Grand Final – Richmond v Geelong: Cactus





So, it turns out that the Cats stay in purgatory must last a little longer. That stopover on the way to paradise.


In loss, colour disappears. The red cans I was drinking before and during the game looked a drab grey at the end. I peered out through the blinds and saw that the joyous pink roses had retreated to steel. The grass was black. Humour had left the room in a hurry and slammed the door on the way out. I was as lonely as the last man on earth, yet I sat in a room full of family. The sound of the final siren ringing out on the TV indicates that hope has been routed.


What sick lunatic came up with this losing thing?


My head hurts. My tongue is dry; an unquenchable dry. Cactus dry. Frigid mountain peak dry. Dry like the pits of hell. The carpet and walls and ceiling are dank looking. Mildewy. Closing in. I drink. The beer is cold. Really unpleasant cold. Dead cold. Unfriendly cold. I open another and hold it in my hand. We look at each other, this can and I. I gulp at it. There is no satisfaction. Its wet, that’s about all. Tasteless and wet. Tasteless and wet and necessary lest I think about something.


Things are happening on the TV. People are there. They make no sound that registers with me. Many have mouths open. Their eyes shine like rubies. Black rubies. The laughing is hideous. At least to my ear. Hyenas-at-a-feast hideous. A gold cup accompanies them around the arena. Its garish and gaudy. I can’t recognise it. A bloke keeps sticking his tongue out. He’s important. He’s covered in inky decorations. A bull. He oozes power. It drips off his arms and back and even off his freshly mown head. He has the look of an immortal. Immortals don’t have a sense of self. They are, temporarily at least, the universe. Immortality is more spirit than form but occasionally it shows itself. In flashes. In balance and ruthlessness and beauty.


Last quarter, near the boundary line, hemmed in. Nowhere to go. Immortality appeared. It shone brilliantly. They will still be watching this in one hundred years. The bull guided the ball onto his boot with equal parts finesse and brawn and it bisected the tall posts as if that was the easy option not the impossible one. He ran with his tongue on his chin; a warrior who had just slain the dragon and drunk its blood. He grabbed his jumper and stretched it across his torso. Greatness. You can’t hold a mirror up to the universe.


Who thought up losing?


Young ones want explanations. They look at me for answers. I go to the standard answers. Those based upon inconvenient truth. It’s the effort I said. Losing is better then being effortless. Battle and lose, never discard effort. The Cats tried. They walked the plank. They made mistakes in front of God and everyone. They are therefore redeemed! I didn’t convince myself either. Blank eyes look back at me. I know the questions they have. If defeat is such a mighty teacher, why must it be so harsh? Sadly, I know a bit about defeat. Up close, personal, salt-in-the-wound defeat. Defeat that rests with you every night and walks with you every day. That defeat. We are brothers. It gnaws away and yet is the making of me, such as I am. It is a key ingredient in the absurdity of life. We are here, therefore we have already lost. Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.


My explanation is empty in this current environment. Stupid even. It’s stupid because nothing feels right or good or in equilibrium. Nothing. The bed is hard. The pillow a piece of granite. Thoughts swirl and sit just above the eyebrows which prevents sleep. But sleep is what I need. Respite. It won’t come. The cruelty of sport will linger and have its way. My belly is full of beer. I’m like a balloon of water, blocked at both ends. I roll from side to side. Neither here nor there. The beer swishes to my rhythm.


Morning eventually arrives. There is the first second of wakefulness when the world is good. Then reality bites. The ache in the pit of the stomach persists. Loss. Defeat. It smells like old garlic breath. I look inside myself and see the 2020 wound. Its already introducing itself to 2008 and 1995 and 1994 and 1992 and 1989 and 1967. They are the princes of pain. The king of pain is another, in a realm of his own. We shall not speak of it.


The gates of purgatory remain fastened shut. Perhaps for a thousand years. Perhaps for one year. The Cats will suit up next year, sans Gazza. They will go into battle: sporting battle not mortal battle. They will give me joy and pain. The greatest hope is that they are in equal parts.




RICHMOND     2.1     3.2     7.4     12.9     (81)
GEELONG        2.2     5.5     6.8     7.8     (50)


Martin 4, Prestia 2, Riewoldt 2, Castagna, Lambert, Lynch, McIntosh
Geelong: Menegola 2, Dangerfield, Duncan, Guthrie, Hawkins, Miers


Martin, Short, Edwards, Prestia, Cotchin, Bolton
Geelong: Duncan, Stewart, Selwood, Menegola, Dahlhaus


Vlastuin (concussion), Houli (calf)
Geelong: Ablett (shoulder), Simpson (concussion)




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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. This is a modern-day psalm.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Fine work, Dips – your image of purgatory is, alas, all-too-familiar.

  3. This is why the overwhelming feeling of the victor is relief. Relief at having avoided this awful purgatory. I was preparing myself for this possibility all last week, but as Richmond started sinking, I knew it wouldn’t make things any better. We are blessed that we’ve not experienced this state since 1982.
    I feel for the Cats’ fans. Ablett aside, the team has become invisible since Saturday night. They deserve better acknowledgement. I think it would help the pain.

  4. Hi Dips

    Magnificent. So personal and yet so universal. Calling to mind, the conundrums of agony and the ecstasy. Agony, by the way has its roots in Greek, derived from both contest and work. But this is not the time nor place for my musings. For now, suffer the suffering we all know all too well, as today slowly turns into tomorrow and again and again and Season 2021 brings forth hope of salvation “in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk”.


  5. roger lowrey says


    I want to write something half cogent.

    But I can’t because my fuel gauge is on empty.

    So hello.


  6. Mark Branagan says

    Superb work Dips. That description of Dusty, ‘tongue on chin’ is one of the best and captured him perfectly. Only Geelong could manage to run into a force of nature at its wildest.

    Didn’t Vatican II revive the 1627 Conference of Sevilla declarations and question the existence of Purgatory in 1962 – which coincided with Doug Wade being robbed of a mark in the dying seconds of the Preliminary Final replay? If so, it’s only been Heaven or Hell for Cats fans since then I’m afraid.


  7. Luke Reynolds says

    I still have these feelings from 2018. And 2011. And 2003. And 2002.

    Bring on next season for a fresh start, a new hope.

  8. Was Paddy Dangerfield raised a Catholic? My theory is that he was plagued by guilt for “accidentally on purpose” taking out Vlastuin and the resulting punishment the gods delivered on Ablett. His second half was penance.

  9. I didn’t realise footy affected you so much Dips! Wonderful read.

  10. Enjoying the comments folks. May thanks.

    I’ll say one thing for losing – it provokes just as big an emotion as winning. They just differ slightly in character.

    MB – I’ll have a look back at Vatican II and the purgatory thing. However the existence of purgatory is plain for all to see.

  11. Andrew Fithall says

    Hi Dips. I remember you wrote on another platform last week that the Cats had nothing to lose. I didn’t respond to that then but I knew that once you are there, the premiership is then yours to win or lose. You have expressed so well that feeling of loss. I know it well. And there were two members of my household who went through everything you went through. Vicarious pain is also a thing.

  12. Nice stuff, Dips. I almost felt your pain.

    There is always next year, but I reckon that the Cats have some work to do to get back to a top 4 position. Their list really needs an injection of youth.

  13. AF – the Cats players had nothing to lose. Supporters had plenty (and always have plenty!!). That’s the disappointing bit. So much to play for but the effort couldn’t be maintained. Mind you we’ve learned that Ablett had a cracked shoulder and Parfitt and broken thumb. Perhaps we excuse those two?

    We need youth. I can’t work out why we are likely to recruit an old bloke from North on top of the other old bloke last year from St Kilda, then look to trade Clark? If that’s true.

  14. george smith says

    Now that the pain and frustration is settled a bit (at least it wasn’t Carlton) I would like to pay tribute to the AFL’s other two unusual clubs, apart from Port and Brisbane.

    1.Geelong is the only provincial city club in the AFL. rugby league has four of them. as such it has its own home ground, not shared by anyone a provincial side they also have their own newspaper the Geelong advertiser and radio station K-rock, formerly 3GL, which gives them column inches and more air time than most other clubs.

    They used to play away games at Waverley, which meant the drive home took an eternity. While the train trip home took forever after a finals defeat, the trip to the home ground takes not long at all. As such they have been a magnet for players who like the quiet life, such as Gary Ablett Senior and Mark Bairstow.

    Number 2 is the Sydney Swans. They are the first interstate club in the VFL, a few years before the national comp. They had a terrible brawl before they were shipped off to Sydney but since then they have had a chequered history but have won far more finals as Sydney in recent times than they ever did as South Melbourne (once in 1970 and once in 1977). Not to mention two premierships.

  15. G’day Dips.
    To me, you have written a beautiful and soaring lament to dashed dreams.
    And to things that do not make sense.

    None of this make sense.
    And I guess there is beauty in acknowledging that, as well.
    Love it.

  16. Cheers ER. If a billion people were given a billion years to make sense of things they still wouldn’t achieve success.

    Interesting tribute George.

  17. Epic Dips. Speaking as someone who understands. The one’s when you get 4 or 5 goals up are the ones that fester.

    Btw, speaking as a neutral observer, I’m suprised not more has been made of that extended half-time break. The break seemed to go for an extra 10 minutes to me, surely that can’t help the mindset when you’re 15 points up. I reckon it was huge. Also, a couple of very soft free-kicks paid straight after half-time. Very soft.

  18. Really nice piece of work Dips!
    As a Tiger I must say that having sat through thrashings Geelong meted to us over the years, 2007 at the darklands stadium is etched into my brain, that I knew the day would come when the boot would indeed be on the other foot. That ‘day’ I think started at Kardinia Park round 21 2017, which Geelong won, but I sensed it would be the last meaningful time for a long time it would happen. Geelong beat Richmond in 15 games straight. The semi final of 2017 Richmond supporters were manic, emotionally relieved to have finally slain the beast. It’s not payback as such, but we now like beating Geelong and each time we do so it is just one little notch that erases the memory of that 157 point defeat. For the moment, we have your measure.

  19. Damien I have to take issue. If anything, the long half time stopped Richmond’s momentum, not Geelong’s. Richmond also coped with two extrnded injury delays far better than Geelong.
    And if losing a pivotal defender for the entire match to a head-high elbow – accident or not – wasn’t worthy of a free kick, the “soft frees” we received later were scant consolation at best!

  20. Conscious of the pain felt right across Sleepy Hollow, I’ve been reluctant to comment until now, but Mr. B’s reference to the guilt factor that may have unsettled Paddy Dangerfield I think deserves respect. lt’s also possible that he was put off balance by being pushed forward to bolster the attack. He does his best work around the ground, and Richmond’s revamped clearance machine certainly benefitted from his absence.

    It’s also possible that too much has been asked of him. He finished 4th in the Cargji Greeves count, just one vote ahead of Mitch Duncan on 213.5. I can’t help thinking of Chris Judd who came to Carlton as the messiah, but the only medal left with was a Brownlow.

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