Bullying the Bullies: Geelong vs. Hawthorn

I’ve lived in more than a dozen different suburbs on the south side of Melbourne and caught the train to the footy from all of them, but had never experienced a Geelong Hawthorn game travelling on the Glen Waverley line.  It is like the reverse of Geelong station at midday on a Saturday with the Cats playing a day game at the ‘G.

And don’t they look upon Geelong supporters with disdain?

After my arduous journey on the Hawk infested train I meet Dave in the Bunton Room. He extends his hand and places a pot in mine. Nice. I feel I’ve earned it after the trauma of travel. But we don’t talk footy.  We’re discussing the Boston Red Sox and their season opener against archrival, the New York Yankees. The game was underway when it was time to leave for this Easter Monday clash. Josh Beckett was on the mound and the Sox were being trounced by the reigning World Series Champions.

There are similarities that can be drawn between the Red Sox and Geelong. Both had been dominant in eras long gone before enduring years of heartbreaking, soul-destroying losses at the pointy end of the season. When the respective droughts were finally broken (the Red Sox in 2004 and Geelong in 2007) the beasts had been woken and were hungry for more.  Both claimed a further title within the next three years. Both felt there was more to come. But early on it’s the Yankees – who’ve caused the Red Sox all sorts of pain over the years – who make all the running.  The Yankees are to the Red Sox what Hawthorn are to Geelong. Bullies.

The Hawks got our 08 silverware and they know it. They beat us in the finals of 1991 and 2000. Kept us out of 2002 and of course, as no supporter will ever forget, pipped us in 89’. And don’t even get me started about how they kept Aaron Lord for his most productive years then returned him to us like a carton of milk past its used by. Yet we’re treated like we stole from them. How does that work?

Now I’ll be honest, there are phone numbers of Hawthorn supporting friends of mine stored in my Nokia that haven’t been dialed in 20 months. I may also have let a job slip in the days after the 08’ debacle because the ex-workmates who were doing the hiring were Hawthorn supporters. It sounds odd and even a little childish, but at that stage I’d have preferred to have lived in a shopping trolley and cleaned windshields at the intersection of Swan St and Punt Rd before being forced to recall the disaster of that day over and over.

But I figured we’d turned the corner after our stirring wins against the Hawks in 2009 (remember Jimmy after the siren?). No more would they push us around like schoolyard bullies, flush our heads, steal our lunch money or give us wedgies. We’d grown. Whatever hadn’t killed us had made us stronger.

But when we were four goals down early in the first quarter it was like we’d morphed back into pimply-faced kids. I began going through my pockets looking for loose change. I contemplated sneaking off the toilet to wet my hair and remove my boxers to give the impression that I’d been “gotten to” already.

They teased us for a while and put our club’s much talked about extended summer sabbatical to the test. Even Andrew Mackie, who often looks like he has enough time to read chapters of Tolstoy as he meanders out of defence, was mown down. In fact Cats were getting mown down by Hawks everywhere. The Hawks were all over us and their brown and gold supporters were euphoric, if not just for the return of Cyril, Chance and Buddy, but for the opportunity to beat up on their most favourite pimply kid. That’s what we were to them.

There were patches early on where we were all at sea. Shannon Byrnes finally put us on the board after Mooney missed the un-missable – and by that I mean the lot, all four posts and everything in between. Nothing was boding well except for the unexpected arrival of Mitch Duncan. To walk into the reigning premiers who were almost at full strength suggested the kid could play and spoke volumes for his first summer at the Cattery. He’d shown poise beyond his years. He bombed one long before it just faded off for a behind. Minutes later he has another shot, a snap over the body that also misses. But if there is such a thing as a good miss, then Duncan’s are good misses. He’s zero from two but he’s having a genuine crack and that’s all you can ask of the kid. When he roves a pack one-handed late in the quarter and snaps truly, he has officially become our most dangerous option in attack. He’s had three shots on goal and has stepped up when other couldn’t. At the first break we trailed by 14 points, which given the Hawks’ dominance was probably a pretty good result.

Early in the second Hawkins sprays one, before twice in a minute two Cats spoil each other. And as is typically the way, we’re quickly made to pay as Bateman goes bang! Hawkins flies again, higher than Cheech and Chong but can’t come back to reality with the pill. One day he’ll take one and etch his name into football folklore forever.  Mitch Duncan’s in it again having his fourth shot on goal but sprays it, but he makes amends moments later when he spots Mooney up with pinpoint accuracy.

Osborne dribbles through what even I’ve got to admit was a pretty magical goal before Bartel misses not once, not twice but three times for the quarter and at the break we’re an even four goals behind.

At that stage it was more the humiliation of defeat that I was scared of, as opposed to the actual loss. Every loss to Hawthorn hurt more than it should have, based around empirical data that told the tale of repression, heartbreak and the shattering of dreams. If we were puppies the RSPCA would have been called years ago.

But I wasn’t panicking. Not just yet anyway. There was just this sense that all wasn’t lost. Like the nerds were gathering and gaining their nerd super powers; loosening their shackles and attempting to free themselves from football slavery.  Was it on the minds of the Hawks that they’d blown a similar lead last year? The Jimmy game, where we’d placed a couple of steadying nails in their season’s coffin and contributed to them officially becoming the worst reigning premiers ever.

Over the course of the day Woz had been discussing what he called “The Hawthorn bounce.” How against the Hawks the ball seldom bounced our way. There’d been evidence of such a phenomenon over the course of this game, the last game and a lot of games prior to those.

But then a funny thing happened: the ball did start bouncing our way.  And there were signs of frustration in the crowd. The bullies were feeling challenged. Woz, Dave and I laughed as a Hawk fan in front of us corrupted the minds of his young children with what he thought was an anatomically incorrect free kick. His passion was admirable; his grasp of reality was not. But I didn’t care. Mitch Duncan ran around from a tight angle and slotted through his second.

There was only four points in it at the final change after Ottens pulled down a monster grab and converted in the final minute. I was feeling pretty sure of myself. No matter what they’d done, they hadn’t been able to bury us…or in bully parlance, get our heads completely in the bowl.

Ottens goes to full forward and Blake in the ruck to start the last. With lone Hawthorn ruckman Brent Renouf having to shoulder ruck responsibility you wonder how much longer he can soldier on. Inside the first minute Joel Corey sprays one across goal but the Cats have all the run. Ottens pulls in another super mark right on the boundary line after a Byrnes long bomb.  He hands off to Stevie J, who off one step over the shoulder was never going to miss. He is a special footballer and I am wearing my number 20 jumper with beaming pride. We’ve hit the front for the first time.

It’s short lived when Morton puts the Hawks back in front, it comes after Osbone takes Selwood high and he’s helped from the ground. The game lifts in intensity without any meaningful scoreboard contributions. Then tucked up on the boundary line Franklin dobs a long bomb. Hawks fans go spare and the lead jumps back out to 12 points.

Stevie J misses one he’d swallow any other week but the Hawthorn bounce phenomenon has all but disappeared. Schoenmakers kicks across goal and Harry Taylor cuts it off before going back and slotting it through coolly. He’d been diligent in defence all day then had come to the party in attack when the game was on the line.

Our rucks were dominating and the Hawks were under siege. They were falling over left and right. Renouf was spent like a credit card after Christmas and is rendered useless. There’s a shortage of cash in the bank. Rhan Hooper did a hammy early and Jordan Lewis rolled his ankle early in the last.  Ottens wins a ruck contest and Chappy flies at the top of the square. We’re back in front.

It’s messy and rugged. Bartel has come to the fore. He’s the most underrated Brownlow medalist ever. The game is officially over when Chance Bateman’s run down coasting across halfback.  If there is a perfect end to a game – save for kicking the winner after the siren – then a run down’s the one.  Byrnes appeared from the clouds and Bateman was the only person in the 68,000 strong crowd that didn’t see him coming. It’s a fitting end given how many times Cyril and his teammates ran down the Cats earlier in the day. Finally, the bully is now the bullied…or at least until next time.


The Red Sox got up against the Yankees 9-7.

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