How I got to see the Cats game

by Damian O’Donnell

If you spell Daniel Menzel’s surname backwards you get “Leznem”. But Leznem is not a Geelong name. A bloke with that surname might play for St Kilda or Brisbane or Fremantle, he wouldn’t play for the Cats. No, the Cats have Menzel.

I was thinking this as I strolled around a nursery at 1.36pm on Saturday afternoon. It’s amazing what goes through your mind when you’re in one place but want to be in another. I have similar thought patterns whilst sitting in the appropriately named “waiting room” at a doctor’s surgery; the desire to be detached from your current surroundings pervades everything. Thoughts turn upside down.

What a player Menzel could become, what instinct he has, what talent. He’s the sort of player who provokes beer induced, out-of-the-corner-of-the-mouth comments like “He’ll win the Brownlow one day”.  I can’t remember how many players I’ve assessed this way in past years. James Kelly was another. And Scott Pendlebury.

As I strolled through the nursery I was feigning composure. The game between Geelong and the Kangaroos started in about 25 minutes and we still hadn’t chosen any plants. But I couldn’t show any signs of panic. That would be a bad tactical blunder.

The players would be out on the ground warming up; the Cats in their traditional hoops, the Roos probably wearing that horrible Argentinian, soccer-like guernsey. Why do teams butcher their colours so?

My wife likes to have some colour in the garden no matter what the season. So do I. Just a sprinkling of it. In summer its clumps of petunias in pots but now with winter approaching its pansies. So at 1.36pm we were standing in front of the pansy display. Punnet upon punnet upon punnet of pansies were spread out before me in more colours than Pro Hart ever threw on a canvas. This could be very time consuming.  I had to remain calm.

Did I like the yellow ones with the blue eye or just the plain yellow ones, she was asking me. Either one would go well with the blue ones, she was explaining, but which would give the biggest contrast?

I took that to mean that at least the blue ones had been chosen. Promising start.

The yellow ones with the blue eye I replied as I replayed in my mind Menzel’s over-the-head handball to James Kelly as he stormed straight into goal against the Hawks two weeks back. How did Menzel know Kelly was there? You can’t teach that stuff. Kelly didn’t even break stride. Yes, definitely the yellow ones with the blue eye.

I didn’t add “can we go now” but the thought crossed my mind.

It was a pretty good result really. We were back in the car by 1.50pm. I would go home, plug the radio into my ear and listen to the mighty Cats dismantle the hapless Roos, whilst giving life to a bunch of delicate little flowers whose name was once used to describe footballers without the appropriate desire for the contest.

The game started at the same time that I was extracting pansies from the first punnet. The Cats started brightly but the Roos were attacking straight down the guts and giving the Cat defenders plenty to think about.

There was a tap on my shoulder. It was Kate, my second oldest. She’s a beautiful 14 year old girl. Are you going to watch the Cats on the TV she was asking me? But they’re not on the TV I explained. Yes they are said Kate. I should have known better than to doubt her. I should explain.

Kate was born with Down Syndrome. This has meant that learning to read and write has been difficult for her; monumentally difficult. I once had it explained to me by an expert in the field that Kate probably only understands and comprehends about one in every three or four words spoken to her. Try learning anything with only 25% or 30% of the information.

But she has persisted. And persisted and persisted and persisted. Now she has a basic understanding. She spends a lot of time reading now. She reads aloud as if to reassure herself that she’s actually doing it. She’s a voracious reader of the TV guide. Every Sunday morning when I come back from the shops with the newspaper she asks for “the M paper”, which contains the TV guide. She bends over the magazine and studies it in detail like an historian pouring over a newly discovered primary source. She maps out her week’s viewing. She reads aloud,

“5 o’clock on Monday, I Dream Of Jeannie; 5.30 on Monday, Bewitched; 7.30 Friday, Better Homes and Gardens; 8.30 Friday, Football; 7.30 Saturday, Doc Martin…………………”

She commits the TV guide to memory. If we understood how she did that we could teach her so many other things. But it remains a mystery.

So there she was standing next to me, as I cupped a fistful of pansies in my right hand, pleading for me to come and watch the Cats on TV with her. How could I not?

We saw Varcoe’s clean hands, we saw Kelly’s relentless pursuit of the ball, and the Pod’s old body getting dragged around by a young attitude. We saw Jimmy Bartel playing like a human hand grenade and Joel Corey cutting across the wings. We saw Menzel out body Firitto in the goal square and we twice saw him he leap skyward at the ball like a kid in the school yard. To use Jack Dyer speak, Menzel just gets where the ball is. He’s not quite there yet but he can play this kid.

The pansies sat on the table outside waiting for another day.

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. johnharms says

    Top stuff Dips. Really top stuff. “Pod’s old body getting dragged around by a young attitude” is just a beaut line.

    Firstly, all strength to young Kate and those who sail with her.

    Secondly, I also reckon Daniel Menzell can play, although he was quiet on Saturday. I am going to refrain from any predictions though as my second to last one was that, on seeing Matthew McCarthy for the first time, I declared confidently, “We’ve found one here. Matthew McCarthy will kick 500 goals for Geelong.” MM is a terrifically skilful footy player – just not quite at AFL level. He’s anoterh one for the pub and bowser town, or the ammos. Imagine Matthew McCarthy at Fitzroy in the C’s. He’d be standing on blokes’ heads and kicking 9 a game. Maybe we al find our place.

    Thirdly, we planted our pansies a coupe of weeks ago, over Easter, while Nanna was with us. I think if the O’Donnells and the Harmses were doing it we can safely say this constitutes a culture. As does the part about wishing you weren’t in a nursery or at shopping centre (which make me angry the minute I walk in to them) or at a function.

    Just let me watch my footy team.


    PS My last prediction was after early-career Andrew Mackie kicked three goals in the opening minutes of a match at Kardinia and I pointed out to all those who could hear that he was ‘the new James Hird’. I was a bit closer on that one. But I won’t be drawn in to saying Daniel Manzell reminds me of GA snr just occasionally (like when he picked up that ball at the top of 50 v Sydney that night). No, I won’t be drawn in to that.

  2. JTH – many thanks.

    I’m prepared to stick my neck out with this kid Menzel. He can really play. He’s a cross between Stevie J and Andrew Mackie with a dash of Joel Corey. And he’s sneaky big too.

    I’m looking forward to watching his development just like we watched a bunch of kids who won the VFL flag in 2002 develop into a great side.

  3. smokie88 says

    Great stuff, Dips.
    I think there are many of us who could relate to your point about not “showing any signs of panic” whilst desparately wanting to watch/listen to a game of footy!

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Holding fire is crucial in these situations.

    Our shopping centre rule is that unless heavy carrying is involved, I can stay in the car, listen to the radio and skim read a crappy newspaper.

    A really great read Dips.

    I’ve already declared Menzel. Read Geel v Freo report in this year’s book.

    I’ve met Kate and she is a delight.

    Is the Moonee Valley gig on again this year?

  5. david butler says

    I do not have the composure of any of you guys. I would never allow myself to be dragged to a mall or a nursery so near to a game. My tactic, when pushed, is to find an extra hundred from the cunning kick and thrust it towards the minister for war and finance. That normally buys me 3 or 4 hours in front of the set.

    People getting married on a Saturday afternoon/night is the worst of all evils. First, you are misssing yours and everybody else’s team. Secondly, there are long periods when you are unable to eat and this makes you even crankier. Yes, I realise that I am completely unevolved. Having said that I have witnessed my father standing outside a church listening to the second leg of the double.

    My brother attended a wedding reception at the Revesby Workers’ Club function room. During the groom’s speech a guest jumped to his feet and shouted ” St George have scored”, to which the groom earnestly responded “what’s the score ?”

  6. Andrew Fithall says

    Wonderful work Dips. A story beautifully told.

    Like others, I am one to not let things get in the way of football, although I do share the weekend grocery shopping chores. (Don’t tell anyone, because I don’t want to lay blame, but for the first time in history we ran out of weetbix this week. I didn’t shop – I was off watching a school football game.) On the other hand, I have booked to go to a music event later in the year knowing it clashes with a football game. Collingwood v the Suns on the TV was not enough to keep me away.

    And count us in on Moonee Valley again.

  7. VincentTan says

    That was brilliant. Loved it.

  8. Thanks for the comments. What disgusted me most was not that I had let myself get trapped at the nursery, but that I didn’t know that the Cats were on the TV!

    AF and PF – Moonee Valley function should be on again. I should hear something soon actually..

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Touching story Dips,

    It’s great watching young people develop and work their way through the maze of life. Footy and our kids can teach us heaps as you have shown in this piece.

    Friday should be a great match. I think the Cats are a big chance, particularly if Jolly doesn’t come up.

    Btw, Kate has great taste in TV. Jeannie and Bewitched are still two of my favourite shows. Barbara Eden and Elizabeth Montgomery were quite ‘enchanting’ when I was a kid/early teen.

  10. Peter Flynn says

    Yes Master!

  11. Phil – I’ve been known to stare at Jeannie for just a little bit too long when its on TV.

    Kate is obsessed with Doc Martin. So obsessed that she wrote Martin Clunes (the main actor in the show) a letter inviting him to come to Australia and stay in our house – priceless. I’m sure she thinks the character from the show is going to turn up!

  12. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Yes, I often wished that I could be Major Nelson just for one day.

  13. John Butler says

    Tremendous Dips.

    And I’ll second (third?) the Barbara Eden motion.

  14. Peter Flynn says

    JB, some clever use of Ronnie Barker-style double entendre.

  15. David Downer says

    I always enjoy your horticulture-based pieces Dips.


Leave a Comment