Cats in control

Friday. I am having lunch with an Eagles fan who is such an Eagles fan he is known as West Coast Dave (a fine contributor to these pages I might add). He is down from Canberra and is in a preliminary final mood. A Group 1 theoriser (with a masters degree in sports psyche which I never realised qualified you to theorise about all things from honey biscuit recipes to traffic flow) he is at his theorising-best with a beer in his hand. Which begs the philosophical question: does holding a beer trigger some deep need to theorise (as in most of us) or did he formalise his theorising qualifications so he could justify putting a beer in his hand.

He is not overtly confident about the Eagles chances. But he is not a Geelong supporter. So he doesn’t know (deeply, nor in a theoretical way even) about the 44 years and its effect, and the tension between the 44 and the recent past (which has been a source of great joy). If he understood the 44, then he might rate his side’s chances a little more.

I shouldn’t talk like this. Rationality should reign in these moments, but the 44 is the 44, and the ball is an odd shape, and they say Nic Nat is something to behold. In my rational moments my thinking leads me to the conclusion that the Geelong mid-field is a mile ahead of the West Coast’s, and I include the old-fashioned followers in that. My followers (in that old money) are Ottens (ruck), Corey (ruck-rover), Selwood (rover) and Kelly (pivot), with the second ruckman, West, resting in the forward pocket. Rationality also tells me that Geelong is well-equipped to handle the Eagles tall forwards, and will move the footy so quickly the Eagles will struggle to defend the space they create. If the Cats have been able to do it against Hawthorn then surely they’ll play spirited attacking footy against the visitors from Perth.

Friday afternoon and I am home from lunch surprisingly early which makes me popular with The Handicapper, and gives me time to muck around with the kids. After tea I put them in the bath and sit down to watch the Collingwood-Hawthorn match.

I now have the cleanest kids in the world.

They are removed from the bath at half-time, having called for numerous top-ups (“More hot please Dad”) throughout the first two quarters. I suspect they got on alright in there, because I didn’t hear them, although the footy was riveting in that way that affects the eighth cranial nerve (OOOTTAFAGVAH). There should be more sympathy for those of us who suffer disability, particularly football deafness (and its related afflictions: racing deafness, cricket deafness, tennis deafness, British Open deafness).

My preliminary final nerves are not helped by the performance of Hawthorn. I am happy with the recent form and approach of the Collingwood Football Club, which is why I reckon the Hawks are a chance to beat them. The intensity and pressure of the Hawks in that second quarter make me wonder how anyone can beat them in the Grand Final. Throughout the third quarter I am certain they are going to win, and be hard to toss in the Grand Final.

But the Pies find a way to win, and from the barrage of text messages that follows, I learn that the conventional wisdom of Geelong supporters and neutrals  is that this has been a very good night for Geelong.

Despite the optimism I go to bed thinking we still have to win at the MCG tomorrow.

Saturday midday, and I am at the Merri Creek tram stop – with two Eagles supporters. They are from Perth. At the Piedmonte’s stop two more Eagles supporters get on, and then down the road on Brunswick Street, a couple more. It’s blue and garish yellow everywhere and I’m half-laughing. Then the bloke sitting opposite me takes off his flannelette shirt: to reveal a West Coast jumper. My mind fills with that shrill music of 1970s Australian movies when something terrible is about to happen. You know it well: they based the Cyclone Warning alarm on it.

At The Cricketer’s Bar at the Windsor there are more Eagles fans. They are realistic about their chances. But I’m getting worried about ours. I have a couple of settlers, and consider buying a traveller for the two-stop tram journey to the MCG.

The tram is full of West Coast Eagles supporters, and a tram-driver who has the voice of Barry White – and knows it.

The seagulls swarm overhead playing on the swirling wind, but they arc away and head towards the Fitzroy Gardens.

We go to our respective gates and I am left to think about our lot. All week I have claimed that Trent West is a key and I still think it. I am interested in the fitness and well-being of Corey and the ability of Hawkins to maintain the Hawthorn form. I am confident Christensen and Varcoe’s pace will be telling.

But really, I’m interested in finding a way to win. Any way will do, in a preliminary final.

Inside the MCG I break from conversation and see Nic Nat for the first time in the flesh. Wow! What an athletic looking Rasta! I am reminded of my time at Olympia in Greece studying the Olympic champions of antiquity, and the giants who came along once every couple of hundred years and wrestled all-comers into sleeper-hold submission like Milo of Croton, a sort of Greek cross between Damien Monkhorst and Usain Bolt who was a mate of Pythagoras.

It’s sunny, but ridiculously cold in the shadows. The breeze is flukey. The Cats appear. Ling and Podsiadly lead the boys out, and for some reason I am reminded of them sitting with Johnno at Bob Davis’s funeral, and them going up to Communion together.

Their shorts are Omo-white. I feel an overwhelming pride in them. Just for wearing the Hoops. Just for representing the faithful who have gathered and are sitting around TVs and radios (and computer screens) throughout the world.

As the umpy holds the ball aloft the crowd’s voice rises, and we’re away. Trent West. It’s Trent West in the middle. Otto’s on the bench. I tipped this. Trent West will climb all over Nic Nat.

Naitanui wins the tap with a nice leap, but Selwood has anticipated it, and the Cats get the first clearance. Ling is on Hurn as a defensive forward. That makes sense. Who’s got Priddis? Chappy and Kerr tangle. Varcoe is loose.  Is he?

At a ball-up Varcoe gets manhandled (tiggy touchwood from where I was?) and slots home the opening major. Excellent.

The Cats free-wheel with Johnno leading the way. He takes a fine mark at half-forward, plays on, gets on to his right without a synapse of thought, in a way which sets the heart of all racing – Geelong people, Eagles people, and footy people. Footy is such a great game. But he’s got nowhere to go, so he coolly props back onto the left and dinks to Mackie. Mackie’s kick doesn’t quite carry and gets belted through for a point. The Cats look sharp.

The Cats are swarming. It’s only minutes in but their get-and-go style is creating space and the Eagles looks rather perplexed. There’s Otto (Oh, Otto’s on already) linking in the middle, and it’s in quickly again to Hawkins? No, to Christiansen who has read the flight better than anyone. Set shot: goal.

The Cats are crazy-quick with their hands and feet. To Wojcinski. Long to the square. Pods mark. No. Free kick. He converts – across his body with the right-foot set-snap. (If you know what I mean).

This is tremendous stuff. And there is more to come. Enright is mopping up like Bruce Doull. Pods presents in the centre and dishes off.  West runs into the space and marks like he’s been a key forward for all of his days. And converts. And really, it’s how far the Cats.

Of course, the Eagles settle and fight their way back, and continue that fight in the second quarter, but you always feel like the Cats have them covered.

Or you do now, with the wisdom of hindsight.

Nic Nat was great to watch but he didn’t really grab hold of the game like he will one day. Cox was up and down. Ottens and West were more than serviceable in a Mackinnon-like prep for the Grand Final. Beau Waters had a stack of the ball.

But the Cats were on top almost all afternoon, and the crowd was (happily) flat and thinking here and there about the Rupert Steele, and the electricity bill, and tickets for the Grand Final. While as happy as larry.

Cats fans loved the games of their big blokes, especially Pods, who marked well and generally gave the Cats structure, and Taylor and Lonergan at the other end. But it was their principal ball-winners and ball-users who set the win up.

The crucial of the second half was when Johnno went down like a stick figure made from pipe-cleaners, and the mood of the crowd changed instantly, but recovered somewhat when he emerged from the race after three-quarter time.

Can the Cats win the flag without him?

I’m going to think about that for a few days.

But for now I’m going to love every minute of being in a Grand Final. And I’m going to love the Cats.

What a blessing.


Votes:   3. Kelly   2. Mackie  1. Enright






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. Better a smaller forward out than a tall back against the Pies for this weekend even if it is Johnson JTH.

    The exocet (Pods) and the Tomohawk missiles are primed. I noticed a couple od reluctant raptors hesitate when they assumed he was coming on Saturday and the Pies know he is coming this week.

    We may well be remembered as just a small part of the Pie dynasty and we may not but we are certainly in with a chance….and many people know it.

    If Milburn plays it will be special.

  2. JTH – had a few pots at the Swan in Richmond with a few of my brothers before the game. We couldn’t convince ourselves that we could lose. This made me nervous. But the game started as beautifully as we all hoped. The Cats looked very sharp. Hope they bring that game on Saturday.

    3 Enright, 2 Kelly 1 Selwood.

    Johnno’s knee injury was incredible to experience. The crowd reaction was as if fun had suddenly been banned, as if the Grand Final had just been robbed of a bit of its fizz. The quiet that descended was palpable. And his re-emergence from the rooms brought on such a roar from the crowd I thought U2 had just entered the stadium.

  3. “Cox was up and down.”

    Careless (or pehaps deliberate) faux pas or brilliant double entendre?

  4. JTH

    I’m with you.

    It’s a sign of the heartless society we’ve become that sports deafness goes unrecognised.

    They just don’t understand out suffering.

  5. so from a neutral corner let me say that i wasn’t convinced. the Cats did … enough i guess. but it didn’t look like a contest to me. the bride and i left just after half time scolding ourselves for picking the wrong prelim to go to. we’d backed the talent that would be on show on a fine spring day and it was there but all at 2nd gear pace. after the first overwhelming 1/4 hour the Cats just held off an opponent who were content to take the lesson knowing better days lie ahead.

    still come Saturday it might just play out the way it reads right now. the Pies are stumbling, the Cats ascendant. my hopes from the neutral corner lie with that proposition. is it enough to swear some sort of allegiance to the Cats because my parents live down at Anglesea? that’ll do. that and the unthinkable thought of another Pies win. and yet … and yet. hmmm.

  6. Thank you JTH for so eloquently expressing the pessimism of every true Cats supporter.
    I am old enough to remember those 44 long years and still need to pinch myself over the last 5.
    On form the Cats should win but you just never know….

  7. JTH,

    Lovely piece.

    Your Cats are in good nick. Hardly extended themselves againt the Eagles who provided no opposition at all.

    From a Pie perspective, I hope we bring the final quarter Prelim form on Saturday. If we do, we’ll be very hard to beat….but if we don’t….

    Let’s hope it’s a beauty.

  8. Fair summary John. On a negative – your love child Travis had a dirty day. Would want to be a lot sharper and harder in the GF. Two positives – I did not believe your wrap on Ottens and West, but they lived up to your rave. They beat a listless Cox and eventually overwhelmed a brave Natanui. Quite a performance and they will beat up whoever the Pies serve up from the wounded Jolly, Wood, Brown etc. I think injury may do StevieJ the world of good and focus his mind. Like the injured Djokovic in the US Open final I reckon he will cut out the party tricks and play football. I find him entertaining to watch but not nearly as effective as he should be. Pain focusses the mind on the possible over the “I wonder if I just…..???”

  9. How about Andrew Mackie? Started on the outer wing, totally kicked arse.

    Geelong by 33 points.

  10. This was a comfortable and predictable win for the Cats and we now await a great grand final against the Pies. I am confident of the Cat’s chances because of a bit better form, but I have great respect for Mick Malthouse’s ability to plan a defensive strategy against the Cats. This is the grand final that we have wanted for the past few years.
    John, with respect to last Saturday’s prelim., I cannot agree with your lack of lack of confidence because of a 44 year premiership drought. The Cats have given us supporters great value for most of these 44 years; success should not be judged on premierships alone. In this year’s prelim. the Cats always looked the likely winner against West Coast. This current Geelong team with 4 grand finals in 5 years must rank with some of the great teams such as Melbourne in the 50’s, Richmond and Carlton in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, Noth Melbourne and Hawthorn in the ’70’s, Carlton, Essendon and Hawthorn in the ’80’s and Brisbane in ’00’s.
    Last saturday I enjoyed seeing Nic Naitanui in the flesh for the first time and he could become the best player in the AFL in a few years.
    I agree with your brownlow votes, but it is a ‘toss of the coin’ whether Kelly or Mackie get the 3 votes.

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