Local Footy: How Wynyard fans made Penguin squawk

By Bill Walker

If you believe the catch cry, “A week is a long time in football”, then two weeks must be an eternity.

George’s season was over. Payments from his parents and upgrades into “the private ’elf” got him to a specialist in quick time. Day surgery for a re-break and set and he was on his feet again by mid-afternoon. Just.

George, fearing retribution from his snout specialist rather than an onfield punch, was unavailable for the last two games. Tom played on in the ones, but injury-depleted they looked like the twos. Another touch-up from the third-placed side and the season’s climax ominously took on a Ground Hog Day aura.

One thing I had learned when studying Australian bush fauna ecology at university was that as soon as one animal vacates a hole in a tree trunk or under a rock another moves in. Immediately. Next week Tom was named at centre half-forward. A frustrated and disappointed George had left town for the weekend to spend time with Kate, who was studying psychology in Launceston.

With the wooden spoon well and truly secured the Wynyard Cats travelled along the coast to Penguin. Having been beaten by their nemesis by one, four and nine points in the three previous encounters this season the Cats were up for a bit of payback. Or at least that was the plan.

In true Murphy’s Law style, what could go wrong for the Cats did. Turnovers, poor decisions, transition disasters, skill errors and inaccuracy killed the Cats. Tom was doing some good things. The Cats tried and tried and tried but by midway through the third quarter Penguin were more than six goals in front with all the momentum.  Their expanding support population of beer bogans in front of the grandstand were in full battle mode, screaming blood-curdling war cries while feasting on every Cat error with the ferocity of hungry cannibals.

Then a miracle happened. It started with a simple smile on the other side of the ground in front of the Cats change rooms.

Seemingly in control of play and in enough space an inexperienced Penguin player took his eye off the ball, right on the boundary. Big mistake.

This was Manna to a very experienced, opportunistic and acid-tongued Cat supported, who immediately acknowledged the event to the player. Eye contact across the boundary fence was the second mistake.

Other opposition players were engaged and quickly reminded of some of their club’s previous legendary defeats snatched from the jaws of victory. More eye contact was the third mistake. Strike three. Several key Penguin playmakers’ foci deflected from the play to by-play. Easy marks were dropped and easy goals missed.

A small, but battle hardened, group of consultant Tom Cats on the boundary line seized the opportunity as the game became a protracted arm wrestle. Their energy turned to their own players, their sons. They urged them, encouraged them and cheered them. Regional footy at its purest.  My son was not there, but by now I had adopted Tom, who was getting some very important touches, and converting.

The Cats had not only stopped the rot but pulled back three vital goals in the dying minutes of the quarter, giving them more than a bit of a sniff at the final break. The number of enemy interlopers at the Cat huddle apparently wishing to participate in the unfolding miracle was a curious, but joyous, thing to see.

The last quarter was tight. Sensing the danger, Penguin attacked and attacked but the young Cats held firm and applied pressure. Easy shots were again missed by the home side. The Cats swept the ball forward but were consistently repelled. The game was a cracker. Beer bogans yelled. Fathers yelled. Mothers yelled. The Cats’ confidence grew as did their score. Tension was at breaking point.

The Penguin ground has a unique time clock. It counts down from twenty five minutes with the last minute switching to seconds. Due to an inexplicable phenomenon of physics the seconds go, either quickly if you are less than a goal behind, or very slowly if you are less than a goal in front.

As we entered the mad minute the Cats were five points down with the ball in dispute at their full-back line. Seconds raced. A sharp handball slipped out to Chook, who also raced. One bounce, two, an avoided tackle, three, four, five and he kicked to space at centre half-forward, where the cool, elusive Tom Hill marked above his head. Time stood still. Fathers groaned and some looked away. I didn’t. I knew. From a long way out Tom casually kicked a goal, his fourth straight. Cats by one point with thirty seconds to go and curiously the clock got slower and slower.

The Cats locked the ball in their half till the siren sounded. Fathers, coaches and trainers ran onto the ground and mobbed their players. Mothers cheered from the grandstand. I got eye contact with Tom from about thirty metres away. No mistake. His arms opened and we unashamedly hugged while I screamed the result and method to George through my phone.

Inside the old tin shed the Cats players and supporters circled Tom and screamed their song. Tom was named BOG in the local newspaper on Monday.

Next week Tom will be dropped back to the twos with half a dozen or more of his mates to play finals. I can’t wait.

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