Climbing to the top of the mountain

When James Podsiadly was stretchered off the MCG half way through the second quarter of this year’s Grand Final, Collingwood kicked a goal to increase their lead over Geelong to three goals. I thought Geelong was almost gone.  Almost.  Collingwood’s midfield was on top, their backline was running in waves and there was a man mountain in the forward line, Travis Cloke, who was threatening to blow the game apart.  He’d kicked three goals before the 7thminute mark of the second quarter – two from outside 50, and try as he might, Harry Taylor just couldn’t go with him.

People often talk about defining moments in football – that mark, that goal, that smother or tackle that changed the game. For me it came in the second quarter when a man sitting directly in front of me listening to his radio announced, “Lonergan has gone to Cloke.  Longergan to Cloke.  They’ve made the move.”

Those who watch Geelong closely had been telling me about Lonergan for some time.  “Keep your eye on him,” they’d tell me.  “He doesn’t give them an inch.”  It’s not unusual for the Yarrawonga boy to be moved onto the most dangerous player in the oppositions forward line.  Earlier this year, Buddy Franklin looked like he was about to beat Geelong on his own when he kicked three first quarter goals on Harry Taylor.  Then Geelong moved Tom onto Buddy and, put simply, Tom won.  Geelong won the game that day too.

On this occasion Tom Lonergan was asked to stop the most dangerous player on the field.  He couldn’t do it on his own, he needed help from his fellow defenders, his midfielders and, of course, he needed his forwards to provide more pressure.  But history will show that after Tom went to Cloke,  Cloke did not kick another goal for the rest of the day – in fact he managed only one behind.  Cloke is a mighty player.  He is a huge man with a  massive presence. I heard his old coach Mick Malthouse say that no one trains harder or works longer than Cloke and not for one second on Saturday afternoon did he stop trying.  But everywhere he moved, Tom was right beside him – not giving his opponent an inch.

Those who know him or know their footy, know the story of Tom Lonergan.  He’s an unassuming bloke from Yarrawonga, well known and well-liked by the locals.  We read with horror the story of his horrendous injury, his battle for life, how dire the situation become.  We know he missed out on the 2007 flag and won the award for Best on Ground in the VFL Grand Final the same year.  We know he played as a forward in Geelong’s losing Grand Final against Hawthorn in 2008 and that he missed out again when the Cats won the flag in 2009.  We also know that he is now one of the most effective and respected back-men in the AFL and we all know now that he is a premiership player.

My Geelong supporting uncle Neil, told me on Grand Final eve that at a Geelong Function a year ago, Mark Thompson was asked what his greatest achievements at Geelong were.  Without hesitation he responded that one of the great delights of his time at Geelong was watching the comeback and resurgence of Tom Lonergan.  He said the fact that Tom had worked his way into the team to become a regular and important player in one of the greatest teams in history was undoubtedly one of the most inspirational things he’d seen in footy.  Mark Thompson is not alone with his thoughts – just ask anyone from Yarrawonga.

When the premiers, one by one, stepped triumphantly onto the dais to accept their medallions after the game, we counted down the numbers until they got to number 13.  Then, Tom Lonergan, the boy from Yarrawonga who’d fought more than most for this moment, stood in front of 100,000 people with a premiership medallion hanging from his neck.  He had reached the top of the mountain.  As if on cue, the man directly in front of me listening to the radio spoke up for just the second time that day, “They’re saying on the radio Tom Lonergan was one of the best on ground.  They’re saying he doesn’t give an inch.  They’re right.”  Indeed they are.

From everyone in Yarrawonga/Mulwala, well done Tommy.  We’re all very proud of you.


About Sam Duncan

My name is Sam Duncan, a very passionte, slightly one eyed and mostly optimistic Essendon supporter. Originally from Yarrawonga, the home of the mighty Pigeons, I moved to Melbourne to go to Swinburne Universtiy in 2002. Feeling right at home as a uni student, I stayed for a long, long time, completing an undergraduate degree in media and communications, an Honours and Masters degree in the same field, and finally, a PhD in sport, media and cultural studies. I'm the author of 'Rolling with the Punches: Tales of an Aussie Traveller', lecturer in the Bachelor of Sports Media at Holmesglen and boundary rider for AFL Live. I love footy. I love Essendon. Go Bombers!


  1. Sam – well put. I’m ashamed to say Tom’s game escaped me on the day. It wasn’t until I sat down and watched a replay later on that I realised how good it was. It was only then that I saw his work rate and concentration.

    My mother has family in Yarrawonga. I go up there a few times a year with my own wife and kids. Wonderful place.

  2. Sam
    Nice piece. I must say I’m surprised that the Geelong folk haven’t made more of Lonergan’s performance as I agree it was a pretty crucial switch. I’ve been a great admirer of Harry Taylor this year but it looked for a while as though he was in for a towelling. The move was made just in time. Harry regained his dignity and Lonergan was…well…like you said.

  3. Richard Naco says

    Never been to Yarrawonga, but I can say that Domsy is loved and respected throughout the Cat Empire. Certainly, all those deeply embedded within the Cattery do not undervalue him at all, but the man himself is quiet, humble & free of any fuss.

    Cloke’s was just another impressive scalp than Tom, like Lingy in a somewhat different role in times past, will be taking for quite some time to come..

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Here Here Sam.

    Lonergan is much loved by his teammates.

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