Levi’s wobbler keeps Roo hopes alive

North Melbourne versus Brisbane

7.10pm, Saturday, June 5

Etihad Stdium, Melbourne

Just when you think all hope is gone, footy gives you reason to believe again.

When one victory brings your season back from the cliff’s edge.

That happened on Saturday night.

I wasn’t supposed to be there.  I was supposed to be at home in Warrnambool at an Old Collegians footy club reunion.  Catching up with old mates, having a few, and embellishing past glories.  Like the 1994 reserves premiership and the nude drinking sessions that followed.  Macca’s naked rendition of ‘The Ballbearing Bird’ in the front bar of Mac’s Hotel, is Warriors folklore.  Let your imagination take you with that one.

Unfortunately, I was forced to cancel the three and a bit hour journey deep into Victoria’s wild south west after a tiring week at work had left my body aching.  Teaching Year 9s how to write an English essay or Yr 11s the hidden theological messages of Luke’s Gospel isn’t as easy – or as much fun – as it sounds.

So I spent the weekend suspended in a sort of weird limbo.  Longing to be elsewhere and thinking constantly about retired, middle-aged Warriors and their nakedness.

I almost didn’t make it to Etihad for the game.  It was cold and wet and a cosy night watching ABC British crime programs – while grabbing scores on the walkman – was pretty enticing.  In the end, I decided I had to gain something from my lost weekend and set off for the game.

I dragged Linda along with me.  She’s been saying we need to spend more time together.  Well, here’s your chance, I said.  Linda’s no sports fan, although she’s entered her office tipping competition and has developed an inexplicable leaning towards the Bulldogs.

We arrived five minutes in.  I honestly can’t recall the last time I was late for a game of footy.  I regularly miss the start of faculty meetings, however, the footy?  Never.

North were on: winning clearances, spreading wide, running hard.  Hansen was aggressive up forward; Ziebell was crashing in.  Thomas and Swallow kicked two goals each.  We had seven by quarter-time.

The Lions were flat, unable to match North’s spirit.  Fev’s last minute mark and goal on Thompson stopped the quarter from being a complete disaster.  North by 34 points.

Brown, obviously carrying an injury, kicked an early goal for Brisbane, however, the second term was much like the first.  We broke from defence easily and hit targets further up field.  Our forward pressure forced errors.  Boomer and Swallow were everywhere and Cunnington kicked his first career goal.

Fev kicked another late goal – this time a snap from 40 – and the lead was 36 points at half-time.

Linda wasn’t saying much, but she did insist she was enjoying herself.  During the break, I explained to her even though we were miles ahead and playing much better footy – the best we had played all season – victory was no certainty.  We never put teams away, I told her.  This is because we don’t have a killer instinct.  We’re too nice.  Just like me.  She yawned.

When Hansen slotted a set shot from an angle after the resumption, our lead was seven goals and even a doubter like myself was thinking percentage booster.  Ours is the second worst in the competition – behind the Tigers – thanks to the reasons mentioned above and also because we’ve received some sizable hidings this year, including the previous two games.

It was about this time the Lions began to take the game on.  They started to free players and create more energy and run.  Johnston was setting things up from defence and Fev kicked three more, Brown, two.

North didn’t look tired – we just couldn’t get the ball.  The margin was 13 points at three-quarter time and my doubts had returned.

The Lions were coming hard at us and our season was on the line.  A loss from a seemingly unbeatable position would have been shattering for the club.  Coming back from a loss of this sort would be difficult.  It was a big test for our new coach and young team.

Brisbane dominated the last term.  Johnston had no opponent but his own ball.  Black and Power, quiet all night, lifted.  Clark kicked the first.  Rich was awarded a free and a fifty after Pratt gave the ump a serve, and he put it through.  Our lead was a point.

Twelve minutes followed of the Lions attacking, North defending, and the small crowd winding up into a frenzy.

Our best chance came when Hansen marked twenty metres out.  He panicked, played on, tried to grubber the ball through, and missed.

Deep in time-on, Brisbane came again and the ball fell to Thompson who was sat on by a pile of players.  He had no chance of getting it out, yet was pinned for holding the ball by some bald headed idiot.  Buchanan kicked the goal and the Lions led for the first time.  There were three minutes left and we looked gone.

Somehow North shoveled the ball forward and it landed in the arms of Greenwood.  Tough, courageous, honest, but hardly a goalkicker, Levi had only one previous career goal.  As he stood 30 metres out on the wrong boundary for a left footer, I didn’t like his chances.

Greenwood went back, hunched over the ball, crept in and dropped it on his boot.  The kick looked terrible.  I thought it was flopping left and out on the full.  But the Brisbane cheer squad behind the goal didn’t cheer or give Greenwood the finger.  They watched in silence.  And the goal umpire didn’t move; he watched the bloody ball sail over his bloody head.

And I was up.  And roaring.  That deep throated roar you let rip when your team has grabbed victory from the jaws of a defeat, grabbed from the jaws of victory, and deep down you’d really prefer to be in Warrnambool at a footy club reunion, but your body is old before it’s time, and you’ve had a gutful of your job, and your season isn’t over yet.

From the bounce, Brisbane scrambled forward and Black was pinned for holding the ball.  It was a bad call – possible a square-up for Thompson – but who cares.  The free kick was cleared to the wing and Hamish took a strong mark.

The siren sounded and we had won by a point.  Everyone ran to Greenwood.  Our season has hope again, and my weekend had been salvaged.  And Linda was there with me.

NORTH MELBOURNE 7.5 10.10 11.15 12.18 (90)

BRISBANE 2.1 5.4 10.8 13.11 (89)


North Melbourne: Swallow, Hansen, Thomas 2; Cunnington, Harvey, Lower, McIntosh, Greenwood, Wright.

Brisbane Lions: Fevola 5; Brown 3, Buchanan 2, Rich, Brennan, Clark.


North Melbourne: Swallow, Hansen, Harvey, Goldstein.

Brisbane Lions: Johnstone, Fevola, Rich, Brown.

CROWD 19,100 at Etihad Stadium.

The Jason Daniltchenko Award

3 – Swallow

2 – Hansen

1 – Harvey

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