I’ve Waited a Long Time for This

Round One, Friday night, March 25. Geelong v StKilda, MCG

I’ve been waiting 38 years for this game, that being the length of time since I last lived in Victoria for a footy season. That long absence has not diminished my love for the Cats, if anything it has reinforced and enhanced it but I feel like my timing is slightly out; I’m back at a time when it is almost inevitable the Cats will slide after four years of brilliance that delivered two premierships. Everyone says Collingwood are going to go back-to-back. But the first round of a footy season brings its own brand of hope and optimism, everyone thinks their team is in with a chance, even Tigers fans, at least until the first siren sounds.

I’ve bought a family membership and my son Paul, aka Sport Boy, is going to come to the footy with me each week. We board the train at Marshall and it quickly fills with Geelong fans. En route I swap a few texts with Chris back in WA, a Saints fan, and observe that 23 of the 26 people in our section of the train are women. The train is overflowing, people sit on the floor and everyone is excited about tonight’s game. Geelong and St Kilda’s recent rivalry has seen some classic encounters and I’m hoping tonight will serve up more of the same although I’ve tipped the Saints. Head over heart.

Inside the G  a rock band is playing: pre-game entertainment during the home and away no less and when the teams line up for the national anthem before the game there is more than a touch of Grand Final about the whole thing except that the crowd is a bit disappointing, just over 42,000. Maybe all the scandal and controversy the Saints have suffered in the off-season has prompted a stay-away protest? But it means we get good seats, close to the front on level 4, near the wing. Perfect.

The siren sounds, yeah, the footy’s back. Geelong get the first clearance and Mooney marks inside 50 but in a portent of things to come he kicks out on the full. Ottens misses a set shot minutes later, struck again by the commentator’s curse: “He’s a great kick of the football…” Sport Boy and I know that the moment those words are uttered by some subversive radio or tv commentator big Brad is going to miss. The Saints get the first goal, and the second and keep the Cats goalless in the first quarter.

The game is bad and is about to get worse. Joel Selwood attacks a loose ball headfirst and comes off second best in a sickening collision with Farren Ray’s hip. Not for the first time people question whether he is too courageous for his own good. He’s out cold, blood pouring from his mouth and the swarming ants of the medical team take forever to stabilise him and transport him off the ground. Ray looks aghast and I’m sure it was completely unintentional. He gets reported but shouldn’t go for that. With Lingy already missing and Selwood injured the Cats are captainless and things don’t look good.

Mitch Duncan squeezes a goal in the second quarter but by half time that’s all we’ve got on the board. Saints 2 Cats 1 and it feels like a soccer game. The crowd are confused and restless, this is ugly footy. I quip to the bloke next to me that it’s the worst game I’ve seen all season and he responds that it’s the worst game he’s seen in the last ten years. I can’t disagree and yet it’s still great to be here. The footy is back.

By half way through the third the Cats are 20 points down and making too many mistakes to look like winning. When Varcoe’s handball is intercepted and St Kilda goal I can’t help think how much we are gonna miss Gazza this year. Then something happens. The Cats kick a goal. I stand and shout “Hallelujah” to the mild amusement of nearby supporters. When we goal again within thirty seconds I’m in raptures and when a third follows soon after a full scale revival threatens to break out in the stands.

At 3/4 time there’s just a point in it and the Cats are finally finding a way through the Saints wet blanket defence. Lonergan is having a great game on Riewoldt with help from Scarlett and Taylor and with 200 gamer Boris Enright rebounding across the half back line the Cats are on a roll.

The revival has its first miracle when Jimmy bounces one through from the boundary line and the Cats are in front. St Kilda respond and with five minutes left the Saints hit the front courtesy of a body-swerving Lenny Hayes goal. It’s gonna be a cliff-hanger finish and when St Nick takes a couple of great pack marks the Saints have the chance to wind down the clock. If they can hold the ball we’re done for but hope springs again when Blake generously kicks to Enright and Geelong mount one last charge. Duncan kicks long to Jimmy who beats two and the ball spills to Moons, he dinks a handball over the top of a lunging Saint into the arms of a gleeful Dasher Milburn, who had subbed on for Selwood, and he slams through the winner. It has a distinct echo of Lingy’s disallowed goal in the Qualifying Final last year but this time there’s no spoil sport umpire to ruin the party. Sport Boy and I jump and cheer and high five every Cats fan within arm’s reach. There’s about 20 seconds left but the Cats get the vital centre clearance and the siren sounds to the sort of joyous celebrations that only accompany a victory snatched in the final minute of a game.

Sport Boy and I laugh and sing and smile and sing again. The footy’s back. The Cats are back. And we’re back, oh it’s good to be alive

Votes: 3 Scarlett 2 Lonergan 1 Hayes

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