Knowing the Unknowable


by Sam Steele

Twenty minute mark of the 3rd Quarter.  Collingwood is five points ahead.  I sense they’re going the better.

I used to refer to it as the D’Amico Moment, but over the years have renamed it (more chastely) the Matera Moment, the Ellen Moment and the Dew Moment.

Here was my big chance to demonstrate my profound football wisdom to calm the poor, twitchy-nervous Collingwood supporter next to me.  So I launch.

“Collingwood can bust this open in the next ten minutes”. 

He tentatively agrees with me.

Within seconds we witnessed That Bartel Mark, followed shortly after by That Christensen Mark.  The Cats turn for home seven points up.  Collingwood’s last goal of 2011 has already been scored.

Thirty Grand Finals.  You’d think after attending 30 of the bloody things, you’d have learned something about football.  In those manic minutes, I realised that I’ve learned everything, and nothing.

I can recite all the stats and recount the patterns of games past that led to my bold prediction.  The logic was right, but what’s logical about what Jimmy did, one moment warrior-reckless, backing back into a pack, taking such an outrageous, courageous grab, the next, pool-room shark, nervelessly slotting the tight angle goal? 

The real footy people should have taught me to keep my gob shut.  Yes, that’s right.  In the midst of the tawdry sideshow hype of Grand Final Week, usually dominated by fair-weather supporters and C-grade celebrities, I found real footy folk in the Exhibition Street wind tunnel at six o’clock on a chilly Monday morning.  Not usually my most talkative time, but the queue for reserved seats in the AFL members (for a modest booking fee of $138 each!) is full of animated discussion about the Grand Final – the one ahead and those long gone but still very much alive in our minds. 

If our three hours of spontaneous banter could be distilled to one sentence, it would be this.  Strip away all the hype, and what remains is The Game in all its elemental, glorious uncertainty.  That’s what we queue up for, year after year, irrespective of who’s playing, knowing ever more what to expect, yet knowing as little as when, eager-eyed children, we were first ushered through the hallowed turnstiles.

In the morning downpour, I drive to the game, appropriately enough, from the Ablett/Thomas home town of Drouin.  I’m convinced of a dour, low-scoring struggle.  It’s not until the 3rd Quarter that this comes to pass.  Varcoe’s 14 second opener heralds an early-season dry-weather shootout that only subsides when the frenetic early pace diminishes and Geelong’s defence and midfield steel themselves to deal seriously with the twin threats of Cloke and Krakouer.

Amidst the maelstrom of bodies, the dire consequences of “Picking Injured Players”, repeated 30 years over, must surely eventuate today.  Sure enough, the unfortunate Ben Reid is monstered by Tom Hawkins as the game reaches its climax. Yet Stevie Johnson waltzes through the match, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a week earlier he lay on the same turf like an empty glove puppet.  His laconic demeanour masks the deadly ability to create possibilities where none seem to exist.  He is pivotal to the Pivotonians.

One of the immutable rules must surely hold.  Skill and system win Grand Finals.  Don’t they? Well, yes, and while the game is all about skill, finesse and speed, Collingwood prevails.  Late in the 2nd Quarter, with the Cats 3 goals down, Messrs Ling, Selwood, Kelly et al take a stand.  “Our way, any way” was my son’s U/15 coach’s motto on wet days, and it becomes the Geelong mantra at the MCG for the next hour and a half (with the exception of Paddy Dangerfield’s effortless performance in the Grand Final Sprint).  Slowly but inexorably, the bulldozers drag Geelong back on level terms.  Collingwood holds on defiantly, three times restoring its lead  – that is until my great pronouncement, and The Bartel Moment.

In my pre-game musings, I calculated that the average winning margin of the 29 Grand Finals I’d attended is 38 points.  The margin on Saturday.  Just an average Grand Final, huh? 

You’ve got to be kidding!


About Sam Steele

50 years a Richmond supporter. Enjoying a bounteous time after 37 years of drought. Should've been a farmer!

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