Cats play in the winter sun

The phone rings on Saturday morning. J. Dunne is in good spirits, enjoying the Barwon Heads sunshine, on a perfect winter’s day. He’s thinking footy (which usually means he’s considering backing the opponent) and wondering what my footy-plan is.

I am slogging away at the desk, resisting the temptation to be reading the form guide. I have work to do: I am writing about the Fitzroy sides of 1898 and 1899 when footy was rough and tumble and Geelong hadn’t won a premiership for a decade or so.

I tell him I’m not travelling.

Normally I’d be on the train. When it’s 13 degrees outside, and the sky is June-blue, even Werribee looks good. And the warmth in the carriage, and the anticipation of the soup at the Sawyers Arms, add to it all, on any footy day, even when the Cats are struggling.

Listen to some of the media reports and you’d think the Cats were struggling.

The Cats are not struggling.

But, despite the prospect of brilliant footy in perfect conditions, I’m not on the train.

When finally I can sit no more, and knowing moral authority will be eroded further if The Handicapper stumbles across a hard-working historian looking at the history of recent Caulfield middle-distance events, I take a middle path. I attempt to prune the bougainvillea. The lush creeper now thinks it lives in Cairns and has grown so rampant it is blocking out our winter sunshine.

The thing I learn: bougainvillea spines are very sharp (I already knew that, but the reminder was clear); and it’s difficult to make a decision about how to watch your team on TV when the coverage doesn’t start until 3 o’clock.

I decide to half-listen to G. Whateley and the boys (while back at the desk) until the middle of the third quarter, and then watch the Channel 10 coverage.

What a disaster! What a state of mind you find yourself in when you know your lads are right on top, and only a player-count will alter the trajectory of the match.

But I was caught in the decision.

So I re-live the opening moments. Daniel Giansiracusa makes the most of a couple of chances, with classy finishes, to give the Doggies a nice start. (But I already know the score). Robert Murphy looks like he’s going to take responsibility for the Scraggers’ defence, leading from the front, mopping up, and trying to keep the spark alive.

But the Cats are just too powerful. Ottens looks sprightly (again) and, when he has a rest (by going forward), young Nathan Vardy leaps over and through the inexperienced Tom Williams, and the battered-already Will Minson.

The Cats mid-fielders are crisp and dynamic; they play on at every opportunity, and sometimes, when there isn’t an opportunity, they still extricate themselves from their self-made problems and are good enough to get away with it. (They won’t against Collingwood or Cyril Rioli).

The Cats create space. While other sides have the capacity to make the ground look clogged, the Cats make it look huge again. The only things stopping a rout are over-the-top teamwork in front of goal, a few misses, and the determination of the Scraggers’ defence. Determined, but the whole team looks out of form.

Eade is going nuts. He looks like a man whose wife has just told him she’s having an affair, with Woody Allen. He has pain in his face. Gradually additional players go back into defence, in response to the need, while others are sent back to stop the rot.

This has the standard effect: Scarlo and Harry Taylor play what was called in the classics ‘a kick behind the play’. They are good at it. But Jimmy Bartel (if I am reading it correctly from the TV, not that I’m helped by the commentary) has no-one near him for the entire afternoon.

The Cats are experimenting with their structure, seeing how much they can rely on Podsiadly who is in contest after contest. Pods is the Weet-Bix, with a little banana cut up with it. Johnno is the eggs Benedict with a double bloody Mary served by an acapella group of sirens singing King of the Road. He is his usual self, especially when he snaps across his body (from a set shot). Again and again, they attack through Pods. And Otto gets on the end of a few as well.

Menzell also impresses again – just occasionally. But in a way that has you trying to anticipate his role as a 24 year old. He has skill. And he has power.

In the back of my mind is the fact that what I am watching has happened an hour ago. And I have put the feature races on so I am half-concentrating and hearing updated scores from Sport 927.

I am also up to my ears in notifications that Dave Hughes will be interviewing the Dalai Lama on the 7PM program. That’s in the background while the Channel 10 commentary team continue to elevate ignorance, so much so that you just have to feel sorry for Malcolm Blight, who is penalised for actually knowing something.

This is a window in to Australian life. Blight says he would have to ‘bone up’ on something to find out more about it. Quartermain and Walls laugh and mock him. Clearly they have never heard the term before. They say that the expression is to ‘hone up on something’ or ‘home in on something’. Blighty is going nuts, but he has the grace to stand corrected.

Blighty is also getting (playfully) frustrated by the failure of his colleagues to understand the concept of opinion. He even says, frustratedly, that he is sick of what he identifies (playfully) as the herd mentality of the media. A graphic goes up to suggest that he is the only one of the dozen or so polled at Channel 10 to think Gary jnr is a better player than his father. The sub-text of what follows is that Blight is wrong.

While speaking of the possibility of Lake going to full forward Blight mentions that G. Ablett senior didn’t go to full forward until he was 32.

Quartermain says, “But you reckon he’s no good.”

Blighty finally succumbs, “What did they say about working with animals and children?”

Blight was suggesting Lake, who kicked a few in the final quarter, should actually start forward. Lake certainly needs to do something. And he has some mates. Higgins is so out of form. Josh Hill appeared on the TV screen for the first time just as they were about to go to the news.

Scarlo also went forward and took a mark and goaled. Which the crowd, shivering now on the shadow side, loved.

The Dogs have lost all lustre.

The Cats are looking good. There is still a lot of doubt about them.

But not from their own.

3. M. Scarlett    2. J. Podsiadly    1. J. Bartel

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. 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 on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. JTH,

    I listened to bits of it while the Wynyard Cats had a great come from behind seven goal win against Smithton.

    Some days Winter can be such fun.

    (I thought the Cats performance on the Gold Coast wasn’t too bad and yesterday vindicated that theory)

  2. G Whateley 3 votes. Disappointed he wasn’t calling when Scarlo took his mark and kicked his Goal.

    You would think Geelong were struggling if you listened to those who should know. I guess Robbo, Sheahan, et al can’t reconcile the narrative that they keep barking on about with what is actually happening on the field.

    My favorite moment(s) from the game involved Josh Hunt doing his best imitation of “The Thing” from Fantastic Four and almost rendering the entire Bulldogs side injured.

    My media sheep prediction: We’ll hear in an interview with Josh Hunt in the coming weeks that his new found sense of maniacal animal rage was inspired by “some chats with Scotty in the pre-season where he just said he wanted me to…I guess…take advantage of my size.”

    Love it Josh, John.

  3. JTH – my Saturday was remarkably similar to yours. Swap “pruning the bougainvilliea” with putting some protective oil on our weathered timber stairs and rear deck and the similarities are frightening.

    The Dogs were pretty awful but perhaps not as awful as Geelong were good. Vardy is doing enough to make Hawkins a bit nervous (he took a mark for starters and presented out of fullforward a few times), Cowan is coming along, my new project, Menzel, continues to bring a smile to my face, and Jimmy Kelly is playing well enough to take Daisy Thomas’ mantel as the greatest player on the planet (at the moment).

    I love Blighty’s cammentary – so understated and almost humble but very incisive. At one stage he mumbled to himself “Jimmy Bartel is a champion player” as if figured that those aroind him wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

    Brian Lake’s game is bordering on sad. He looks like a 38 year old trying to compete with teenagers.

  4. I should say my Saturday was similar to yours in an attitudinal sense not a literal sense – I’m not slogging away writing a footy history!!

  5. I love Blighty too. I wish I’d seen him play.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0Ct1eNANdQ

  6. Richard Naco says

    Not being one to harp on about my origins, but Malcolm Blight, being of noble South Australian stock and having benefited from an up-bringing in the convict-free zone of the ‘Athens of the South’, is naturally going to be more incisive, erudite and just plain intelligent than his east coast spawned peers. Sometimes it’s a burden being a missionary from the last burning light of civilisation and shiny shoes in this wide brown land, but it’s something we ex-pats of the Adelaide plains silently endure in our life long quest of casting seeds in the howling wilderness that is everywhere without a 5 kickstaring its postcode.

    I’m more than happy for everybody to be counting the Cats out. Our performances to date, our tactical evolution, and the rapid rate of the changing of the guard that is occuring this year fill me with significant levels of both delight and optimism, and it doesn’t bother me a jot that the mead jar will only warm to its reality after the inevitable triumph of The Pivot in the last game of this season. Cats do, by nature, hunt best through stalking, only becoming apparent to their prey as their teeth sink in to the jugular.

    Josh Hunt’s wonderful interview on ABC Radio can be heard at http://www.abc.net.au/sport/audio/2011/06/04/3235678.htm?site=adelaide , and he comes across as modest, intelligent and witty. I especially loved his thanking the person who he thought deserved the bulk of the credit for his awesome wrecking ball demolition of Jarrad Grant.

  7. johnharms says

    Just the Adelaide Plains? Does that mean the banjo and whittlin’ are alive and well in them thar Adelaide Hills?

    Re Blight: I just pretend I saw him play.

    Although I must say, in those years when Channel 7 Brisbane would cross down to Lou and Pete it was always great when it was North – M. Blight and the Krakouers. So I did sort of see him play.

    I once interviewed M. Blight over some hours. He was understated throughout, that day, as well.

  8. M Blight & K Greig, tall, lean running players (pre steroids). They moved with the grace of ballet dancers.

    What about Blighty’s late goal in that night final!

  9. Richard Naco says

    Harmsy,

    Nobody lives in the Hills. When you look towards the Hills from the plain, no houses are visible. Those banjos you hear are wafted on the breeze from the other side of the Nullaboar.

    (It’s actually because all residential development on the City facing side of the Hills is prohibited in order to give the city a background of verdant – in South Australian terms, at least – countryside. What urban sprawl has gone out that way is all concentrated on the far side of the facing slopes.)

    When I was doing my Year 12 in 1974, a bloke in The Hills hired me as a gardener for 4 hours every Saturday, paying $20 per hour. The minimum wage has yet to reach that rate even now, let alone for a 17yo. There is some serious money – but no finger plucking – still around Stirling.

  10. Dont you hate that mental battle- do you listen to the radio or watch the delayed telecast! I hate it!

    Next year it wont be a problem though

  11. Clearisghted says

    Yes, with the glorious exception of Blighty, the channel 10 commentary team are hopeless.
    Love the ABC’s GW and CG.
    The media’s lowest of the low award, must go to that self congratulatory, smug and unfunny crew from Before the Game – they could never be a Coodabeen.

  12. smokie88 says

    John
    The almanac blog is not the correct forum for me to offer my true thoughts on S Quartermain
    and the standard of the Channel 10 commentary.
    I was fortunate enough to see M Blight play many games. There is a definite parallel between
    his playing and commentary styles: as a player, he would confound us with moments of
    brilliance, doing things that other players could only dream of (e.g. better on his non-preferred
    side than Aka) and then go missing for a quarter or more, before producing more brilliance.
    And you know what shines through in his commentary?
    He just loves the game.
    DD.

  13. After 2009 GF, vision of Chappy doing the lap of honour with his newly minted Normy was shown.

    Tim Lane: There’s Paul Chapman. He’s not a super fast player, or a big tall athletic player. What sort of player is he Malcom?
    Malcom: He’s what you would call a footballer.

  14. johnharms says

    One of my favourites was when he coached Adelaide and after the second GF win v NM he was being interviewed alongside Andrew McLeod. He paid the young man a glowing tribute, breaking every give-nothing-away rule in the book. It was brilliant.

    Just a pity this is so rare that Blighty is considered a maverick.

    Where I come from, he’d fit in just perfectly.

    The weirdness is actually with the others.

  15. Dan Crane says

    I pray that Malcolm Blight gets a gig on channel 7/foxtel next season — due to my absence of 7 years watching afl regularly can anybody inform me how blighty ended up on channel ten, home of the prententious i.e. 7pm project and the absolute drivel i.e. glee, the biggest loser,

  16. Dan Crane says

    .favourtie blight memory (other than meeting him when 10 years old playing little league)..from i believe the 1984 or 1985 magaarey medal count – malcolm blight recreating his balfours crumpets advert, and taking the pi** out his very own club – ‘balfours crumpets – more holes than the woodville warriors defence’

    his ability to laugh in the face of adveristy is legend

  17. Paul Daffey says

    I used to like Blighty but now I reckon he’s a whacker. He tries too hard to make obtuse comments, and fools everyone into thinking those comments are brilliant simply because they haven’t been heard before.

    I, too, could wonder whether Steven Jimbob could take a shot from over the fence with his coloured shoelaces tied in an unconventional manner. “Just to see what happens.”

  18. Damo Balassone says

    2 favourite Blighty (coaching) stories:

    1) Ostracising Austin McCrab fron the quarter time huddle. Poor old Austin had to stand by himself while Blighty addressed the group.

    2) Also when Blight was coaching Geelong they were playing Adelaide in Adelaide. Just as Adelaide entered on to the ground, Blighty got the Geelong team to form a guard of honour next to the Adelaide banner. Very strange, but I love it. It didn’t work either – they got pumped that day.

  19. Richard Naco says

    As well as obviously being a Malcolm Blight soliloquy, wasn’t there a game of footy on at Kardinia Park that day?

  20. Pamela Sherpa says

    I”m not surprised Blighty is going nuts – having to put up with the nonsense that his colleagues carry on with. At least Blight sees the game from a football perspective – the others try to be clever, funny, sensational or whatever they think is trendy. Blight actually understands footballers and football and calls it as he sees it which is what I like. Long live Blighty and get rid of the rest!.

  21. JH – I’m just watching the replay – it was, in fact, Chrisso who used “bone up.” On another note, I reckon we should get Haiku Bob to write for Ch 10 and do their little one liners during quarter breaks that surmise a teams progress.

    Instead of “Geelong – Completely dominant & Western Bulldogs – completely outclassed,” we might get something original.

  22. Summarise

  23. Paul, thank you! At the risk of alienating myself from the Almanackery, for a minute I thought I was the only knacker who isn’t enamoured of M Blight’s commentary. Good to hear that you think he’s a “whacker” too. I loved him as a player and a coach, although some of the stories of his alternative methods left me wondering, but as a commentator he drives me nuts. He is way too out there and obscure for my tastes, almost as if his whole intention is to be dischordant and weird.

    It’s probably a topic for a post of its own but in order of preference my commentators of choice are:
    Gerard Whately – smart, erudite, passionate
    Dennis Cometti – wit, voice, humour
    Tim Lane (prone to occasional lapses these post-ABC days)
    Adam White
    Bruce McAveney

    Special comments:
    Stan Alves
    Matthew Richardson
    Leigh Matthews

    Commentator who should be a coach:
    Garry Lyon

    Over-rated:
    David Parkin
    Mark McClure
    Malcolm Blight

  24. johnharms says

    Marcus

    No alienation possible – just opinion. And reasoned argument.

    So let me put my case for M. Blight as a commentator.

    I don’t think he is trying to be lateral and crazy, and win a reputation that way. I think he likes to speculate.

    What I like about him is that he is intuitive, and not stats-driven. I reckon he shows more feel for the game than most.

    I also like that he doesn’t expect people to hang off his every word.

    I also like that he doesn’t subscribe to the cringe that there is a right answer and somehow you will be accepted by the media pack if you know the right answer.

    There are no right answers on footy matters. And if you think that conventional footy wisdom is swallowed by the whole world, come and have a few quiet ones with the grey-haired wits at the North Fitzroy Arms.

    To your lists I would add David King as an interesting analyst of the game. I think he has insight, can be didactic in explanations, and is a good communicator. I feel I learn something about the game when I listen to him. There are many for whom that is not the case.

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