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Grand Final 2016 – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: The lonely walk out of the MCG

As a supporter you are chasing memories when you go to a Grand Final. Jubilation or devastation.

 

There is no middle ground.

 

From 2012 I remember sitting with my head in my lap, like a frightened turtle, only coming up for air when I heard the roar after Malceski snapped truly.

 

From 2014 I remember that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach as I fled the scene of the crime and then offered a Flinders Street cabbie $10 to turn his radio off, to spare me the piercing sound of Hawks fans on talkback.

 

I wake early, wondering what memories will be created today?

 

Living 1km from the Whitten Oval I am nestled in the heart of Bulldogs territory. All my neighbours have Bulldogs colours flying from their houses. People look at me like I am Darth Vader when I have the ‘courage’ to step outside this week in a Swans scarf. I only feel comfortable once I pass the Maribyrnong River.

 

There is a wave of goodwill in Melbourne hoping to carry the Bulldogs to victory. You can almost touch it. Bulldogs fans have that same glint of desperation and hope in their eyes that we carried into 2005. Unlike Vader I’m sticking with my side and won’t be switching teams at the last moment to save face.

 

The whole Dodson tribe is in Melbourne for the big game. My parents and brother made the trip from Wagga on Friday. Dodson HQ is a sea of inflatable mattresses and anticipation. My scallywags Jack (aged 4) and Harry (aged 2) are covered in red and white. Jack knows they are playing for the ‘big trophy’ and wants Daddy to bring it home to put on the bookshelf. Harry just wants to pop the red and white balloons. Mrs D just wants a strong coffee.

 

At midday I jump onto the train at Seddon. Next stop Footscray Station. It is wall to wall Doggies. I cop some good natured ribbing. I make some space for an elderly Bulldog fan to jump on. My new friend Sue is propped up by a walking stick, and is obviously nervous about the big day. She tells me stories of being a supporter for over 60 years. At one point I catch her struggling to take a breath. The only advice I can give is to tell her to keep hydrated. I wish Sue good luck (but not too much) and jump off at Parliament Station.

 

After a pleasant stroll I am soon at the G. I make my way up the escalators to level 4 of the Ponsford Stand. Row GG is Sherpa territory. I start the ascent, however, by the time I get to row S my legs are shaking like I’ve gone two rounds with Mike Tyson. I don’t do heights well. I pause to take stock. Bloody hell that is a long way down. I am frozen and at this stage I may be still here come the Boxing Day Test. I decide to abandon the quest for Everest and climb down, displaying all the athleticism of a heavily fatigued Justin Madden.

 

Where to from here? No seat. I get back to ground level and pick a standing room spot behind the Swans Cheer Squad. Being over 6 foot certainly will be an asset today. It feels comforting to be near the Swans faithful. My legs will be aching for the cause come the end of the day.

 

In no time the National Anthem is playing and I’m impressed that most people are belting it out. I feel like I am back at a Tolland Primary School assembly. The roar after the anthem is a noise that few sporting events in the world can replicate. I am feeling uneasy in the stomach.

 

Bang, crash, boom. A predictably frenetic opening term as players strive for an early touch. There will be no bursting out of the gates today. Kieren Jack takes a courageous mark going back with the flight and Luke Parker kicks our first.

 

The game opens up to a degree in the second quarter. The Doggies are starting to get on top and it is 31-15 in a flash. The pessimist in me is starting to win the fight. My mind drifts back to 2014. When needed our leaders take charge and we slam on four straight goals. I am believing again. Josh Kennedy is brilliant. Standing tall and refusing to wilt at the stoppages. We are not going down meekly on his watch. We take a slight lead into half time. I decide to get the legs moving and make my way to the food court.

 

The waft of stale chips and $7 hot dogs does little to ease my queasy stomach. I at least get a seat and give my size 11s a rest. You can sense the nerves of the fans. There is not much chatter. People are in their heads. Nearby a mother bounces a toddler on her knee. The little chat is as happy as Larry and is oblivious to the mental anguish of the ‘big people’ around him. I wish I was three again.

 

The sound of the siren tells me it is time to get back to the stands. Jubilation or devastation awaits.

 

Johannisen is off the chain. I am hoping for a hard tag that doesn’t seem to be coming. He has already broken our hearts once this year. To be honest we may not have a player that can go with him.

 

I once played golf behind Johannisen at Sunshine Golf Club. It is fair to say he can’t drive a golf ball anywhere near as well as he can weave through traffic on the field.

 

I pace up and down like an expectant father. I don’t talk. I just hope. I am a lost soul.

 

Grundy is marking everything at half back and keeping the wolves at bay. Buddy is trying his ‘don’t argue’ fend on everyone, yet the Bulldogs are tackling for their lives. Eight points down at the last break.

 

In a gripping last quarter I decide we have either won or lost the game on several occasions. I feel like vomiting. Back to within one point on two separate occasions.  When Buddy goals I dare to dream.

 

The Bulldogs won’t be denied today and in a flash the game is gone. Boyd and Picken are outstanding.  I see grown men and women shed tears of sheer jubilation.  I don’t know what to do.  I watch the last few minutes in a haze.

 

The siren sounds.

 

I watch for a few minutes as 62 years of Doggies frustration is released.  It was a brilliant performance today and they are deserving premiers. Hard and relentless, yet with a dash of youthful exuberance and dare. A premiership combination. Hats off to all involved.

 

I can’t fault the effort from the Sydney boys today. It was a brutal game and we never shirked the contest. Kennedy was epic. Grundy and Rampe held firm down back and Heeney stood up on the big stage.  Ultimately, we just didn’t handle some of the key moments well enough.

 

In time I will reflect on what has been a very good year for the club.  The emergence of a handful of new players that will form the foundation of our team for the next decade. Now is not the time for perspective though. This loss hurts to the core. An opportunity lost. No guarantees for when the next chance will come.

 

It is a long and lonely walk out of the MCG.  A sea of red and white, walking with their heads looking at the pavement.  Silence. What to say? Who to say it to? No posters to be brought. No lasting glances back at the Ground. No high fives. No Hugs. Nothing… I just want to get home and quickly.

 

I jump into a cab and am thankfully greeted by a driver with no knowledge of the Game. He politely asked if they play the Grand Final every year at the MCG?

 

As we make our way back to home in the Western Suburbs I see people hugging in the streets and hear horns tooting. Jubilation as far as the eye can see. It is a sight, even though it cuts deep. In a flash I am home and am greeted by the scallywags at the door.

 

Jack tells me that the Swannies didn’t win the Big Cup today. Not they didn’t my little man.

 

Hang in there, we will rise again in time.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.

Comments

  1. Chris Bracher says:

    That sums it up beautifully Craig. When is the right time to leave after GF defeat? I made it until the presentations began at which point my son and wife were saying “let’s get out of here”…..a coming of age in regard to their emotional investment in the red and white. I can’t stay around for that stuff…am I a poor sport, or over-invested emotionally, or both? Is emotional over investment in your team possible? And if so, is it healthy?!

  2. george smith says:

    We are with you brother. The black and white army shares your pain. Eddie”s comment about the little kid in St Kilda colours crying his eyes out resonated so much with me (from the doco “The Draw). For every “We are the Champions” there is a “Sunday Morning coming Down”

    Good stuff to come out of this: Winners – it wasn’t Hawthorn. Losers – it wasn’t us.

  3. Keiran Croker says:

    Well done Craig. I stayed until the Cup was presented. Then headed into the City to catch up with mates (neutral supporters) and debrief.
    I was genuinely happy for Doggies supporters and shook some hands and patted some backs. It’s a horrid empty feeling though, when your team gets so close. Still proud of our boys. We gave it our best crack!
    Onwards to next year …. And victory!

  4. Shades of our 2005. AE and I had to drive our hire car back to Adelaide before the flight back across the Nullarbor. We couldn’t bear the thought of going through it again in 2006 – so we stayed home.
    I know you experienced it in reverse. Hope the thought comforts you in your time of grief. A brave winner always needs a gallant loser.

  5. craig dodson says:

    Thanks Chris / KC – still feeling the pinch a few days after the fact. In reflection a good year for us, but still can’t quite get to that point yet.

    George – good to get some love from the Pies family.

    Thanks Peter – 2005 / 2006 seems so long ago, however its funny though, whenever I think about 2006 my main memory is the 2nd half fight-back rather than the loss. I guess having won 2005 did soften the blow. I think the general consensus from the footy public is that 1 flag each was a fitting result.

  6. Well played Craig spot on re the dogs won the key moments and players such as Tippett failing in the crunch

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