Finals Week 1 – Geelong v Hawthorn: Boxers, ballet and our glorious bastard of a game

GEEvHAW

 

Last Friday night Hawthorn and Geelong played, what many are calling, one of the best games we have seen in our lifetimes. That’s high praise. That’s stratospheric. And correct. If you saw the game, either live or on the telly, you surely hyperventilated at least a half a dozen times. That’s as a neutral. For us poor suckers who had, as they say, soul in the game, it was 120 minutes of heart attacks. I loved it. Every minute. I thought the better team won the game. Even though my team lost.

 

I took Jackson, my Cats loving traitor of a son and a couple of his mates to the game. Suhail barracks for the Hawks, so we at least were able to cheer and sigh and wonder why oh why together. Daniel is a one eyed Roos supporter but for this game he sat with Jackson.

 

We made our way up into the nosebleed section of the Olympic stand and I was rewarded with an obstructed view. Jiminy cricket, so that’s what a $56 ticket to the footy gets you these days. Once I collected my rage and frustration at capitalism (and made a mental note to at least read the first page of Piketty’s great corpus on the history of capital and inequity) I settled into the moment. Beyond the business of AFL white noise that sites like the Almanac have identified and critiqued so eloquently so often lies magnificence. A noble and genuinely expressive sporting contest. Something more than who we ordinarily are.

 

This was demonstrated the night before when the Bulldogs lifted their game to such a level of skill and grit and speed that not only did they blind the poor Eagles but they shone a light so piercingly into this viewer’s eyes that I saw the game imagined afresh. It wasn’t merely a story of the underdog. To tell it as such does a disservice to the Bulldogs and to what heights footy can rise to. The game is, as always, the thing.

 

So, we settled into our worst seats in the MCG and focussed on the pre-game discussion going on all around us and all I could think is wow. I love footy and I love how we get to this moment and I love how readily we accept being part of a bigger story, whatever the final page, even as it is being written.

 

The game was incredible. But the ten minutes before the first bounce was a highlight. The Hawks came out for their last training drills wearing what appeared to be boxer’s robes. They ran onto the ground and headed down to the Punt Rd end where they removed their Rocky like gowns before starting their drills. It gave the Hawks another level of seriousness and commitment and unity. It felt like they were here for the rumble in the MCGungle (yes, I know it doesn’t work but I’m sticking with it!).

 

Almost immediately they disrobed the Ali boxer stance the Hawks began a simple kicking drill, basically in a zig zag formation, inside the 50 metre arc. At least 4 balls were being kicked at any given point and players were moving, taking the ball, passing it, moving to their next position. It was fluid and rhythmic, simple yet complex, organised but seemingly chaotic. It was balletic. For 5 minutes this simple chain looped as players kicked the ball the 30 metres and moved. I didn’t see a ball dropped. Not one time. I saw a dance of balls in the air, a series of players at any moment in movement and footy as ballet. Then it was over. The Hawks would head into this bout with a boxer’s impenetrability yet as light and clean of touch as ballet.

 

The Cats won by one kick. One solitary kick. Players were that stuffed that they had fallen to the ground, the siren having sounded, relieved the battle was done, and hardly watching as Isaac Smith readied himself for the kick that really mattered. They knew as I did the game was over. He would either score a goal and the Hawks were through or not. Nothing they could do now was going to change anything. He missed.

 

The Hawks played as well as they have played all year. Certainly better than they have in the last month or so. Birch was a standout, Hodge and Mitch belied their age and played out of their skins. Gunston was a gun. Shiels had 11 tackles and stood tall, Silk lived up to his name (again) and many others like Whitecross and Breust were on song. Smith is getting better every game. Rioli had a quiet game, by his standards. Still kicked two goals, took the mark of the night and a deft tap deep in the forward line was the key assist in another goal. Above and beyond all that was Lewis. As inspired a game as he has played. He was our lynchpin between Birch covering the backline and more than half of our 56 forward entries.

 

There were many things to admire about this game. The first quarter was played, using basket-ball tactics. Each team had set defences, in some instances not even bothering to cover the middle of the ground as one team made its way forward. Scores were tight. The Hawks opened up the game in the Second. They took control. They own the switch tactic. When it’s oiled it pure delight as they sweep the ball across the ground, deep in defence to create the free man. Once they have that going, it’s simply a matter of linking the uncontested play up the ground.

 

The critical moment and best strategic move of the game occurred in the Third. The Hawks had the run, we may have been up by three goals. In a see-sawing game, this was a pretty good lead. I thought we needed one more goal and the Cats would really feel the pressure. Then the Cats switched tactics. Did the order come from the Coach or from the Leadership group? For the last 10 minutes of the Third the Cats went straight down the middle. They bombed their forward line. Forget the flanks. Get it quickly to our talls and then work hard at ground level, seemed to be the order. It worked. The Hawks were caught out. The Cats scored three in a row, found their rhythm before the Hawks could counter this strategy. That was the game changer.

 

Footy is a glorious bastard of a game. It is cruel and capricious, scintillating and rewarding and none of this is in equal measure. That’s the way that the world goes round. I loved Friday night’s game, I loved it for what it tells us footy can be. And while I’m still hurtin from the loss I’m loving that that game even happened.

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. Andrew Fithall says:

    Great write-up Rick. As a non-aligned spectator (with an unobstructed view) I really enjoyed the game. Was barracking for the Cats (I was at the game with Geelong-loving Helen). On leaving, it didn’t seem to me that the Hawks supporters were all that disappointed. Too much success? Confidence that is merely a different path to the inevitable?

    On seeing a photo of the opening bunce, my son Bill watched the replay of that moment which showed a Geelong player casually wandering to the wing, still in the square when the ball bounced. His Hawk opponent made a plea to the umpire but it was ignored.

    And in a game lost by less than a goal I reckon your captain should be copping a ;lot more criticism for his actions and words which gifted a goal to Geelong. Lucky he is such a “good bloke”.

    AF

  2. Trevor Blainey says:

    thats terrific Rick. unaligned but i’d opted for the Cats. it was a glorious game, the Hawks aren’t done yet and a Geelong/Hawthorn GF still looms. but having said that what GWS did the next day was as thorough a stitch up by an upstart over a tried and true outfit as i’ve ever seen. an erstwhile Giants denialist, i think we’ve now seen the next great team. the Hawks remind me of the Lions in 2004, running on vapor, swinging from the hip. it’ll be fascinating to see whether they can muster a final charge.

  3. Jiminy cricket it was nerve wracking!!

    Great write up. Another incredible chapter in an incredible story.

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Slim, it was a cracking contest where every possession and decision counted. Not one for the purists skill wise, but damn it was riveting for all who witnessed it. Undoubtedly THE rivalry of the 21st century thus far.

  5. Stephen Alomes says:

    And, as always, like the boxer beginning, more evidence for the prosecution (to the tune of ‘We’re a thuggy team at Hawthorn…’) – Hodge, Lewis….great footballers, great skills but …
    ‘Unsociable’ …over to you Jeffrey…

  6. Cracking game wasn’t it Rick. As a Cats fan it was probably the hardest and most nerve-jangling game I’ve attended since the 2009 Grand Final against the Saints. Both sides played themselves to exhaustion and only luck separated them at the end.

    One of the greatest finals I’ve witnessed. More please.

    Cheers, Burkie

  7. Fantastic final paragraph Rick. Yep, that’s footy at its finest.

    Would love more of the same this Friday!

  8. Beautiful Rick.
    The ballet, the boxing and all of your observations falling into this joy and acknowledgement of moment.
    Of what is and what is not.
    Love your sense of perspective.
    Hats off.

  9. Terrific writeup Trucker. Two thoughts – Our crap seats at Subi on Thursday night cost $90 each. 17 years as members we get “best available” for finals = Top level behind the goals with no leg room – and no cover if it had rained from the SW. Count your blessings. Roll on the new Perth Stadium in 2018 – but we will stay over for tix – supply and demand (Adam Smith – Wealth of Nations – its on your banned list).
    Thursday night and Friday in Perth was like your best friend had died – until AE and I sat down to watch the Hawks and Cats. Took our breath away. Brilliant, tough hard footy. Forgot all about our loss and was just so grateful we weren’t going to Melbourne to be humiliated by the loser on the big stage.

  10. You better read Grapes of Wrath as an antidote PB.

  11. Thank you for thoughts and ideas.

    AF, I don’t know who the Hawks supporters you were around but were we sat we were all gutted. The fact that we are still in the race papers over the disappointment but losing by such a margin in such a manner hurts. Hodgey is okay. For every one of his misdemeanours he has paid the team, club and fans back ten times ten over.

    Trevor, when Giants tore us apart earlier this season I saw the future. I could only watch two quarters I was that shocked.

    Dips, it is a rivalry worthy of Shakespeare. Just when you think there has been as many spins as you can imagine they produce this.

    PD, see above. Mind you I thought the skills were something else. That game was played at a cracking pace.

    SA, don’t mistake tough with thuggy. And both sides gave as much as they got. Happy to be known as unsociable.

    Yep Burkie, it was one in a hundred. I reckon you could show the Bulldogs win and the Cats vs Hawks game to the uninitiated and they would fall for the game immediately.

    MR, not me, I want a one sided Hawks win and no injuries but I suspect the majority would like to see the Bulldogs bury the Hawks

    DW, like your ruminations, I reckon the spectacle of Aussie Rules is so much better that the commercialism of the game.

    PB, that’s what it was, brilliant, tough and hard footy, wasn’t it.

    JTH, there are so many reasons to read GoW. As PB would be aware, Bruce song on Nebraska called Used Cars is a story straight out of GoW.

    Long may we see the kind of game the cats and Hawks played last week. Cheers

  12. John Butler says:

    Trucker, that’s a wonderfully observed piece.

    With a happy ending too. :)

  13. Thanks Trucker

    Wonderful piece

    Your last paragraph encapsulates my enduring life-long love for our wonderful and maddening game.
    The game I’ve barely played but struggle to look away from, and frankly, live without.

    PS: I’m very thankful your Isaac is having a less than accurate year in front of the sticks

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