Grand Final – Geelong v Sydney: Murder in the Centre





Somehow, the setting is important. I’ve watched Grand Finals in Far North remote pubs, the Outback, and Tassie sheds. Even went to one, once, surrounded by corperate give away ticket holders, while my mates down the coast got drunk, barracked and gave each other mighty ribbings and not a few tackles. Sitting in the G, I’d never been more bored. Yet if I was in with the cheer squads, during a close one, I might have felt different.


This year the Millers Inn, Altona, got the gong, because, why not? A barfly observing footy’s big day, from a random pub’s perspective.


It was brilliant. I met the great, great man, Lazar Vidovic there, both a huge man and larger than life. The mayor of Altona and the pope of the docks, he introduced me to every and anyone, big greetings, the most generous spirit.


The wife and kid came and went and returned again, as Lazar and I, and a few of his mates, got in a shout and settled in for footy.


What a shitshow.


There was murder in the centre square, time and again a knife to the heart, a knife to the heart. Every ball-up, every clearance. The rest didn’t really matter. Someone was going to kick them, others be starved of chances.


Those who say rucks are overrated should have watched this game. Hickey was dismembered at the centre bounces. Proven to be a Jackson, a Solo, a handy back-up. The ball was always going Geelong’s way the moment the bounce descended. That meant Dangerfield could run hard onto it, or Selwood. All four Geelong mids could charge goalward. Luke Parker on Danger looked good on paper, but the truth of it outed. Parker couldn’t create pressure on his opponent by surging forward at the bounce because forward, for him, it wasn’t. Patrick could afford to back himself to Stanley’s hand (hardly a top-tear ruck) and Blicavs’. Patrick could afford to push through bounces at pace rather than wait for them. Patrick was first to the ball relentlessly.


This meant the Geelong backs could press firmly from the git go. The ball came into Geelong’s forward 50, the ball came in, the ball came in. It meant Sydney’s defenders had no time or space to counter. Goals were always going to happen. That Cameron and Rohan couldn’t kick a rock in such an avalanche says a lot about who they were playing on. Fox and Rampe deserved medals.


With such press the Swans that did get it running out were made to look like idiots. Constantly being tackled, or worried out of hitting targets. Tin ducks being shot at the carnival. Often the problem was, with such Cats control in the middle, the Geelong backs had pressed up so much the Swans forwards had to go with them. There was no room for run from defence, and no-one to kick to when they did get it out. Pausing to wait for a target was when they were hammered.


Everything stemmed from the middle.


Geelong were playing with Grand Final intensity, Grand Final chase, Grand Final desperation. Sydney were playing a Prelim, or maybe a Semi. The difference in pace is everything.


I didn’t blame Franklin, or Papley, whose performance put lie to stats. Twenty touches but non-existent – a damn shame, because I love the angry bastard. Papley makes everything interesting. Normally. But he had to go into the middle to try and generate something.


The ball never came down to the Swans forwards. And when it did, it was never on the break, never on the run, never on a platter. There was nothing they could simply lead hard at, like Hawkins could.


At half time I thought of Hickey. Looks like Barry Gibb, seems like a good bloke, but had the first two goals of a GF kicked on him in eviscerating fashion, Hawkins shrugging him off in the ruck. Shrugging!


‘Not that old chestnut!’ I said to Lazar.


Hawkins has been doing it for almost two decades! All the strong rucks like Nankervis simply won’t have it anymore. All those with force of personality.


Hickey, so good last week. When it mattered most, though, smacked in the middle, in Geelong’s forward line, at ground level.


You dedicate your life to getting this far. All of it. I wonder what he’s thinking now? What he’ll be thinking for decades?


There were no high marks, no brilliant goals, no bone-crushing collisions for the ages, there was no humour. There was no comeback. It was all horrible, like watching a goddamn machine work, unless you’re of the hoops variety, and, if so, it was all goddamn glorious! Every bit of it. A thing of giants, a day for solidifying legends. To witness Selwood pass from great into immortality. For Danger, love or hate the smarmy turd, to prove just how good he is on the biggest stage. He deserved Norm.


Stats again were allowed to beat the vibe of the thing, your honour. The reality. Smith played a ripper! But was on the receiving end of Dangerfield’s souped up dozer. ‘Percentages,’ says Smith had higher ‘efficiency’. Anyone who quotes me these things can piss off back to their bubbles. I’d rather talk about football. Danger’s ‘efficiency’ was lower because he was bashing through three or four solid bastards, willing the ball forward.


Smith, who I’ve always had a soft spot for, had a blinder on the end of this work, but Danger was the man, damn it.


The game was won in the first. Was one from the first bounce, from before it, in the recruiting officer’s office. Geelong were stronger, more hard-boiled. They’d played in Grand Finals before, and alongside each other for decades, if not centuries – their accused weakness their strength.


Age can be glorious.


Just looking at the team sheets, it was always going to end this way, even though we were always going to hope otherwise. Deep down we knew, and Sydney and Geelong played like they did, too.


I liked Blicavs’ game the best. Dominated Hickey in the ruck; ruck roved, marked across half back, kicked a goal. Almost all in the first half, but that was when the ruts were worn into the track. Anything after that was simply free-fall.


Also, I enjoyed Close. He looks like Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott so much it’s scary. But he’s grown fantastically from bit player to genuine contributor. A name to contend with.


All of Geelong are. Maybe that’s why the game was so boring.


Ali had Frazier. Federer; Nadal. Beer; potato chips. Arnie; DeVito. Geelong took on a team that prides itself on (Buddy aside) being faceless. When the faceless weren’t nearly good enough, the rest was whatever was going on in the room around us.


Big Lazar was giving it to anyone watching. Being funny, insisting on shouting my family dinner. Out kid looked tiny hugging him. His mates from the docks gave good back. It was great. They all knew and liked each other.


Locals, at the Millers Inn, just off the highway.



Old Dog with Lazar Vidovic




GEELONG       6.5       9.8       15.11       20.13 (133)
SYDNEY         1.0       4.2         4.3           8.4 (52)


Stengle 4, Hawkins, Smith 3, Cameron, Close 2, Blicavs, De Koning, Duncan, C. Guthrie, Parfitt, Selwood
Sydney: Warner 2, Hayward, McLean, P. McCartin, Mills, Heeney, Papley 


 Smith, Dangerfield, Hawkins, Stengle, Selwood, Close
Sydney: Warner, Fox, Rowbottom, Papley, Lloyd


GEELONG: Dangerfield, Stanley, Smith, Close (I’ll ask him)
SWANS: Rampe, Fox (I’ll ask him)


Geelong: C. Guthrie (hamstring)
Sydney: Reid (adductor)


Max Holmes (hamstring) replaced in selected side by Mark O’Connor


Geelong: Brandan Parfitt (replaced C. Guthrie in the fourth quarter)
Sydney: Braeden Campbell (replaced Sam Reid in the third quarter)


Crowd: 100,024 at the MCG




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  1. I used to know Big Lazar in the 2nd hand car trade. Very funny bloke. I was a debt-collector, of sorts. He always had the best stories about where the cheque had got to. He felt supremely unthreatened by my threats. Good bloke.
    Agree Danger was the man. I came up with an idea today that his springing back to his feet with the ball after diving into a pack (the best at it I’ve seen) is learned from surfing. The “pop up” those bludgers call it, I think.
    Tom Papley seems like a product of poor parenting to me. I wonder if he was ever vaccinated as a kid.
    (His father told a ripper yarn about his “needles” at the Almanack lunch. A natural bush raconteur and top bloke.)
    Go Catters. xx

  2. Gold! All of it!

    But nah, only one I’ll differ on is Papley. I love the show he puts on. A real character.

  3. Glad you’re first off the mark on the Almanac’s post-GF summaries, Old Dog. Always a fan of your analysis forged from hundreds of games in many states with a writer’s touch and allergy to bullshit to boot.

    I saw 40% of the game and Danger was a superlative traction engine. Like Bachar in 2017, will forever be known as a worthy non-winner of Norm.

  4. The Golden Oldies done good alright! I don’t watch much of the AFL, usually just the last quarter on Friday nights after the rugby league, but always the GF in full.

    The Swans played their GF the week before just to get to the last Saturday and compounded their exhaustion by selecting a clearly unfit Reid. There’s no place to hide on the biggest stage of all. Meanwhile the Cats expended far less effort in disposing of the Lions the previous week and merely carried on from where they left off.

    I was particularly impressed by both Dangerfield and Selwood who are expert exponents of the so-called ‘hard ball gets’t the bottom of the packs, providing inspiration, service, space and time to those running off them. ‘Danger’, even when on the ground, on hands and knees, continued to shovel the sherrin out. And Selwood’s goal off the outside of the boot was a fitting reward for a wonderful performance – and, perhaps, a fitting finale if he chooses to bring down the curtain. Also, gracious and dignified post-match speeches by both the winners and the losers.

    And then there were the kids at the end presenting the medals – always magical and this time noted for Selwood presenting his boots to the little lad and also the girl who congratulated ‘Danger’ on his first premiership.

    Not the greatest of games in terms of a contest but nevertheless a testament to the superiority of the best team of the year.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    I too noticed Close’s game. Just so creative, and the source of a lot of goals for others. Nice pic and lovely yarn entwined with the footy Matt.

  6. At the very least, Sydney deserved kudos for eliminating Collywobblers the week before, but after that, nothing.

    Like your comment that it was won by the recruiting office. So true, just look at the size of the Geelong blokes, all over the ground. Just wish my Port Adelaide mob would wake up to that.

    Good write-up, too, thank you.

  7. Thanks Old Dog. Your combination of the sense of occasion and what was happening on the footy field makes for great reading every year. Wasn’t expecting Altona to bob up.

    No doubt P. Dangerfield was discussed as Norm Smith Medalist all over the country. It was certainly a topic of conversation at the All Nations on Saturday night.

    Powerful from the Cats against a tired Swans outfit.

  8. Old Dog, cryptic AJC comments emerge from David and Susie Papley’s outstanding interview at the Almanac lunch on Friday where David discussed the health implications of large celebrations and family responsibilities.

    On the basis of AJC’s comments I also encourage him to write the book ‘Confessions of a Debt Collector in the used car industry’.

  9. I should say that in the Norm Smith discussions, the weight of opinion did favour Isaac Smith.

  10. Great analysis, Old Dog.

    In a previous life, The Millers Inn in Altona North was called The Central Hotel. As there are no pubs in Altona or nearby, it was the meeting point for slaughter men, railway workers and factory hands, and was a real blood house.

  11. After really enjoying a superb Grand Final in the SANFL the previous week, this AFL one was a huge disappointment. Over here in Adelaide the underdog, Norwood, after trailing by 17 points late in the final quarter, refused to lie down and rattled on 3 quick, but hard fought, goals to snatch an unlikely 1 point victory. As a renowned Norwood man, I was ecstatic, especially as it was the 29th anniversary of my father’s passing (he was a Redleg fan all his life). Back in the AFL Geelong were awesome whilst the Swans were hopeless for most of the game. I couldn’t help but think than Jan Courtin would have been devastated at Sydney’s poor showing had she still been alive.

  12. Thanks all! Thanks John.

    If I agreed wth most, mate, I might have less to say (: Smith for results, Danger for impact. His presence where it was won, at stoppages, will always win me over. Wingers tend to do well when a team is winning them. Yes, Smith kicked three, but how many did Danger set up? 6 or more? Nothing against Smith, I’m a fan. And don’t shine to Danger. But I’m talking footy, is all. A good chat to be had, obviously. There’s no right or wrong.

    Hell, I’m looking forward to re-watching it in the cold light of day and seeing if I agree with myself, given time!

  13. Smokie, yeah, that paints a picture, alright!

    Fisho, I’d hope Jan would have been glad they got there in a year they were not expected to make top four. But she sure was passionate Blood! So who knows?

  14. Old Dog: did you know Vidovic played footy as a younger boy for Castlemaine in the Bendigo F.L.

    Main ruckman for the Maine Magpies.

    And are you sure you were watching the same grannie? How on earth could you not have Stengle in ur best 3 or 4. Too pissed by match end ???

  15. Ellis, yep, of course I did. Him, and Wow before him. They’ve had some tough ones!

    I didn’t do the best players. Personally, I would have had Stengle at about three. Though Warner from Sydney did all that he could to stem tides. IN the piece I was talking about the games of the player I enjoyed. Tipping my hat to those that often fly under the radar. Stengle was. the guts!

    And, yeah, I was drunk.

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