Cats dealing with history

I am sitting at the desk of Manning Clark. It’s where he penned the six volume History of Australia, and many other books and papers, essay and newspaper articles. If I turn around I can almost reach the filing cabinets, which are full of letters from Patrick White and others for whom the life of the mind was elemental. And the life of the soul.

If I turn to the left I see a photo-copied quote on the door, “No one has been able to explain why [this] game stirs such emotions in the hearts of those who see it.” Manning Clark wrote that himself and someone has deemed it so important they have reproduced it and given it a prominent place.

When I turn back to the desk I can pick a quill from the Carlton mug that is the receptacle for some of his old writing implements.

He loved the Carlton Football Club; not because it was the club of Menzies and Fraser, Santamaria and Elliot. It was his Carlton, playing his game. Or at least his winter game. And Manning Clark knew winter, and other darknesses.

Some Saturdays he (and a selection of his kids)would drive from Canberra to Princes Park to see his beloved Blues. He once got three separate speeding fines in a single trip: I can only hope the Blues won that afternoon.

On the floor next to me are boxes and folders of papers and letters, some of them in his scrawl; a hand which has frustrated many a historian and biographer over the years.

It is late-afternoon high on the hill here in Forrest. The fog has rolled in and I can just make out the flag-pole of Parliament House a kilometre away. I am trying to decipher my own notes, made under the intense pressure of the final quarter of the Geelong-Hawthorn game last Saturday afternoon. It’s history now. But it has to be written.

History is important.

If you don’t think so, talk to a Geelong fan about the Hawthorn Football Club. About the wounds inflicted by the men from Glenferriee over the last 40 years. About the scars: real or imagined, it doesn’t matter. Both affect behaviour, performance, attitude.

The 2008 Grand Final was one of the worst days in all of human history. But it followed on from the 2007 Grand Final which was one of the best. And 2009.

You don’t dwell on it (that way lies madness) but 2008 is always there. And Hawthorn folk delight in it. They know that no matter what the position of the teams on the ladder the deep-seated rivalry will find expression on the footy field.

And so it did on Saturday. The Cats looking a little shallow in the forward line; the Hawks desperately needing a win to stay in touch with the top four. The Cats able to play scintillating footy across the whole paddock; the Hawks with a Gang of Four – Rioli, Franklin, Hodge, Bateman – of exquisite ability, and artful sensibility, able to turn a match in minutes.

Wendell Sailor said famously, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ but there are five in ‘individual brilliance.’ Buddy’s mentor perhaps? There are some big personalities, big characters, brilliant footballers in the Hawthorn line-up.

And so on a windy afternoon at the MCG in front of a shivering 70,000 all of whom know their history, the struggle begins. Ling on Hodge. Sewell on Selwood. Lewis on the in-form Enright. The Cats take the game on: Wojcinski arches his back and runs the boundary line, bursting away from the chasers, stepping inside, taking a third bounce and pumping to Bartel for the opening goal. This is a great footy team.

But the Hawks are tough from the outset. For the whole of the first half they win just enough of the in-close contests to keep ahead, in what is building as a classic game.

The Cats are made to fumble, and miss targets. Ablett gets plenty of the footy but he ignores Duncan twice in a minute, and turns it over. The boys are not the confident unit they are against contemporary Essendon or finals-Collingwood.

This is not an absence of skill, or concentration. It’s the weight of history and the snickering pressure of the Hawthorn Football Club. Jimmy Bartel holds the Cats together. He is helped by Harry Taylor.

It is one of those games which is a stage for the great players: where Rioli or Franklin will win the game for the Hawks. Where Hodge will break free of Ling at some point. Ling will measure his game on how many times he is able to limit this to.

This is one of those games where something monumental will happen; a Tolstoy game, a Dostoevsky game, a Manning Clark game.

During the third quarter the Hawks have their chances. Franklin misses. Skipper misses. Bateman misses twice. Sewell misses. The pressure from both teams doesn’t dissipate, but occasionally someone breaks free. Stokes kicks one. Then Varcoe sprints into space, takes an Ablett pass on the fly, and handballs to Stokes who slams it home again.

As the ball is bounced to start the final quarter the Hawks lead by a goal. Bartel plucks a one-hander of biomechanical perfection (over Cyril) but misses. Varcoe marks the footy after it has ricocheted off a shin. His set shot hits the post.

Taylor marks a weird up-and-under which is heading in the direction of his chest but is blown off line and he somehow marks at above and behind himself. Hodge takes a textbook specie and sticks the landing like Nadia herself.

James Kelly is solid. Buddy thinks he’s Greg Inglis and runs at Kelly who tackles him front-on and holds him up. And then Kelly nabs Burgoyne as well. It’s really on. End-to-end, quick stuff. Who’s in front?

Buddy Carey-crashes the pack like he has one thing on his mind, and takes the screamer over Dasher Milburn. Harry Taylor is a step behind, his fly-swat hands swishing the air. Buddy puts the Hawks four points up. After the high-fiving and general Hawk celebration Taylor and Franklin find each other again, and Harry (perhaps the most disarming man in footy) shares a joke. They’ve probably been playing with, and on, each other since the Under 12s: same WA region, same age.

Ottens is tired. Blake is battling. He battles his way forward. Varcoe wins the footy and steps around one, and another, and he has the momentum to launch from 50. Instead he gives off the instinctive handball to a Geelong jumper running directly at the goals. As the hammer is recoiled, though, his mind tells him to stop: it’s Blakey. It’s a classic case of handballus interruptus, such that he handballs to himself and fires. Point.

This is ridiculous.

Podsiadly takes his chance. He snaps around his body, and the Cats are 10 points clear.

Just as I allow myself to believe the Cats are finishing strongly, I am referred to the history book again. Hodge beats Ling in a simple marking contest and converts.

Ottens is now exhausted. I have one of those weird moments while watching him contest on the ground: I notice that he has been out for so long his hair has receded even further.

He’s got nothing to give but Podsiadly gets the tap straight to Chappy who goes weak at the knees and cons Guerra into taking him high. He’s been watching Joel Selwood. He kicks the goal. The sealer? Cats by 10 points again.

There’s time if the Hawks are good enough. They win the footy at half back and sweep it along the wing. Disciplined forward movement keeps the fat side open, Buddy takes off, and a brilliant penetrating kick finds the rock star. He duffs the kick.

The Cats respond. This time the handball does go to Blake who snaps – and hits the post.

The clock ticks past 30 minutes, and the Hawks keep coming. Franklin gets another opportunity. He arches his back in the pocket and gets away from Taylor with strength. He handballs to Sewell who snaps with the outside of his boot over the goal-keeping Milburn. Surely not.

Less than a kick in it. Less than a kick in it.

Beyond the 30 minute mark and Young shoots from almost the wing. The Sherrin is picked up like it’s Mark Webber’s racing car and carries and carries. No one can see where it will land. Taylor turns and jostles and finds the strength to move to where it will land carrying Buddy like a leg-iron. He is the more determined and his fist finds the footy and knocks it through.

From the kick-in, it’s Taylor again. He emerges from stage-left, out of screen and takes the long-armed mark. Then turns the footy over. But the Cats hold it up. And thus begins a maul of nothingness where the only danger is that some unsuspecting Cat will be pinged for holding the ball.

Another ball-up. And another. Until the footy is squeezed out like a watermelon seed. To Gibson. As sharply as you can imagine to Young who runs to 40. And, and, misses.

Scarlett marks the dink out. He directs traffic to Row A and looks for the failsafe Taylor. But Buddy is in front and the kick drops short. He lines up, not knowing when the end will come. He’s in the Buddy pocket. But he has to go the torp. And as the siren sounds it skews into Row J.

The Cats are home in a Saturday afternoon ripper, that has stirred the heart.

Bartel is so best on ground they should put a bronze plaque in the ground where he had his hundredth touch. Stokes and Kelly solid too. Buddy has been where the action is; hence Harry has been too.

A cracker.

One for the history books; specifically, the volume that celebrates the everyday.

Manning Clark would have loved it.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Tony Robb says

    It was indeed a ripper. I was down visitng mum on the weekend and they had the game on delay ( as remains the ridiculous practice of the Saturday arvo TV feed in Vic.)I managed to avoid all scores after half time and settled into watch the second half. The last quarter was fantastic.

    Off topic My young bloke put in a ripper himself yesterday on the snow swept links of Belconnen. Coming off the back of a 40 point victory last Wednesday he streeted them yesterday with 44 points in what were sodden and cold conditions. The Robb boys easily cleaned up the 4BBB bets which was turned into a lazy $200 with a few prudent bets on the dishlickers and some ponies in Darwin. Rejoicing allround. We go into this weekend’s quarter final of 4BBB club championship at very prohibitive odds.


  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Great stuff John.

    I am not sure that Manning Clark, as a non-Catholic, would have been an advocate of “handballus interruptus”. Regardless, he would have known that as a means of avoiding unwanted consequences, it had certain fallibilities. For you to then continue with “such that he handballs to himself and fires” suggests he opted for a safer strategy, but one the Catholics would not have approved of.

  3. John Butler says


    However it ends up, the Cats have the making of epic drama this season.

  4. Great report. Found myself on the edge of my seat reliving the game.

    The game confirmed for me (yet again) that Hawthorn is the ONE team that I hope the Cats avoid come finals time.

    How correct you are John Butler, particularly so if its a Cats V Hawks GF, and irrespective of where they end up on the home-and-away ladder.

    Surely we couldn’t have the tension of 09 and the hearbreak of 08 come together in one game. It would be too much to bear.

  5. JTH – sensational report. I listened to the end of this game whilst entangled in an enormous climbing rose bush. I wasn’t sure if the tension or the rose would kill me first.

    There are plenty more chapters in the Cats/Hawks tale – we still owe them plenty of grief!

  6. johnharms says


    Read of your rose entanglement.

    Super game. Ablett a little out of sorts. There’s improvement left in both sides.

  7. Thanks JTH.

    Having been at the ground but unable to wallow in the joy of a win as the tension continued post-siren with the ball still in flight, your report was almost therapeutic in providing a conclusion.

    Coupled with the boiling jam which burnt my mouth making the victory doughnut a painful exercise in futile calories, the result felt hollow and unsatisfactory. But you’ve reminded me just how spoilt I’ve been by these Cats – just because Bartel is routinely brilliant is no excuse for failing to glory in his influence on this particular game.

    Thanks for the perspective. My tastebuds are in recovery and my delight in the Cats renewed.

  8. Pretty good trifecta you have going there John.

    1st Leg – A writer;

    2nd Leg – Access to all that Manning Clark stuff;

    3rd Leg – Contemporary Cats supporter.

    These are indeed the good old days

  9. Richard Naco says

    I actually loiter quietly around this site in the hope of reading material like this. And if it’s about the Cats, then so much the better. Many thanks.

    We travelled from Sydney specifically for this game, and come the whirling dervish winds that delivered a two hour pash straight off the Antarctic ice (it was far too fervent to be a mere kiss), nothing could detract from this amazing game (and I thought that I’d been privileged enough to have attended Round 17 last year). Our seats were superb – Travis Varcoe’s amazing tackle on Buddy was precisely 5 seats directly in front of me – and the clean hrat and ferocity of the contest was almost palpable in our seats.

    It was hard and fair, and the mutual respect of the two teams for each other after that final siren was unapologetic and obvious. I do hope we meet Hawthorn in the last game of the year – the code would be the winner regardless.

  10. JTH – Ablett out of sorts. Doesn’t seem to be kicking it as much over the last month or so. Could have groin soreness. Watch to see if he misses a game soon with “general soreness”.

  11. Dips,

    the anagram for ‘general soreness” at Geelong these days is RDO.

    I note Basher, I meant to say Dasher has it this week.

  12. Still sleepy. Acronym.

  13. Tony Robb says

    Before little Stevie got a holiday I sensed that he was none to happy a camper. I was at the Essendon and his body language at times was been poor, making lazy choices and gesticulating with player who didn’t kick to him even though he was leeding poorly Do you sense the presence of the Pod has ruffled Stevies ego a tad?

  14. Dan Crane says

    Cracking report Harmsy, unfortunately (well for footy’s sake) I have moved back to SA so couldn’t watch it live, but I was as tense as possible ‘watching’ it on my phone…..looking forward to tonight’s game (result permitting).

    the hawks along with the weagles & carlton will always be spectre clubs eh?

  15. Clearsighted says

    The past is supposedly another country and in Geelong/Hawthorn parlance it is a place of anguish and pain if you follow Geelong. The arrogance of rah-rah rowing club Hawthorn supporters, those sons and daughters of QCs who ooze a born to rule mentality and glory in the questionable tactics employed by their team on field; their celebration of thuggery off the ball, of twisting the spirit of the game into a small and mean thing – were evident again last Saturday. They are evident in every Geelong/Hawthorn clash.
    Had Hawthorn played without Franklin and Roughead and won by 2 points, the press would have lit up with the bravery of their win. But it was those boyos from the edge of the mainland, the clean hoops of the beautiful game, who won by that margin and without their usual forward line. Just as they came from 28 points down last season, their two key defenders injured and on the bench, to win by a point. This from a team who has never bottomed out to secure number one draft picks; from a club who just over 10 years ago was on the brink of oblivion and has since won two flags; who saved footy from the drear slog it was becoming; and who continue to play the game as it should be played.
    Yes, Hawthorn supporters love that they rushed through the 2008 flag. They were Premiers that year. But then Jeff too, was a Premier, and we were all SO proud of him.

  16. Clearsighted – well put.

  17. Not that you are even the slightest bit biased Dips.

  18. johnharms says


    The law may well be a form of thuggery in itself?

    May ask Billy Bragg to write for the site. Or Ned Kelly. Or the Indigenous population of Queensland.

    What we need is more Gramscian influence insofaras and footy writing is concerned.

  19. Ned would have loved last week’s Cats/Hawks tussle – such is life.

  20. By the way Harmsy, Ned Kelly wasn’t a communist, he was a revolutionary!!

  21. Tony Robb says

    So JH.
    So we need to take on board the theories of an Italian philospher when discussing how the particular constellation of social forces, the state and the dominant ideational configuration define and sustain world order as it applies to football. We need Vinnie Cattogio writing surely?

  22. Clearsighted says

    JH, as Thomas More said in Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons”: ‘I would give the devil himself the benifit of the law’.
    A man of conscience and we know what happened to him.

  23. Rocket Rod Gillett says


    I can?ot quote it verbatim but I think the Great Manning Clark once wrote from where you were seated that Australians did not create a Paris Commune
    but instead fashioned Australian football as an image of itself…maybe the notes are in the files under M for Marx.

    Reckon he got it right…
    I once read, probably in the Nation Review that his only disappointment in life was not to play just one game for footy for the Navy Blues…

    I think a few of us would share his sentiments.

  24. Chalkdog says

    Geelong v Hawrthorn is currently a game that you can bank on to be pretty much what we all would like to see every week. Tough, hard, no beg pardons asked or given. But a little perspective Catters. You didnt have to bottom out to rebuild because you got a pretty fair go via the father and son rule. You didnt pay full tote odds for any of them. Gary Jnr cost you used tram ticket and a 3rd round draft pick. As a Dog fan I hope to see young Cordy, Libba and Wallis running round in a year or two. Hope you guys remember that we have had to bid for them. But I hope cats and hawks keep belting one another as it may give us or saints a sniff [but please not Pies!]

  25. The father-son card that opposition supporters like to play when explaining away the Cats ability to rebuild without bottoming out comes from the deck of ignorance.

    In what was touted as the greatest draft ever, Gary Ablett wasn’t considered a top-20 draft pick. It is poetry that our number 1 pick from that year won a Brownlow BEFORE Gazza did.

    Matthew Scarlett may not have even been drafted if not for his father having played for Geelong, and in his first 3 years many Geelong supporters wondered why Wiggy was on the list.

    Players, no matter what number they are drafted, are not guaranteed success (ask Richmond who have a mortgage on getting the least value from Pick 1) and so to say Geelong were gifted success thanks to the father-son rule is ridiculous.

    Very few people, if anyone, have called Mark Blake a gift. Many people have said the opposite. What about Mark Woolnough, Adam Donohue, David Clarke Jnr, and even Nathan Ablett who until he played was the better of the brothers (as is always the case according to the bush telegraph)? Gifts?

    What about the gift we lost? His name is Ben Cousins and at the time he WAS considered a future champion.

    Am with you Clearsighted, and will add more more thing: Cats also did it without 1 single cent of financial aid coming from the AFL. They operated their way out of it. Understand that supporters of other clubs are over the Cats but credit where credit is due. Every club wants to be where the Cats are on- and off-field. Enough said.

  26. Pete,

    We didn’t have to tank or wrought the salary cap either.

    We missed J Brown who in ‘ye olden days’ would have been in our zone. He may have made a difference to the Cats in the early oo’s.

    Young Drum and Christensen will develop. Good Cat names.

  27. I love the Cats

  28. Regarding Ned Kelly and the Hawks, have they conned the umpires into allowing them to play what is often illegal footy by branding it “unsociable”? Its very clever positioning.

  29. Clearsighted says

    Pete: I agree – the ‘unsociable’ tag is yet yeat another smoke screen spun to fuel the drivel that fills our sports pages. Much like Mick M’s line regarding Collingwood’s ‘difficult’ draw.
    Hidden in Collingwood’s fixture is this: in 15 out of 22 home and away games, the team that they play has had a 6 day break, has played interstate, or is an interstate team travelling to Melbourne. In some instances, all three come to account. Consider in all this, the number of games Collingwood play at the M.C.G. and the term ‘fixture’ takes on its true meaning – regardless of Mick’s underdog spin.

  30. Clearsighted,

    you are very lucky that they have stopped burning heretics at the stake.

    How dare you infer that one club has preferential treatment.

  31. Very eloquent Dips. Nothing else need be said!

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