Eagles V Lions at the Gabba; Saturday night27 August 2011

By Peter Baulderstone

I hate the divisiveness and rancor of public life and what passes for debate in our society.  Carbon tax, refugees, sleaze, greed and opportunism.  Leave me out of it.  When we have so much – wealth, opportunity and social safety nets.  How can we have become so petty and mean spirited?  A pox on both of your houses.

That is why I love footy and the Almanac so much.  I was having a bit of a downer today after a tough week, and I sat on the shopping centre chair reading the Almanac on my mobile phone while waiting for the Avenging Eagle to finish her gift shopping.  As I read Haje Halabi’s poignant and poetic piece on footy boots and childhood memories and the passage of the generations.  I moistened up and smiled – all at the same time.  Happy sad – just like life in all its diversity.

In the late afternoon we headed off to the Pinjarra Football Clubrooms an hour and a half south of Perthto celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday.  John is a bus driver at Geraldton in WA’s mid north.  But his family comes from the Waroona/Pinjarra region and this gathering is as much family reunion as birthday party.  John’s wife Betty and the Avenging Eagle went through University together and bonded for life on the round-Australia bus trip they took as wide-eyed graduates sometime in the 70’s.  They have dined out for years on the story of the boys they met in Mt Isa, who drove to meet them on the Gold Coast for New Years Eve.  Sorry lads – she’s mine.

In the car on the way down, we listened anxiously to the first quarter on the car radio. Geelong’s shock loss earlier in the day had made me skittish about pre-finals upsets.  The soaking rain inBrisbaneonly made it worse.  One of my many footballing theories is that the Eagles would be vulnerable against anyone in the wet.  West Australian teams just never see conditions like these as our occasional winter storms quickly soak away into the desert sand.  And the Eagles strength is built around dominant talls, not the sort of agile smalls suited to the wet.

The first quarter was even as the Lions attacked and we counter-punched.  Defiant but not comfortable in the conditions.  Subiaco prodigy Daniel Rich gathered 12 purposeful first quarter possessions determined to Eagles supporters that he should have been the first draft pick over NicNat.  Nuggety and quick of hand and left foot he is a wonderful successor to anotherPerthboy in Simon Black.  Rich and Black showed they were made for these conditions.  I calmed myself with the knowledge that NicNat was made for the hard, bouncy tracks of the MCG and Subiaco in September.

This was a large family gathering where we only knew John, Betty and their kids.  After the introductory hugs and exchange of presents (Eagles polo shirt in XL for John) we found seats opposite the TV screen with the Foxtel telecast showing.  No sound but with Tony Shaw and Alistair Lynch on screen I should count my blessings.  I could rehearse my own inner Bruce instead.

Our arrival clearly hadn’t got through to the boys at the Gabba as the Lions kicked the only 2 goals of the second quarter and then the first three of the third.  Twenty nine points down in slippery conditions with 8 minutes left to the 3 quarter time.  My eyes shifted nervously around the room looking for more pleasant diversions.  Perhaps I should pull those weighted-down helium Happy Birthday balloons back into the centre of the table, from where I had shifted them on taking our seats, to obscure my view of this worrying spectacle.  No, that was unacceptable cowardice in the face of enemy fire.

Instead I looked around the walls at the Honour Boards and photos of the club’s past Premiership teams and best and fairest winners.  At half time I had wandered around the room looking at those strong, talented brave men.  Where were they now?  How had their lives and footy careers turned out?  Were they watching the game surrounded by loving families like John?  Or did they have their beer goggles on in a bar somewhere as they hazily reflected on fleeting Glory Days?

What surprised me as I read the names on the pictures was the number of European surnames.  This seems like a white bread farming community.  But the orchards to the south were built by the Italians like John’s parents who settled the area in the period before and after WWII.  Then bauxite was found in theDarling Rangebehind the town and they were joined by the Poles and Yugoslavs who dug and sweated to establish a better life for their families.  Refugees – too many and we burn likeEnglandin the glut that the prescient Enoch Powell forewarned of in the 60’s.  Too few and we atrophy in our own insular self satisfaction.  It isn’t about colour or religion or how they come – it is about ensuring we are enriched by diversity not overwhelmed by alien or resentful cultures.

The diversity in this room was a joy.  Italian nonnas mixed with ocker grandchildren in a bubble of “so you’re Carlo’s boy reconnections”.  A nervous pensioner paced the dance floor immediately in front of the TV all night.  He was a Dockers supporter but apparently an Eagles top 4 was worth a thousand dollars to him from an early season small wager.  He looked the sort of bloke where a grand might be this year’s holiday money.

So the room was united behind the Eagles for a multitude of reasons.  Money, fandom and to see John smile for his 60th.  And now were coming.  Woosha had heard me and pushed Kennedy and Lynch down the ground where they formed a barrier across half back and pounded the ball to a mosquito fleet forward line.  In 8 minutes Nicoski snapped a rare right footed goal; Shuey soccered a follow-up; and Masten repented for earlier misses.  Then Ashton Hams kicked the goal of the year with the ball in air as the 3 quarter time siren sounded.

Many of you may not be familiar with young Ashton.  A quick summation would be that he resembles a younger Tony Liberatore.  Low to the ground; tree-trunk links; persistent more than quick; and a penetrating left foot kick.  Intercepting the ball on the boundary line at the right 50 metre circle (wrong side for a left-footer) he launched a banana bomb that went through post high.

The Eagles went into three quarter time 2 points down, and reaffirmed in their belief.  That is one of this team’s greatest strengths.  I have written before that in the darkest days of the Eagles last 3 years you could always see that the players would die for Woosha.  They just lacked the skills or strength to live for him.  That is what I really admire about the 2011 Eagles.  It is now obvious (to previous unbelievers like me) how Woosha had set a course in 2008 after the loss of Judd and Cousins.  Wise hard heads like Neale Daniher, Scott Burns and Suma around him in the coaching team.  Nurtured a game plan, and a talent and a self-belief into both the skilful like Shuey, Natanui, Kennedy, Hurn and Gaff and the less-gifted role players like Schofield, Scott Selwood, Lynch and Nicoski.

I hear the angry and frustrated callers to Saturday footy talkback.  They want to sack Mark Harvey and half the Dockers team.  To replace them with what?  The same people will be calling morning talkback on Monday to demand the death penalty; labour camps; lower taxes and the execution of Julia.  And the result will be…….?  Someone and something new to blame next year.

The last quarter unfolded predictably with our self-belief getting us out to a 17 point lead mid quarter.  The Lions came back, but like all young teams their steel had not yet been tempered in the fires of battle.  They peppered the goals in the last 10 minutes, but only one resulted and a number of gettable chances were missed.  The Eagles held on to win by 8 points – 13.11 to 11.15.  The days events had settled the first week of the Finals with us to meet the Bonaparte coached Magpies on the field of hisWaterlooin the first week.

Cox had gone off just before ¾ time with a bandaged eye that had swollen over from an earlier collision.  He will be resting his body in the stands for next week’s practice match against the Crows.  Natanui was awesome as he took over the load in the second half.  He bashed and crashed to clear space at ground level on a night made for men half his size.  In the last quarter he leapt over a brave Matthew Leunberger at the centre bounces to palm to Shuey for repeated centre clearances.  Leunberger (another WA boy) had more than matched our duo for 3 quarters, but in the last our indomitable Tigga repeatedly bounced right over the top of him.

Chris Masten collected 31 possessions in his 50th game in a best ever performance.  He was a high draft pick, and has been a frequent whipping boy for Eagles fans with his often unreliable disposal.  He has been limited by injuries throughout his career, and all season the coaches have shuttled him betweenEast Fremantle and theAFL as we rehearsed and developed our best group of smalls.  Through all of the disappointments I have never doubted his work ethic and desire.  Tonight’s performance and a likely finals place are his rewards.

All the Eagles smalls were whole hearted in wearing down the Lions.  Priddis was tireless all night.  Gaff ran his heart and legs out in the first half.  Shuey took over with a telling second half without the stronger-bodied Kerr to clear a path for him.  Both Selwoods, Hams, McGinnity, Waters and Lynch all played their part.

Like John, the birthday boy, the Eagles have had their fair share of adversity in recent times.  But devotion to those around them, hard work and persistence have won the day.  The Eagles time in the sun will be an MCG stage against the Magpies who have everything to lose, and then a second or third week home final at Subi in front of the adoring faithful.  This was John’s day with his adoring family, friends, reminiscing about times gone by, like the heroic time a couple of years back when he used his first aid training to resuscitate a toddler who was unconscious from a fall on his bus.

Leaving for the drive home toPerthand amidnightreplay of the second half, I hugged him and asked “John – I know there are 3 important things in your life – Betty, your kids and the Eagles – but I’m not sure about the order.”  He winked and smiled “that’s easy – the wife and kids in the first half definitely, but after half time……………”



  1. Marija Erceg says

    Peter thank you for your uplifting and beautifully articulated reminder of the important things in life….family, friends and the mighty West Coast Eagles. May they soar even higher in coming weeks!

  2. John Butler says

    Nice work PB

    Just so long as the Eagles don’t lose sight of the important things in life.

    Like beating Collingwood.

  3. You are a glutton for punishment JB. Do you really want Collingwood in a knockout semi? Besides that ruins the prospect of the 1981 replay you want so dearly. I guess its just a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

  4. I love honour boards. Their (relative) uniformity. (If that is logical)

    I also like gatherings where the banter slows because the footy takes over, or the cricket or whatever.

    And vice versa. I like when the conversation takes over.

    But a good footy game will always grab you for those moments.

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