Magpies looming already

Sweating furiously, I looked around in every direction. I needed eyes in the back of my head. Was that it up there? No, definitely not. Is that it? Nope, my imagination getting to me again. I started walking slowly again, keeping an eye on the big tree 20m in front of me. WHOOSH! I ducked and covered my head, peering with one eye out towards the sky as I saw the wings spread out on its way back towards me. WHOOSH! I shouted a couple of obscenities towards the sky, and I turned around and started to walk back again. Carefully. I kept my eyes peeled once again, but even when you think you’re looking straight at it, they still come out of nowhere. WHOOSH! I started jogging, then sprinting as I raced up the driveway, not caring to even turn my head and keep a watchful eye on the trees being used by my attacker. Finally I got back to safety, and bent over on my haunches, my hair stinging my eyes and the early spring sun burning a hole in me. It’s the season I dread the most. Magpie season.

After a day at the Primary School helping at the Athletics sport, I arrive back home and await the start of the 2010 Finals Series. The game begins on TV as I look down at my plate, a big barramundi spread out. I contemplate where to start eating, but soon find a good starting point. Geelong and St Kilda run out onto the MCG, not a breath of wind or any sight of rain, and they line up for the Australian National Anthem. The siren sounds, the crowd cheers, this is what we’ve been waiting for.

Geelong start well, dominating the inside 50 count but St Kilda get the first goal through Michael Gardiner. Travis Varcoe kicked two brilliant gems, before St Kilda unexpectedly took control of the game. They led narrowly at quarter time, and improved on that in the second quarter thanks to a three goal burst from dynamo forward Stephen Milne. Cam Mooney did his best to stop the flow of goals coming at the St Kilda end, but Geelong trailed by 20 points at half time with the rain starting to fall, and all signs pointed to a St Kilda victory.

It was almost impossible to imagine a Geelong win after St Kilda booted the opening two goals of the second half and led by 33 points with rain falling quite heavily. But the famous ‘Geelong Burst’ went into action, and all of a sudden the Cats had slammed on five of the next six goals and trailed by just 11 points as both sides went to polish off the last of the oranges.

A tense final quarter was an understatement. Lenny Hayes and James Kelly left the field with head wounds, bodies slammed into each other and the ball was the most prized possession, but seemed to be hotter than the sun as all players tried to dispose of it as quickly as they could. Both sides traded goals, Geelong trading behinds between themselves as they wasted opportunities. The skipper seemed to put the Cats in front with a goal in the last minute, only for the six points to be reversed after a decision by Matt Stevic, penalising Mooney for a push in James Gwilt’s back in the tackle that led to Ling’s goal. Everyone associated with the blue and white hoops were ropeable, especially Mooney. St Kilda kicked the ball around, and went forward one last time only for the siren to sound, and they had pulled off one of the great wins of the year. The 2010 finals already had a huge twist to it.

I couldn’t sleep though. The little bundle of nerves in the bottom of my stomach was growing. I stayed up until 2:00am, listening to music and trying to relax myself. I drifted off into a worried sleep, and woke in a fright as my alarm went off.

I worriedly got dressed, went scouring for my notepad and pen, which I later found was actually in the binder of the notepad. Mum and I left home as the torrential rain that was pouring all night started to clear, but it would still be a hectic trip. Five kilometres into the drive, Mum realised she’d left her phone at home. Great, now I really started to worry about being late. We drove back, got the phone, then embarked again without worry, making our way to Shepparton.

Arriving at the studio of OneFM, I quickly entered the code to unlock the doors and walked into the room with a computer and a radio switchboard. I had half an hour before I started my first ever solo programming. My nerves were almost at breaking point, the rain was still pelting down and this caused a couple of communication difficulties. Just what I needed. The tieline that connected me to the commentators at Tatura for the Qualifying Final was broken, so I had no way of hearing what the commentators wanted to say to me while off-air and I had no way of telling them that they had so-and-so amount of seconds to go until back on air. I could tell it was going to be a long day. Luckily, the station’s tech guy was able to quickly fix this. At 1:00, I switched to the commentators, and sat back and waited until I was needed again (when they needed to go to ad breaks). Quarter time went by without worry, but in the second quarter I started to feel nervous again. I had to talk on-air for the first time during half time, giving a recount of what happened at the MCG the previous night. I thought of the leading goalkickers, the leading possession winners, and of course the late-match controversy, and planned to explain what happened. The time came, I felt my throat dry up and I didn’t think I was going to be able to speak at all. The small amount of silence seemed to take forever; I was frozen in my seat. Then instinct took over. I started talking my head off, explaining the whole finals system, who Geelong would play, where and when. I spoke of the Mooney-Gwilt incident, and soon it was time to play a song before crossing back to the game. I wanted to go on-air again, I loved it.

I did go back on-air, reading out all the local footy scores for the day at 5:30pm, which included reading out a few Grand Final results, which was very exciting. I got a couple of calls from the General Manger of the station, telling me I’d done a superb job. Can’t argue with that. I wanted to leave though, as the sky looked ominous and the floods that were predicted for the area looked like they were coming.

On the way home I listened to the final few minutes of the Fremantle v Hawthorn Elimination Final from Subiaco Oval. Freo were in complete control, leading by four goals before youngster Alex Silvagni kicked the last goal of the game. The siren sounded, and the 40,000-odd Dockers fans erupted as one, winning their first Elimination Final in the team’s history by 30 points. An odd note is that Freo’s previous week-one final before this one was in Adelaide against the Crows in 2006, where Fremantle lost by 30 points also. Strange. Arriving at home, I made my way immediately to my room to watch the start of the First Qualifying Final, the rampant Collingwood up against the struggling, tiring Western Bulldogs.

It wasn’t a pretty game. It was men vs. boys, and the side full of boys easily won. The Western Bulldogs failed to kick a goal in the first quarter as the rain that threatened to flood the MCG failed to fall. Collingwood’s inaccuracy problems continued in the first half, kicking a staggering 7.15 up to half time, while the Dogs weren’t splitting the middle all too often, kicking 3.7 before going into the changerooms for the main break. If you’re good enough with your maths, that equates to a 32 point Collingwood lead and the Pies repeated the dose in the second half, straightening up considerably but still managing to get 22 up in the behinds column. The highlight of the game was definitely Alan Didak’s magic minutes in the final quarter, where he managed to gather and snap around his body for a great goal, before easily bettering it moment’s later, gaining possession deep in the forward pocket on the boundary line. He fended off Tim Callan before angling the ball across his boot and watched it curve through the goals. It was amazing, and the Collingwood faithful were wetting their pants, as you could imagine. Collingwood won by 64 points and advanced on to a Preliminary Final, while the Dogs were licking their wounds and would prepare to bark back against the winner of Sydney and Carlton.

The morning of Father’s Day was nice. Blue skies, the grass was a luscious green, the weather was mildly warm, you couldn’t ask for much better. I enjoyed a 10:00 sleep-in (a rarity these days) and turned my attention to the cutthroat Elimination Final between the Swans and Blues at ANZ Stadium. I was looking forward to watching it on TV, ‘was’ being the operative word. Mum decided that we should go into Numurkah and pay our respects at the cemetery, which I was quite happy to do. We spent a fair bit of time in town, sitting around at my Nana’s house with relatives, before I bugged Mum to take me home so I could catch the second half of the game.

I turned my TV on as Andrew Walker kicked the first goal of the third quarter, cutting the Carlton deficit to three goals. Marc Murphy kicked a great goal after shrugging and spinning out of a pack, before Walker capatalised on a fumble by Marty Mattner and waltzed into an open goal. The margin was just a goal, and it was hard to believe that the Swans had just stopped. How could they stop to a screeching halt in Brett Kirk and Paul Roos’ final games in Sydney? It didn’t seem fair. Jeff Garlett marked on the lead and kicked a long goal from 50m out, hard to see how he can roost a ball that long with those little legs. Scores were locked, Sydney started to press a bit more, before Eddie Betts, quiet for a lot of the game, chased down a Sydney opponent, earning a free kick. He kicked long inside 50 where Jarrad Waite was also handed a free, and he converted to put Carlton in front for the final break.

Carlton press even harder at the start of the final quarter, kicking two behinds, before Sydney reply with three of their own. Trent Dennis-Lane got things going, receiving a handball that Jesse White fired over the top of Bryce Gibbs before running into an open goal. Scores were level again. Ryan O’Keefe, quiet for the whole day, broke free at a tight pack and snapped a terrific goal to put Sydney in front, and you knew the Swans were going to be hard to beat. Dennis Armfield was confronted with a huge challenge late in the game after gathering the ball in the defensive goalsquare. He chose to run away from the goals as fast as he could, but with Dennis-Lane in hot pursuit, Armfield was tackled as he went to bounce the footy and the Sydney crowd went into a frenzy as Dennis-Lane was handed the ball at a tight angle in the forward pocket. He knew if he kicked the goal the Swans would fight for another day. He switched the ball between a drop punt hold and a checkside hold, before settling with the classic drop punt at the last moment, and it sailed right over the goal umpires hat. Sydney led by 12 points with a couple of minutes to go. Carlton win the ball forward however, and Lachie Henderson got boot to ball in the goalsquare in a frantic scramble of players, and the ball just missed the post. The margin was six points, a minute left. It was perfectly poised to end in extra-time; something Channel 7 wouldn’t have been too keen on happening as they are hell-bent on ending the coverage as soon as the final siren sounds. Carlton won the ball forward at the next bounce, but couldn’t make anything of it. Henderson marked, and the Carlton faithful prayed for him to go back and kick it. But before anyone knew what was happening, Garlett suddenly had the ball and was running towards goal on his wrong side. He let fly with a snap, and it missed to the near side. Five points the margin. Sydney booted the ball as far away as they could get from the Carlton goals, and the siren sounded while play was eventuating on the wing. Sydney won an absolute thriller. I was proud to be a lover of Australian Rules, this is why it’s so great.

About Josh Barnstable

21 year old North Melbourne supporter from country Victoria. Currently living in Melbourne studying a Bachelor of Sports Media. Dreams of becoming a sports journalist and broadcaster.

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