Bombers Lift to the Hallelujah Chorus

How much warm inner glow can a person stand. The kids, a whole mob of them from across four families, have just returned from hunting Easter eggs. It’s a pagan pleasure that manages to retain an element of celebration. They’re all buzzing with an excitement that belies three holiday late nights that have left them ragged round the edges. Wait till the chocolate kicks in.

Outside the window the Victorian high country spreads majestically before me, reminding me of a spiritual element to life that more often passes me by. My mother on the other hand, a believer in God and Collingwood, will be preparing for church. Jesus is risen. And to top it all off, Essendon beat Carlton. Hallelujah. Let holy choruses sing to the heavens. Four points. You bloody ripper.

Rewind. I’m watching the clock. The omens have been good—four gang-gangs on the ridge, their black bodies and red heads bobbing as they gleaned goodness from hard gum-nuts.

We talk football over dinner. Among the grown-ups are a bevy of Hawthorn supporters, another of Geelong, a Sainter, a Demon and two Pies, one of whom proffers an opinion—Anthony Rocca’s superiority to Matthew Lloyd. Maybe he’s just trying to reinforce the black and white stereotype. Still Lloyd’s 2009 on-field contribution has been modest. I try not to take the bait but it’s futile. “Anthony Rocca,” I tell him, “isn’t Matthew Lloyd’s bootlace.” I know I’ll live to regret it if the full-forward has another goalless game. Sometimes, I tell myself, you have to take risks in football.

Dinner is Indian, a banquet of curries with sticky sweet ice cream to finish us all off. When conversation turns to hippy trails and travel misadventures I take my leave. Moments later I am back up from the underground bunker that houses beaten up pool, soccer and ping pong tables and an equally squalid TV. Half a dozen ankle biters are watching Myth Busters. My plans for the evening are in tatters.

For the next forty minutes I’m up and down from the games room at regular intervals, forcing the kids to flip channels for long enough to update scores. Quarter time we’re twenty down. Twenty seven early in the second and now Steve Martin is butchering Inspector Clousseau. The kids think it’s hilarious. They’re in for the long haul.

I trudge upstairs and grumble something about bloody kids and bloody Carlton and bloody Steve Martin. I make a complete sook out of myself because Linda, who’s a Cat supporter, instructs me in the use of my mobile phone’s secret powers. I flip through a series of menus, select a couple of options and, moments later, a text message arrives. It says it’s half-time and the Bombers are up. An ‘unlikely 3 point lead’ it says. Since when do text messages editorialise?

Half way through the third quarter the credits finally roll on the Pink Panther and I jump through the window of opportunity, scattering kids in all directions. Bombers down by nearly three goals. Then the game transforms. Lloyd takes a big pack mark and goals. He’s in the action again moments later and goals from a free. There’s a fracas and Alwyn Davey goes down. He slots the resulting free kick and the Dons are up—an unlikely lead perhaps, everything has turned around in the space of a couple of dramatic minutes.

The last quarter is scintillating football. The Bombers youngsters have been set big tasks by their coach and they stick to them. Daniher works hard on the wayward Fevola. Zaharakis chases everything. The mid-level players step up. Jobe Watson is cool in tight, finding options where none seem to exist. Angus Monfries presents again and again.

And old hands come to the fore. Fletcher twice pinpoints Monfries with 50 metre passes from defence. On both occasions the smaller man leads his opponent to the ball by just two short paces. It says that the Bombers are prepared to back themselves.

This sort of clearance is, I suspect, why Knights is playing Fletcher out from full back. It turns defence into attack in an instant. Fletcher’s long and accurate clearances are an untapped attacking weapon.

David Hille is tireless and becomes more dominant as the gripping last quarter progresses. He nearly seals the game with a shot from outside 50 that grazes the inside of the post. But it’s another veteran who really inspires the team. The maligned full-forward kicks five and takes a series of big contested grabs. He finishes the game with just a handful left to top 900 goals. Collingwood can have Anthony Rocca.

It remains anyone’s game right to the end. A desperate Paddy Ryder tackle stymies Carlton‘s last forward foray. When the siren sounds Lloyd has the ball. I pump the air for no-one’s pleasure but my own. It’s a win for the next generation—a great time to be a supporter, until next week at least.

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