how lucky they are? With lockdowns, in rural Victoria, we’ve played about 11 or 12 games in two years. This year, the season’s on knife-edge. After playing every team once in a stop start affair, we were shut down two days before the first final. For three weeks now, we’ve been waiting to see what unfolds.


If there’s a window, a weekend, surely, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, let first play second for the flag! Third play forth for 3rd and 4th. Only the bureaucrats, the doubters, and wowsers who don’t understand our game, our competitive nature, would say otherwise.


We have given to hopes and dreams all year.


Alvie, who are so like Lilydale and Dodges Ferry, yet different, have so deservedly finished a year on top. Different, in that they no longer even have a township. Just a few houses, and a leaning footy oval under a dormant volcano by the lakes. They, literally, represent the farming plains.


A club with no money, few superstar Geelong recruits. Yet similar to the Dale and Sharks in that all bar two or three of their senior list played juniors at the club.


That, is exactly what we play footy for. A culture. Loyalty. Pride. Things you can’t buy.


They deserve a shot at South Colac, birthing club of Luke Hodge. South deserve a shot at them.


“In all fairness, in an uneven year no-one should wear the crown,” goes against everything I believe in as a footballer and man.


I’ll break my bones to beat the bloke next to me to a ball. And rather he gets it than have no game at all.


Otway, the club my heart was moulded from, had another tough year, finished bottom, but the clubrooms are still packed on Thursday nights with everybody I know. Footballers, netballers, locals, kids running between our legs, being free. We’ve signed Max Rooke as an assistant coach next year, our juniors are up-and-running again, a handful of sharp young guns from the city have signed on, looking for a country adventure. Together, as mates, money be damned.


Otway Seniors co-coach, Sean Maxwell



I’m jealous of them, too.


One of the senior coaches wants me to retire, so I can focus on bench coaching the Ones, which is flattering. He says it’s time to serve better there. He is a courageous, cluey man. A clubman. If I have his ear I can’t be all bad.


Yet the pull of season 40 is strong. Even if Covid is making harder than I’d like to reach game 700! Either way I figure I’m not going anywhere.


I communicated with Dolly from the Sharks, down south, an hour or two ago. Near midnight We talked briefly about the loss. He summed up his year by saying, heart and soul: “Mate, I was just so proud to see my boy play his first season of senior football!”


Always positive, always a family man.


Autopsies should never been done pissed, or in the heat of the moment.


It’s funny, when one day the ressies were short, and he came out of retirement to help… yet again, I got a photo taken of us after the game. Something I never, ever do. Photos should be of doing, they can take care of themselves. In it, he looked so much bigger than me. A refection of a good coach, I had always assumed, height wise, we were eye-to-eye.


In the AFL, the Doggies pipped Brisbane, and Cats walked over the Giants by about the points-worth of Toby Greene. At the moment I don’t give a damn. The bourbons keep going down.


Outside the ute, so does the rain.


I’m thinking of my mates in victory, loss and lockdown. In the morning, work on the farm can wait a few hours.


Right now, Billy Tuckerman, YOU ARE A CHAMPION!


And so are you, Bailey Hawes.
Jono Bullock, Labanca, Stewie, Hargers, Big Kev, Maxie, Zabrina so on…


Good luck to Lilydale! Dodge’s Ferry, all of Tassie. And the Otway Districts Football Netball Club.


I luffs yas all!



Read more from Old Dog HERE.




The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. 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 right now HERE



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  1. Jason Buffier says

    Loved this mate. Absolutely loved it.

    I misted up reading it to be honest. It made me jealous too. Jealous that I’m now too old to compete, upset that another lockdown has robbed me of being part of community footy and reflective of how big a part this stuff plays in our lives.

    I’m in regional NSW and our local footy comps (league & union) mean nothing to anyone outside the district, but everything to those close to it.

    Tragically, two all-time legends from different clubs in our local comp passed away in the last few weeks. Both should have had funerals that rivalled the biggest seen in Newcastle and Maitland. Instead they were limited to 10 attendees with a memorial promised and a future undetermined date. I weep.

  2. LOVE the passion,Old dog bought back some memories and yes jealousy ( when I stopped playing and went back to umpiring I boundary umpired a gf and I admit I was extremely jealous as that was the team I could have played in that season won by a point )

  3. Beautiful. Thank you Matt, and congrats to Lilydale (I swear it’s NE of Launceston but never mind).
    I’ve only been to four or five games this year but I have had my eyes, ears, (and nose even) wide open to not miss a thing, because I know how lucky we are.

  4. Thanks fellas! Jason, yeah that’s heartache! You might enjoy reading this, mate…

  5. Chris, yeah, it was well past midnight and several bourbons in when i wrote this. Don’t know how that happened? The S and N keys aren’t even ear each other!

  6. Nice stuff, old dog

  7. The loss of the season cuts deep, Old Dog. I have everything crossed the country leagues will get a final crack!

    As always, I love that your words jump off the page like they’ve come tumbling, bursting, striding out of a pack.


  8. Love it, Old Dog. I read this by the flooded river.
    On the same afternoon I learn that the 30th anniversary of my last premiership just ticked over.

    So I thought of bringing together old premiership photos from all around.
    Time and place.

    Link is here:

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Superb piece that highlights everything good about country footy and community sport.

    Go for game 700, I’m sure a man of your talent has many, many years of bench coaching ahead. You’re a long time retired.

    The one time Alvie played South Colac this year was as good as football you’d see anywhere. I hope they get a conclusion to the season.

    M.Rooke a huge get for Otway!

  10. Great work Matt, it’s being so bad on local sport especially football. No games in 2020, on/off in 2021 for no result.

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