Budgerigars and partial rainbows

By John Burke

It’s a chilly July day and I’m heading down to Kardinia Park (or Petrol Park as a wag mate calls it, harking back a ground sponsor or two) to see my beloved Cats for the first time at home this year.

I’ve been away in warmer climes for a couple of months, but the opportunity to see the young talent of Geelong and the Power attracts me, irrespective of the weather. I’m also interested to see if reports of the ‘inevitable’ demise of Geelong as an almost unbeatable football power are premature.

As I drive through some heavy showers between Little River and Lara a musical connection comes to mind. One had a band and the other a theme. Did the towns ever put on a joint concert?

A few minutes later a large sign comes into view, advising that the National Budgerigar Championship is, or was, in Geelong. I wonder idly how a city so renowned for its love of the Cat has secured an event glorifying small birds. It would be interesting to know if anyone managed to smuggle a beloved pet into the competition; also what strategy might have been adopted to achieve this?

Down at the ‘Stadium’ the sky is grey and the temperature low. After some light refreshment my mate Craig and I take up position on the Latrobe Terrace side of the ground. We choose to sit in the drizzle rather than stand under cover. Our knees and spines sigh (shiver?) in relief – we’re not as young as we used to be, or at least I’m not.

Waiting for the bounce I note the enormous gap at the River end, where the Hickey/Wade stand has been demolished. Those fantastic trees where many a young Geelong lad used to perch to watch the Cats for free have reappeared after thirty years. They’re a welcome sight for an old Cats fan on an otherwise bleak day.

As the match gets under way you can’t help noticing that Port have a few players out, namely their entire leadership group. If they can get anywhere near the Cats on a wet day like this at the Cattery it will be a mighty achievement. Can their kids and remaining experienced players stand up?

Early on things go more or less as expected. The Cats do better at the clearances with Kelly and Bartel gathering the ball at will. It isn’t long before a kick from Hawkins floats to Taylor who marks at centre half forward after a bit of a juggle. He wisely decides not to play on and kicks truly from 45 metres. The Cats are away. Cornes gets one from a clever snap against the flow of play, but then Duncan goals from a free after Bartel milks an ‘out on the full’ decision on the wing.

A little later the Cats get their third when Brad Ebert makes a terrible hash of trying to knock a dangerous ball through only to succeed in deflecting it to the goal line where Smedts manages to pick it up and goal from about one centimetre out. In his excitement he almost slips over but gets the job done, just. This could turn ugly for Port.

Then a change comes over the game. All of a sudden the Cats can’t buy a clean possession. The Power are getting on top in the ruck and their onballers, particularly old hands in Cornes, Rodan and Pearce, begin to reap the rewards. They seem to be running and spreading better than Geelong. Their ball handling seems more certain. They finally get just reward when Westhoff easily pushes Mackie aside to mark and goal from a few metres out.

Ever the optimist, Bartel has a kick at goal from about 90 metres after the quarter time siren. As expected he didn’t make the distance, but it was good to see an old fashioned Blighty barrel being attempted.

The second quarter is probably best forgotten. Almost all the play is at the Geelong end but they find all sorts of ways of missing very gettable goals, mainly from set shots. Eventually Selwood kicks a couple and Hawkins gets one from close in after a good pass from Duncan. Port are goalless for the quarter and the omens aren’t good.

Things look worse for Port in the third when Enright and Horlin-Smith goal for the Cats, but the Power regroup and some defensive errors by Geelong are punished by goals from Lobbe (push in the back from West right in front of the umpire), Wingard and Brett Ebert who has been unsighted, but manages to get on the end of a good pass from Butcher. The Cats are only three goals up and it’s anybody’s game. Johnson and Westhoff get a couple of late ones, but it’s definitely been Port’s quarter and Chris Scott can’t be happy.

Partial rainbows have appeared and disappeared through the afternoon with the sun making feeble attempts to reveal itself. In a way this reflects the game, with both sides looking good for a while only to fall away again. Can either side create a full rainbow and win? We’ll see.

Final quarter. Young and Stokes are on for Brett Ebert and Taylor Hunt, the latter probably earmarked to stand near G. Ablett next week. Stokes has immediate impact and is bobbing up everywhere in the Geelong midfield and forward line.

As things loosen up Motlop and Taylor (twice) goal to put the game beyond Port’s reach. Much to the displeasure of the Geelong crowd a free is given against Scarlett for a hand in the back to Lobbe, who goals from thirty. Pfeiffer gets another after a good tackle on an unsuspecting Horlin-Smith in the pocket. But it’s too little too late and the Cats finish with two more from the unlikely boot of Lonergan (mark at the top of the square) and Hawkins, who finally nails a set shot after the siren. It’s the Cats by 38 which is probably a fair result on a wet chilly day, partial rainbows aside.

The kids on both sides have performed well. Murdoch’s dashes from half back for Geelong were eye-catching and he appears to have a thumping left foot. Christensen and Smedts were creative all day and Duncan continues to improve.

For Port, Moore and Jonas looked good and while Butcher wasn’t helped by poor delivery into the forward line he has class written all over him, as well as an impressive beard. Another bearded player, McCarthy, got a lot of the ball but really needs to work on his kicking. He’ll probably get more chances to do so at Port than he ever would have at Collingwood.

The result was probably acceptable for a very undermanned Port Adelaide though Matty Primus most likely considers all losses to be unacceptable, no matter what. For Geelong it was a workman-like sort of win in slippery conditions. The Cats do appear to be a side in transition but seem to be managing reasonably well with their policy of rotating senior players in and out while giving six or seven youngsters a game each week. Underestimate them at your peril.

The difficulty of adapting in a changing environment was perhaps revealed two or three times during the game when Joel Selwood won a hard contested ball and broke free in the midfield, only to find he had no one to kick to. A year or two back he would have had Ling, Chapman, Johnson, Milburn or perhaps Ottens making position in a dangerous spot a kick and a half out from goal with maybe Stokes or Wocjinski running past.

With Johnson playing upfield and the others not around Selwood held on to the ball for too long and eventually grubbed his kicks to nowhere in particular. Each time the ball was swept away easily by Port defenders. The new Cats need to learn where to stand and where to head to at critical times. This will surely come with experience.

After the game as I thought further about the budgerigar championship being in Geelong the penny dropped. Geelong Cats aren’t at all interested in budgies. They prefer to dine on larger birds of the predatory, scavenging or gliding variety. They will have opportunities to do this over the coming weeks. Will they succeed? Time will tell.

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