Grand Final – West Coast v Hawthorn: Paranoid android

“…the past is in us, and not behind us. Things are never over.” 
– Tim Winton, The Turning

 

Sometimes appreciation comes creeping. Sometimes a doubt always remains.

I eagerly walked down to the local JB Hi-Fi on a Saturday morning in October 1997. Back at home, an hour later, I was throwing cricket gear in my bag; new CD spinning. It was rubbish. More than disappointing. How could I have wasted the money? I played the second song over and over (would it stick?) before driving across to Ford Park for a C Grade fixture full of trepidation against Bellfield.

==

Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)

==

These past few years, I haven’t seen much of Hawthorn. Probably three or four games each year. Maybe less. Each time I’ve found it an ordeal. Immediately after the 2014 Grand Final I wrote a piece of limited rigour called “Mission 2015: How to beat dial-a-Houdini netball,” wondering about game styles that would need to evolve in 2015 to beat Hawthorn’s possession game. That chip-chip-keepings-off-via-uncontested-possession-through-run-and-run-creating-loose-men-inside-50 game is a frustrating thing to watch. (“Pick him UP!”)

==

 

The 2015 AFL footy season started in the shadows of the Cricket World Cup. At the MCG, it was World Cup final on the Sunday, Carlton v Richmond on the Thursday. That tournament pushed the AFL season back by a week, meaning the Grand Final was held in October. (In a parallel universe, League executives saw the encroaching World Cup cricket as an opportunity to try something different. They voted in a 17-week home and away fixture, enabling each club to play each other once. And while admitting it hardly ideal, the executives received kudos for re-balancing some laughable fixture inequities).

Around the first weekend in October, unseasonal heat was to claim eastern Australia (and its crops), we had a new Prime Minister, and Hawthorn was in the Grand Final again. For most non-Hawthorn supporters, this was a travesty.

==

When I am king, you will be first against the wall
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android)

==

What are they doing at Hawthorn? My layman view is that Hawthorn run well without the ball, setting up loose men everywhere. Their foot passing is accurate. They play keepings-off, in a way very similar to other invasion games, such as netball. Invasion games are those in which you need to invade your opponent’s territory in order to score (e.g. all the football codes, netball, basketball, hockey, water polo). There are three phases to an invasion game: (i) we have the ball, (ii) they have the ball, and (iii) the ball is contested.

When Hawthorn has the ball, everything looks easy for them. Chip, chip, chip. But it is all built on the ability to run all day (further, more willingly, than your opponent). But more than that, it is built on knowing where to run to create maximum benefit. It can work when players think independent thoughts, using cunning and instinct. But it can be more effectively done in an all-of-team context. “If I run here, you run there, and you run over there, all at the same time, an opportunity will open up.” Picture a General orchestrating an army; plotting over the war zone map. A robot army.

When Hawthorn has the ball, the game looks easy. It looks uncontested. It looks soft. It is not much of a spectacle, in truth. Risking opprobrium of satisfied Hawk fans, I and others have previously referred to is as “boring.” It’s a fair description. The game plan (I run here, you run there) is desperately dull to watch. You’re left hoping for a mistake; a turnover. And mistakes happen, of course, because these plans are executed (and developed) by humans. A plan developed for the wide MCG, can come unstuck at grounds offering less space in which to execute this plan (Docklands, Subiaco). And maintaining possession relies upon accurate kicking; which is easier when you have a healthy lead. It looks unexciting. But generally, it feels hope-less (as in ‘without hope’) for an opposition supporter. The game resembles netball played on a giant oval. For a spectator it is boring. Robot army. (“I may be paranoid, but not an android“).

When Hawthorn’s opposition has the ball, the game looks difficult. Where are the leading players? Where is the space? Again, this is not much of a spectacle, as the opponent chips around, often backwards and sideways, looking for a way in, before bombing down the line to a contest. This situation comes about from Hawthorn’s all-of-team approach to defence; a zone defence, really, which can look soft and unaccountable, but which is best understood from the position of the General. It is dull to watch, as again you’re left hoping for an absence of mistakes, rather than anything daring. Again it is built upon running and strategy. Robot army. (“I may be paranoid, but not an android”)

When the ball is contested, the General has negligible involvement. It is all up to the players. It is the purest of times, perhaps. Here, Hawthorn does very well. Hale, Mitchell, Lewis, Hodge and others over the years have had that requisite hardness, that animal intensity, that ability to skate up to (and sometimes beyond) the bounds of fair play, common with all winners of contested ball (e.g. Voss, Black, Kerr, Cousins, Kirk, Bolton, Hayes, Ball, Selwood, Swan). They’re good in close. And then there’s Rioli. No problem. Well played.

An irritant here: surely every other club is attempting to do the same thing(s)?

==

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking and squealing Gucci little piggy
You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does….

==

Grand Final day.
A few families are across the suburbs to Scotty’s place. As has become usual. He’s a Hawk with Hawk sons, posters on the wall and even some bunting (“same as last year”).
He’s got the BBQ on, beers on ice, two TVs set up (“one outside next to the BBQ”). And he’s got a pool. Brilliant.
The rest of us are barracking for West Coast (“…and I invite you into my home…”)
It’s hot. It starts.
Already fifty-fifty balls are going to the Hawks. The Eagles miss a set shot. (“You’ve gotta take your chances”) and I think about the curse of hoping for an absence of mistakes. That old double negative. (“Come on Eagles; just play well”).
I think of Isaac Smith’s Dad at the Footy Almanac Grand Final Eve Lunch, think of his confidence that Isaac and the Hawks were “up for it.” Isaac is running and running to interesting spots and damaging and it’s wonderful.
By the second quarter Scotty’s obvious tension fades.
At half time we’re all needling him (“Your Hawks are old mate.” “They’ve fired their last shot.” “I don’t think they far enough in front.” “They’ve travelled and played every week, mate. Here come the Eagles.”) And in the third, that little window opens for West Coast.
The tension rises. We’re alive.
But a dropped mark and a missed shot, a tackle, a conversion the other way, and it’s over.

==
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me

==

The album that so disappointed me on first listening was Radiohead’s OK Computer. Before too long it was my favourite. Recognition. No doubts remain.

==

Now, at the end of a season of high emotion, which started before the cricket season had settled, which ended in the cricket season itself (with appropriate weather), it sticks in my craw that Hawthorn are premiers again. They were not the best side of the year. They’ve had their turn.

Hawthorn rode the umpiring in the Preliminary Final. They were favoured in the first half. It’s a sliding doors scenario to imagine Fremantle a few goals up at half time; applying the sleeper hold in the second half. Imagine N Fyfe with two healthy legs.

Hawthorn were not the best team of 2015, but they were Premiers. Premiers. In our funny system this was true of 2014 and 2013, too. In each year they’ve played a team from outside Victoria, at the MCG, for the flag; Fremantle in 2013 (2 games prior to the Grand Final at MCG), Sydney in 2014 (3 games), West Coast in 2015 (1 game).

But still, three in a row bears some consideration. This time I’m not wondering how they’re to be beaten, for I know that they will be. I’m not railing against their method of play, for it’s been shown to work. I accept that. I do get to choose whether to like it or not. Watching a game decided on an absence of mistakes is a bit draining. There’s limited scope for the involuntary roar. But then, all top level sport has this aspect to it. I’d prefer to watch a game of unpredictability, of characters, of chances made, rather than of sterile keepings-off; playing to minimise mistakes.

And now, these weeks later, a time of de-listings and trades, its clearer than ever that the Grand Final can only ever be a moment in time. A moment. But cumulatively these seasons have shaped us a little. Or a lot. As Tim Winton wrote in the Turning, “…the past is in us, and not behind us. Things are never over.” Well played, Hawks.

Sometimes appreciation comes creeping. Sometimes a doubt always remains. I appreciate this three-in-a-row. Now, bring on the revolution.

==

That’s it, sir
You’re leaving
The crackle of pigskin
The dust and the screaming
The yuppies networking
The panic, the vomit
The panic, the vomit
God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!
==

 

Radiohead, Paranoid Android (song number 2 on OK Computer)

==

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About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says:

    “These past few years I haven’t seen much of Hawthorn. Probably 3 or 4 games a year. Maybe less. Each time I’ve found it an ordeal.” Ditto ER.

    Also like you, found ‘OK Computer’ very hard to listen to at first. What a classic though. Holds up really well 18 years later. But have never liked that ‘Paranoid Android’ video clip. At all.

  2. G’day Luke.
    Good call.
    Such a terribly bleak clip. But I’m still discovering musical aspects of OK Computer that have remained hidden through 18 years of steady exposure.

    (“I may be paranoid, but not an android”)

  3. David- the first time I heard Paranoid Android was on Triple J breakfast with, I think, Mikey and the Sandman. A fan of Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, I was hooked and promptly bought the album. I currently think The Tourist is the standout track, and still rate the record.

    Kid A is often seen as Radiohead’s other masterpiece, but I can’t quite see it. For me, The Bends also goes well too.

    Got through all that without mentioning The Hawks. Bugger.

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