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Finals Week 1 – Sydney v GWS: Loss equals Opportunity


Friday 2 September


Sydney’s midday breath is hot. I just got the email announcing the resumption of junior cricket next week; it’s the first weekend of September! The store windows are filled with pastels and orchids as I walk uptown from work. But I’m not finished yet! Not finished with winter and footy.


It feels odd on Friday night that the bubbles of round 23 have been left to go flat for the weekend.


Saturday 3 September


We pass the afternoon in a neighbourhood ‘pickle off’. The inner west of Sydney has embraced fermented foods. The old Greek butcher shops are now inhabited by young Anglo preservers with double barrelled names who’ve stripped the walls to brick. They hold their evening classes in the bay windows opposite Woolworths and espouse the craft they’ve practised for a decade. In my headlights, they bring to mind the Greek yia yias, the Lebanese jiddis, the Vietnamese bà who’ve been pickling out of view forever.


The Cob, Cygent and I bring cinnamon pickled blueberries which we serve with Basque cheese and dirty red. We win the Kid’s Choice award and while the others sit under a steel blue sky beside a brazier driven by firestarters, strumming songs from their youth, I pass the night up against the kitchen wall nattering with an ex school dad who moved the family to the beaches of the south coast, a man from Cobden we met when the kids were in kindy, a devoted Cats supporter and player of the game. Long after the morning carpark was empty, we could still be found at the gate dissecting the weekend’s events, enfolded in the joy of having found each other.


Sunday 4 September


Thank God P Flynn and A.Myers are in Sydney! We give them the full Sydney brunch experience. A providore come café. Salad greens in a juice bottle, sourdough toast to hack at, white morning light and coffees. We try hard not to saturate the chat with footy, but the obligatory calculations must be laid, the mutual support. We’re not on the same side of the draw. Yet.


The Cob guides a tour of Elizabeth Bay in obscene sunshine, a personally curated celebrity architectural potter, complete with mind-addled harbourside girls, resting yachts and a photo in front of Keating’s Roslyn Gardens terrace. Over the road, P Flynn notices a brass plaque at an apartment’s communal front door – ‘No Hawkers.’


‘I like this place,’ he grins.


Thursday 8 September


Is there a word for the emotional collision between excitement and dread? Confidence and doubt in equal measures. Is it anticipation?


The Cygnet and I play an iPad game based on Swedish writer Tove Jansson’s Moomins. The Moomins are white, large nosed hippopotamus-like creatures who live a life of odd friendships and philosophical musings. It’s a gentle game of planting and harvesting, making and feeding, hosting and decorating. We visit the special store and pay 3 tickets for an object, computer’s choice, a random pick from five special items. One is an inflatable white swan boat.


‘Oooh we want the swan,’ we cry in unison.


But the game is made to mirror the vicissitudes of life so you rarely get the one you want. The curtains close and the devious ‘Little My’ pulls on a cord to reveal …. the white swan!


The portents are beginning to line up.


Feeding the cat half an hour later the Cygnet knocks ‘the ladder’ on the fridge. It’s a cardboard affair, from an Easter AFL chocolate, a full-sized Sherrin egg, the side of the box made of interchangeable club tabs and a slotted ladder for shuffling. We fridge-doored it for the season. I notice a single bar has tumbled to the floorboards. Turning it over, it’s … the Giants.


They are going down.


Saturday 10 September


We lie in bed and hope it’s still rain we can hear. But it has passed and the 8am cricket season calls. It’s bananas and milo and a strong coffee. Sunscreen, whites, water bottles. Bat, ball and box. The sky is dressed in prissy clouds just right for intermittent cover.


The boys are bowling first and I’m in someone else’s camping chair wrangling the absurdly English scorebook with a Christmas themed pencil donated to sport, marking the no-balls and overs, the runs and the maidens, the batsmen in and not out. The Cygnet takes a brilliant catch into the sun, a sky high ball that waits to fall but he never thinks long enough to miss it. Alex H is on a hat trick; it’s a double wicket maiden in the end. I’m watching Rio, the whippet team mascot romp round and round one of the old trees until he’s trapped both feet and can’t run and all I can think about is Swans.


Central station is not shy to show its passions. Finally this city is unafraid to wear colours! I’ve never thought the Olympic Stadium beautiful. Never. But on Saturday afternoon, she wears her roof like a fascinator, the same oil painted clouds as haloes. The seats fill in warm red and orange. It’s charming how many partners arrive one apiece. I like to resist cultural exaggerations, but this feels like history.


O’Reilly Max is nervous. We’ve been burnt by favouritism. But I tell him of O’Reilly Bryon’s ways. Almost thirteen and an academy kid, Byron played out the weekly finals alone in the park with his ball last week. The Doggies won and he tipped them on Thursday. The Cats won and he tipped them on Friday. ‘And the Sydney match?’ I asked of his father James. ‘Swans,’ came the firm reply. I trump Max’s nerves with Byron’s prognostics.


And so … what happened to our game?


While confidence still had a place at half time, by the last break it succumbed to pressure and run, to will and hits and possibly even belief. I wanted to yell the questions to the fourth tier. Why did Lance Franklin play most of the game in the centre? Why was George playing full forward, double teamed and serviced in the pocket? Why don’t we play well off a break? Why had Gary Rohan’s daring brilliance turned to foolery and fumble? Why had the Estonian gone from gold medallist to lucky-to-be-fourth in the battle with Jeremy Cameron, our record of intercept goals turned inside out to be theirs? Why had a nineteen-year-old rising star hamstring overstretched and separated? How on earth did Kennedy get back on the ground? Why was Heeney’s extension never called a mark?? And why did everyone wonder whether Aliir would crumble with pressure? He was resolute and clever. The blokes behind us sung him up, Sia style, every time he touched the ball: ‘Chand-a-l-iiiiir’.


It’s a rort by the end. ‘We’re getting towelled,’ laughs O’Reilly Max as we juggle humour and protection in equal strengths. O’Reilly James announces that Lisa wants to leave. They file down Aisle 139 without me asking Byron what went wrong. The trains take hours to load. Chins up. Second chance. The footy hardened team. But the trip along the tracks fizzes with the beginnings of doubt.


I watch the second half of the Crows v North. I watch domination. I watch in disbelief as Eddie Betts backs back into the goal square with two defenders, falls and hits the turf with bum and back only to rock once more to standing, mark and kick his 6th. I make a chamomile and sleep.


Sunday 11 September


The cat wakes me at 5am tapping to get out.


I take DBC Pierre’s Release the Bats to the couch. It’s a book on writing. I’m testing my resolve to write. I’m tempted to give up on finals too. I’m not sure I want the second chance. And then the third.


O’Reilly James sends word at 3.15pm: ‘Have you recovered?’


I’m trying to take up the ‘new story’ of better without another bye. Like Hawthorn in ’15. Like the Bloods of 2005. Kirky’s there revving that engine in their spirits. Could we put Teddy in for Mills in a fairytale finish for the veteran? James wants a psych for Rohan and a manicurist for the rest – something to clean up hands. Max wonders if 2014 has done something to their finals psyche. I want kintsugi on Tippett’s jaw.


By 7.50, we’ve lost Mills, Tippett, Jones and the NEAFL Grand Final by 4. To the Giants. I wonder if the empty rung on the paper ladder in fact held the last one standing. The little tab is still on the bench, lying by the fish tank. I pop it back in with the pack.


The finals are weeks of baggage carousel: waiting, watching, confident and then … doubting, still expecting, trying to look calm, positioning, pacing. You’ll either be first at the taxi rank or propped at a counter scrambling for the claim sticker that used to be stuck on your boarding pass. I am always susceptible to that feeling that mine will be the one that doesn’t emerge.


‘Loss = opportunity.’ That’s O’Reilly James’ last Sunday night word. And then comes one last blue bubble: ‘Not the other way around.’


About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. A poetic read Mathilde.

    Gee when we go missing its an all in affair isn’t it? My wife is convinced Horse is not the coach for us and its hard to mount a counter argument based on Saturday’s structure (lack thereof) and match ups.

  2. Grand Mathilde. Loved the baggage carousel metaphor. You haven’t seen a blue and gold kitbag anywhere in your travels have you? Lost it Thursday evening.
    I get over losses much more quickly now. Less attachment. Take in the spectacle of other games and other passions.
    I worry for Jan’s equilibrium.

  3. Mathilde – what an insane weekend. Thursday night was exhilarating. The Dogs were electric. Friday night was madness. Cats and Hawks collided in a sordid and brutal affair. Why did the Cats go the zone defence against the best kicks in the competition? Scott coached badly. But we won? The Giants monstered the Swans. MONSTERED them! They’re not just young and quick, but young and quick and brutal. Stevie J is showing them how. Then the Crows belted the Roos in the only predictable game.

    I’m dizzy. I can’t wait for next weekend.

  4. Release the Bats, Mathilde. Release.
    That’s a lovely ride.

    Striking sense of the haphazard, vexed ride of the supporter, searching for omens.
    Amounting to… what?
    None of us will ever know.

    And the investment. The collective. The sharing and the meaning.
    May several dead crows turn up along your path this week.

  5. Superb Old Mate.

    You ask the right questions. Did the coach or the umpires supply the answers?

    We saw the real emergence of a self assured juggernaut.

    Rort is one of my favourite words. It’s only a rort when you are not in on it.

    A big shout to the Cob’s Elizabeth Bay tour. A must.

    Fish, Australian music history, The Alberts, Celebrity, Spanish American architecture, murder, intrigue, rumour as fact, facts,, PJ Keating,, Nick Cave, Old Mate Upton and Cape Canaveral amongst many treats that await.

  6. Love Sydney all the more for you and the Cob and Cygnet being there. The footie convo was manageable and I thank you. Elizabeth Bay tour a delight.

  7. Mathilde, I suspect there will be further opportunities.

    It has been a while since Carlton carried real expectations into a finals series. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. You’ve reminded me.

  8. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Thanks for kind words folks.
    I’ve been looking for sick Crows, Mountain Ash. Only pigeons and mynahs so far …
    We’ll be looking for web testimonials, PJF and ATM.
    John B, your first sentence seemed like consolation at first but then I remembered the context in which I had placed the word opportunity …

  9. Superb as always,Mathilde I can picture,PJF re no hawkers.I hope I am wrong but normal order will be restored last weeks losers winners this week

  10. A good read Mathilde.
    Never mind the omens, get out the cattle prods!

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