Closing the Gap


By Ged McMahon

On face value, the red and black team seemed a little undersized. But at no point were they to be underestimated. They were the boys from Tiwi College and this was their home turf. Visiting their remote headquarters was the Narangba Valley Vipers, a bunch of Brisbane school kids about to go to class.

The sun sat high in the hot blue sky and the tall trees bordering one wing were offering no respite. There would be nowhere to hide this afternoon. Narangba had won the first two of these annual matches and looked ready to grasp their third. Crowded around their coach, they listened intently about structures, zones and playing on their man.

About fifteen metres from them stood the Tiwi boys. They were laughing and clowning with each other, a couple of the older ones trying to arrange the group into some semblance of a team. They counted heads, making sure that only eighteen took the field at once. All of them wanted to be part of the action.

At this point I’d better declare my split allegiance. I’m part of the Vipers touring party as extra staff and my brother is the coach. But I am also a life-long Bombers fan and the Tiwi boys are all wearing Bombers jumpers. I stand on the sidelines in Vipers gear but wonder how I can possibly cheer against this “opposition” red and black side.

The game starts and the Tiwi boys have the early running. Their play is random, fast and exuberant. They kick a few early ones as the Vipers chase them all over the park. A tiny kid crashes into my ribs and says “You’re not gunna win”. I start to believe him. The Vipers strike back with a goal but at quarter time, Tiwi College leads by twenty points.

The huddles at the break are a great study of comparison. The Vipers listen with heads bowed as the coach delivers a spray. They need more accountability and more effort. They are asked that age-old question of “Do you really want to win this?”

Across at the Tiwi huddle nothing has really changed from their pre-game address. The laughter is loud and the few instructions are chaotic, haphazard.

The second quarter seems a formality, the Tiwi boys kick three more goals, the Vipers kick none. Game over. Literally. In the spirit of reconciliation and closing the gap, the second half is more ceremonial than gladiatorial. Jumpers are swapped as the teams mix up. I’m thrown a Bombers jumper. I’ve always wanted to play for the Bombers and now’s my chance. I jog to half back, already sweating in the northern heat. My mouth is dry.

Play is frantic and difficult for an amateur like me to get involved, so I drift forward hoping for an easy touch. It arrives, I take an uncontested mark about fifteen metres from goal, straight in front. A gift. A goal in my Bombers debut, this will be great. I can kick this, no worries at all. A young voice from the boundary yells “Chris Judd!” I choose to ignore the fact that this is due to my shaved head. They must know how to recognise genuine footy talent up here I reason. It all goes to my head. My kick hooks late and curls over the goal post. Like Tom Hawkins in the 2009 Grand Final I start celebrating in the hope that no-one will notice. They do notice. It’s a point. I’m shattered.

I retreat to the backline, maybe that’s where I belong. A little Tiwi teammate comes up to me, pulls at my jumper and says “Hey, if you get the ball, you kick it to me”. My teammates are turning on me.

Before the game I was told by one of the College staff that the Tiwi style of football is very open, not a lot of contests. My kind of game I decide, so I swan about the wings looking for easy touches. I remember them all. That’s easy to do when you only get a handful.

I go forward permanently in the last quarter in the hope of a second chance at a goal. But my teammates have made up their mind. I’m a lost cause.

Slowly that hot sun recedes towards the horizon and the game draws to a close. All the players link arms in a big circle and thank each other for the game. I feel really privileged to have shared the ground with all these kids. But gee I wish I’d kicked that goal.

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.


  1. Greg McMahon says

    Not a breath of wind in sight either Ged, Juddy would have nailed it. Vipers to bounce back in 2012 for another Tiwi visit!

  2. Nicely written Ged – and put your boots on the right feet next time ;-)

  3. Sue McMahon says

    Good story Ged. Keep on dreaming.

Leave a Comment