I want my Mummy

I have a soft spot for the Swans.  I’m sure many people do.

My dad was a Bloods man, and his stories of Pratt and Skilton kept me spellbound as a youngster. They were my unofficial “second side”. It became official when they moved to Sydney.

Purely on romantic terms, the Swans were, of all the teams in the VFL at the time, the best fit for the move North.

The Bloods were renowned not for their skill, but for their fighting spirit, their tenacity, their grit, and their doggedness which, if Carlton and Richmond were of the highest pedigree at the time, was of the junk yard variety. If any club could attract the interest of the pro-rugby Sydney-siders, it was them.

And what better colors – the colors of purity and love, passion and lust – to represent the contradiction that was the picture perfect Sin City?

Swans games became a Sunday ritual. They were very much the battlers in the early 80s, and it was with complete admiration that I’d watch them battle all odds against superior opposition. I loved the antics of “Tilt” Carter, the toughness of the Morwoods, the beauty of the Browning bombs, the sheer determination of Barry Round.

I was filthy on Silvio Foschini and Paul Morwood for defecting.

It was in July 1985 that a high flying medical practitioner with a penchant for fast cars and young women bought the Swans. It was big news at the time, but few could have expected the transformation that was to come.

A big cheque book and the signing of a legend as coach attracted a number of highly talented footballers North. As the season proper started in 1986, it was clear that the displaced battlers had been given a complete makeover and that, in true Sydney style, they were now actors in a stage show rather than players in a sporting team. And it was exciting.

With the off-field razzmatazz came scintillating football. They had lost none of their toughness but now coupled it with fast, skilful football. Crowd numbers exploded. Anecdotally, it was said that this was due to tickets being given away for free. Whatever the case, it created an atmosphere that made the “production” compulsory viewing.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I was at my dad’s house on Grand Final day, 2005, as were my siblings who had flown down from Queensland for the weekend. He is one who cannot sit still; struggles to watch a movie through to its conclusion without getting up to do a chore or have a snack of some sort.

Throughout the game, my brother and sisters and I rode every bump; cheered and jeered when needed; and kept our thirsts quenched and stomachs filled in the way that is reserved for that particular day.

Sitting rigid and upright, hands clenching the arms of the couch he was occupying, dad said nothing; made no sound; did not move; even at half time. Questions asked of him, comments made to him, went unanswered.

When Leo took “that” mark, we went up in adulation. Dad was still not with us. When the final siren went, we were in ecstasy. Dad allowed his shoulders to sag, released his grip, and breathed a sigh of relief. It was still a few minutes before he said anything.

“Good game, that. The boys played well.”

Fast forward four years and when Mumford signed with the Swans, I was devastated; strangely more so than Gazza leaving. It may be because it was so sudden and therefore more of a shock, but in my mind, it was because Ottens was in his final seasons and I did not see anyone other than Mumford as being able to fill the hole he would leave.

Gazza is elite; players of his ability and output are rare. But there are so many players who can play the position he plays. They may not play it as well, but they can still play it and teams can work their structures to suit.

Quality ruckmen, ruckmen who are able to play the “modern” style of football, ruckmen who are able to significantly influence a game, are extremely rare. There is a dearth of them. They are like hen’s teeth.

When Jolly went down this year, Malthouse put on a brave face saying that having a winning ruckman was not important and that it was about team structure. I wonder then why getting Jolly was a priority for Collingwood after being smashed by the Cats in the 2009 Preliminary Final. It’s possible Mick was choking on those words as Ottens completely controlled the ruck in the Round 8 game this year and helped Geelong to a gutsy win. It was reminiscent of the 2007 Prelim. Many scribes still believe Jolly to be the Magpies most important player.

Mummy is not tall for a ruckman, and he has slimmed down considerably after 4 AFL seasons, but he has a heart and will to win that is synonymous with the Bloods. He is, in every way, a “brother”. He dominated our big men, harassed our small men, stopped goals, and kicked them. He left nothing in the tank, and no questions could be asked of his desire and commitment. I wish he had been in the blue and white hoops when those questions were being asked of the Cats.

I was a little dirty with the Big Mummy for leaving; not for being greedy, but for not being patient. But I was dirtier with Geelong for not making a greater fist of keeping him; for having ruckmen inferior to him still on their list.

As time has passed, it’s clear that Mummy could not wait. That is not in his nature. And the Cats hands were tied.

But all is not lost. At least the Big Mummy plays for my “second side”. It makes my dad happy too.



  1. Peter, as a Geelong man, the joy I felt when I read your dad’s response to both Leo’s mark and the final siren of the GF soon dissipated when you reminded me of Mummy’s loss. It’s not even 9am and I feel absolutely deflated – there goes my day.

    Terrific piece.

  2. So much in your piece Peter. The Swans stuff. The family stuff. The ruckman stuff.

    Interesting that Leigh Matthews also didn’t have a lot of time for ruckmen. yet he had about five on each of his Brisbane lists: Keating, Charman, McDonald (skilful but a little unlucky with injury), McLaren and ?

    I reckon you can see a great ruckman influencing a game far better when you are actually at the ground. It has to be an absolutely exceptional performance to note it from the TV. So Mumford’s game on Saturday must have been pure quality.

    Some of the great ruckman’s games in recent history:

    Shaun Rehn in the prelim v Footscray that year.
    Clark Keating v Collingwood in 2003 GF (I had backed him in the Norm Smith at 50/1 and Lethal only gave him 62 minutes yet he still finished second in the votes.)
    Brad Ottens v Collingwood in the 2007 prelim.


    You also notice it at country footy.

    I love it when the big captain coach ruckman wears No. 1 and just leads like a true leader, and gives three-quarter time addresses like a true leader.

  3. I played for Drysdale in the 90s and big Larry Donohue played in the ruck for Newcomb in a couple of the games against us. Was very much the man in his side.

  4. JTH – surely a measure of a great performance is the quality of the opposition? A couple of those performances cited above were against very ordinary opponents.

    So….dominant? Yes. Great? Not 100% sure about that.

    No doubting, however, the importance of the big fellas.

  5. Bakes – didn’t like the reference to Brad Ottens in 2007? Gee he was good that night.

    I reckon Gary Dempsey pulled out some monumental efforts in his day. One of the hardest working ruckmen. Most ruckmen are over rated. Usually slow, usually can’t kick, usually ordinary marks for their size. The only thing they do well comes naturally – be big.

  6. Damo Balassone says

    A great ruckman in full flight is a sight to behold – for me I think of D. Cox, S. Madden and S. Rehn at their best.

    But surely Dips is spot on, most are overrated. Nothing makes me laugh as much as hearing of a ruckman get votes for getting 3 kicks, 4 handballs and 59 hit outs (56 of which were ineffective or worse still were sharked by the opposition). Or those ruckman who play a kick behind the play and pick up heaps of uncontested marks and then look to dish off a handball to a player who is not in a great position (Wes Fellowes won a Copeland doing this).

    Let’s be honest; it is rare for a ruckman to consistently tap the ball to advantage. I think a competent ruckman is one who merely nullifies the other ruckman – the clearance is then decided by the little men. A very good ruckman takes contested marks and can go forward and hurt you on the scoreboard.

    But I’m not sure a very good ruckman is pivotal to a side being successful – I think of Greg Dear circa 86-91 in probably the greatest team of all time, and Capuano in ’99, and the Hawks duo in 2008.

    But then again, I’m a little man and would say that, wouldn’t I?

  7. Would the Hawks be sitting 3rd on the ladder without Bailey’s ruck work over the last 14 weeks?

    I agree, the Ruck is not the be all and end all, but it is significant.


  8. No Cox and Natanui – no Eagles. They are our X factor and we would be average without them. Cox for his round ground marking, and Nic Nat is an extra ruck rover. A few have broken even, but Mumford is the only guy to have beaten them this year.
    I have seen some great ruckmen, but on B&W TV replays I reckon Polly Farmer to Billy Goggin was poetry in motion. Farmer’s leap, body work, 30 yard handballs and penetrating drop kicks – he had it all. Goggin just had to hit Doug Wade on the lead.

  9. Richard Naco says

    As opposed to Damo, I’m a big bloke, so inevitably I (and may the Good Lord – Max Rooke – forgive me for quoting Robert Walls) “gotta love a ruckman”. I was also more upset about losing the Mummy than Gaz, and but for Mark Seaby’s bad break early in his first season here in Sydney, Mummy’s career could have quickly gone full cycle back to scoffing snags at the annual Bunyip AFC family day in next to no time.

    All the criticisms of big lumbering underperformers that have followed this excellent piece are all valid, which is why the truly dominant displays by ruckmen are the cornerstones of inevitable victory. Mumford’s work on Saturday was outstanding, but one can look around the league and truly appreciate some fine exponents of the big boys’ game. Think Dean Cox, or Mark Jamar, Darren Jolly or Brad Ottens – all of whom have almost literally set up wins in their own right over recent years.

    The future is looking very bright for the biggest blokes on the park as well, with Nic Nat very obviously the next Very Big Thing (and his being mentored by Dean Cox won’t exactly hamper his development). For my beloved Cats, I foresee a glorious period of future domination being established in the not too distant future based on the huge (and high) shoulders of Dawson Simpson (who reminds me so much of a younger, bigger Mumford), the sheer grunt and tenacity of Trent West, and the incredible athleticism of Nathan Vardy.

    Their all being mentored by Otto – the master of the second effort – is also a Very Good Thing indeed.

  10. @RichardNaco – your optimism fills me with hope.

    @Damo – Simon Madden was as good a ruckman as I’ve seen. I remember him in a 1984 State of origin match against WA. he and Gary Ablett were awesome.

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    There’s an eight year old (Swan) who sits near us each week, who yells ‘Everybody needs a Teddy’ each time Richards takes a grab deep in defence.

    In recent times, he’s added another call to his repertoire: ‘Everybody needs a Mummy.’

  12. Andrew Fithall says

    Thanks Mathilde. We were all travelling nicely with polite talk about the relative merits of ruckmen and you go and politicise it all with broad statements about same sex marriage. And try and blame it on an 8 year old.

    Back to the subject of ruckman. Those in the know at Collingwood are talking about keeping their Witts about them.

  13. Andrew – I know what you mean. The lad from NSW is a likely type. Have seen him play in the TAC Cup and VFA & know a bit about his background from people at GWS. Hopefully he turns into Madden, Ottens, Mumford, Jolly…etc

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