Almanac Footy Comment: Reconnecting without contact

Early in this most unusual of years I formed the view that the footy season should probably be abandoned. I took the view that the game could be irreparably damaged if the season and the game became contrived and “forced” to such an extent that we barely recognised what was happening. The shortened quarters were the first warning sign of this impending unnatural state. But I formed this view on the assumption that the whole country would be in a state of at least semi-lockdown. I did not foresee that Victoria would have to shut up shop while the remainder muddled through. We are the sick little boy told to go to bed and come back when he’s feeling well. Its quite disconcerting.

 

So here we sit, locked in our homes, watching footy every night on the TV (for those lucky enough to have Foxtel). I feel like I’m outside my own home looking in through the window. It’s hard to explain the state of mind. Its as if we in Victoria have copped a collective clobber to the head and have woken from our daze with a mild case of amnesia. We recognise some things about our new reality, we see familiar faces and are acquainted with the sounds of the game, and yet it is distant from us. Untouchable. Perhaps we’ve popped out of a time machine ten years hence? Games every night of the week but none are here. Footy shows talking of the week’s highlights and yet our parks are empty. Melbourne, the club, is in the eight but Melbourne, the city, is in hibernation. The Cats, my team, are winning but celebrations seem interstellar. I can see it, but I can’t quite believe it. There is no feel.

 

But it is not all bad. Geelong’s absence from my immediate reality has lightened its impact on the soul. I now watch the Cats and see a team of men, not a corporation. We are spared the hubris of the conglomerate and see a touch of humility in the leaders. Victories are greeted with measure, triumphs with context. The snaps of some of the players seeing their families again after a six-week absence were touching; a reminder that the players are human too. The smiles on the kids’ faces as they ran towards the open arms of their Dads was priceless.

 

I’m starting to connect with this team again because there is a stillness in my involvement. The usual mayhem of the footy game, followed by the big footy story, in the midst of the madness of a normal working week, combined with the silly white lies about player injuries and the breathlessness of the regular media frenzy has all gone. I’m way outside the bubble. And, as Maxwell Smart used to say, “loving it”.

 

Add to this the new paradigm of team selection. Necessity is the mother of invention and the necessity of rotating players through the team has been so very refreshing. We’ve seen the young blokes thrown in, and many have acquitted themselves well. For too many seasons the Cats hierarchy has pontificated about the talent in the VFL; talent we never saw. And while the team has been a high performer for many years it was stale. It felt remote. Everything had become robotic and formula driven, including the selections, not just the game plan. We looked like a team that was destined to rust to death.

 

But things have been turned on their head. Fogarty, Close, Fort, Simpson, Constable, are all new or relatively new. They have given the team zest and made the supporter a witness to the joys of youth. They are “our boys” not imports from other clubs brought in to patch up a hole. Selwood and Dangerfield no longer need to hold up the team like Sampson (who eventually destroyed the temple). Blokes like Parfitt, Guthrie, Mitch Duncan, Blicavs and lesser lights like O’Çonnor and Tuohy and Bews are taking the load – and then some. It’s certainly easier to love a team that wins, but the joy is coming from the new generation which is providing the spark and the energy to a jaded spirit.

 

I have established a connection without contact. Or perhaps I have just made real contact? A contact based on the humanity of the team not the blandness of a cliched slogan. The Cats seem to be at peace with themselves. The virus and isolation of Geelong from Geelong may have triggered a re-boot. Hopefully what’s important is bubbling to the top and in the process quietening the incessant noise of the footy industry.

 

Being here in sleepy Melbourne has removed me from the media’s “itch for sensation” as Josef Pieper puts it, and encouraged me to re-embrace the sense of wonder that a football season holds.

 

 

 

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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.

Comments

  1. I thought the AFL season was a wasteful indulgence. Then my Eagles came home and started winning. A fine line in post-hoc rationalisation. Glad Chris Scott finally listened to you.

  2. I understand the arguments against running the AFL season at all and given my team is likely to complete it winless I am not hugely interested in the outcomes now but I’ve enjoyed this three-week block of daily games including the Crows becoming Tuesday night specialists (specialists at taking the field but not turning up). I’ve liked the novelty, the escape, the mania. It reminded me of the lovely nightly rhythms of watching the BBL in those initial seasons, and the comfort of being in America during baseball season and seeing a game on in a bar as I walked past or popping it on in the motel room.

    I imagine many are looking at their team (not club) anew like you Dips having been forced into this reexamination of their relationship.

    Thanks for this.

  3. Kevin Densley says

    Refreshing and original, Dips – a stimulating read!

  4. roger lowrey says

    An eery calm about your disposition here Dips.

    Perhaps you have stumbled upon T S Eliot’s “still point of the turning world”?

    RDL

  5. Interesting musings from you here, old mate.
    I was as stridently anti-footy-continuing as many, but have found myself tuning in for days at a time, and then tuning out for days at a time also. And this has nothing to do with the performances of my team over the past 10 or so rounds.
    But all in all, I am glad that the AFL has pulled out all stops to keep the show on the road. There are even some inadvertent discoveries which might be applied in a non-Covid future (4 day breaks etc).
    One thing’s for sure, however, is that I am coming around to the belief that the game needs a major overhaul. I want goals, and lots of them. Not these 43 v 35 defence-fests. That is not Australian footy.

  6. Andrew Else says

    Lovely, positive piece Dips and I recognise those feelings…but only because I’m married to a Lions supporter.

    Where my beloved is able to dedicate some child-free ‘me time’ hours to watching a fit, in-form and in-sync side glide across the ground, I’m now considering just putting the Dons on the radio while doing the weeding.

    Like you, I have enjoyed seeing some young players have a crack – Ridley and Draper in particular – but I’d rather see their movements and game sense live. The ‘not a corporation’ call is interesting too – again, I’m finding the opposite with not being able to attend the games. It’s less real.

    The ‘Big Bash’ call is a good one though. I haven’t been watching non Dons or Lions games, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I need it, and I do agree that a game every day is better than a media-confected talking point.

    All in all, it sounds like you’re just enjoying watching your team win in a way that is a bit different to how they’ve won in years gone by….and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  7. Interesting perspective,Dips and v hard as a non Victorian and where my own work situation hasn’t changed
    I admit I’ve hardly watched any footy due for a variety of reasons – it being a extended,Vfl,the style of footy and the incompetence re umpiring all a factor.i certainly appreciate the chance each night to just try and chill out and be away from this shocking massive current world is great tho thanks,Dips

  8. Dips,

    Much to consider.

    I have mixed feelings about it all.

    Initially I was preoccupied with the reality that the AFL was desperate to keep it going for commercial reasons. I was negative about it. I think it had a role in creating complacency in the broader community. Football as usual (and the return to school) stimulated a mindset of normality. Behaviour followed.

    Lockdown is here again (in Victoria) and I’m now in footy’s pattern – and gratefully so. Footy as escape?

    Planning dinner around it. Dinner is a little later when the Cats had the early weekday game – and cracking that Coopers stout. Total escape. Some footy. And sit with the family for 8 o’clock dinner.

    The quality of the footy is varied. Some great games. Some shockers – but that’s when the Else Theory of Weeding clocks in.

    The Cats performance has helped – you certainly identify some good reasons. I have also enjoyed the young players. I’ve enjoyed games where sides have taken risks – including Geelong.

    I love that people are seeing Tom Hawkins as the player many Geelong people know he has been. If ever a bloke needs to feel like a colt in a paddock it’s T.Hawkins.

    I may even miss footy tonight – but that will be more because no footy means footy talkfests are back on. Perhaps they’ll be talking about Matt Rowell as a future coach. (Thanks for the tip-off on this one Smokie Dawson).

    Thanks for your words.
    JTH

  9. Thanks for the comments. Some very thoughtful ideas in this, and interesting reactions to the unfolding season. I think we’re all scratching our heads a bit and wandering if we love it or hate it. But Smoke you are right, it has highlighted that things must change.

    JTH you are spot on about Hawkins. He above all others might represent what I am enjoying about Geelong – his free reign. He’s almost frolicking through games. It’s a joy.

  10. I tended to agree with the sentiment of footy being played for all the wrong reasons – i.e. for TV ratings and the commercial imperative being the elephant in the room so to speak. A few weeks on I’m beginning to see and feel the elephant in the room is something completely different..
    Being a resident of the sunshine state has been difficult to live with in terms of the fact that as a “non football” state above the “Barassi line” the state has been the saviour of the competition with all the teams being in hubs up here.
    So this Saturday coming a true dream time game will finally happen in its rightful place – the Territory all due to these most unusual of circumstances and that the mighty Tiges and Bombers can do battle in the first place is fantastic for those stuck in Melbourne and for all of those thousands of loyal Territorians who love those two teams in particular.
    I love seeing the player rotations and giving the young guns a chance to truly help the squad whatever the team stay competitive.
    This comp is turning into who will be the mentally strongest not necessarily the best team

  11. John Butler says

    Interesting thoughts, Dips.

    To be honest, I’m still not sure what I make of this season, but I am enjoying watching the Blues be consistently competitive. And I reckon we’re playing pretty watchable footy most of the time.

    For the flag, I reckon it could come down to last man standing, fitness wise.

    But I’m not sure I’d be basing too many long term decisions on what necessity has forced this year.

    Cheers

  12. DBalassone says

    Well said Dips. I’m enjoying the season immensely. I got a mate’s spare kayo login so have tuned into most of the games during the frenzy, discovering many up and coming players that I otherwise would not have. So far my family have not seemed to notice my nightly kayo habits. Can this last?
    I’m a bit surprised when some suggest that low scores equate to poor footy – some of the best games I’ve ever seen have been low scoring (e.g. 2005 GF). I love the hard, contested, pressure games where goals are hard to game by – the Freo/Carlton game from Saturday is a prime example. It’s incredible how many games have gone right down to the wire – a bit like NBA where we await the final set plays. That Newnes kick was the stuff of legend. I wonder if players are playing more on instinct now – there certainly seems to be a lot of Mark of the Year contenders each week, and some rip-snorting goals too.
    It definitely is the ‘Mental Premiership’ this year, but please no asterisk next to the winner. Whoever wins it this year will deserve it. I don’t see any asterisk for sides who won flags during the World Wars (Fitzroy 1916 anyone?).
    Having said that, I did find it a bit perplexing that the Pies played 4 games in 13 days in 3 states, while some other sides had byes or 9-day breaks.

  13. Dips – the curve from scepticism to acceptance has actually had three stages.

    When the competition shut down through April and May, I relished the break from the constant stream of live footy which never allows time for reflection. I loved having the opportunity to watch some old classics and to fully appreciate their historical, contextual significance. Heck, I even watched Richmond’s loss to North Melbourne in the 2015 Elimination Final. It was so instructive to see the small but significant changes in personnel and play between then and now that have transformed the Tigers into a truly great side. And I started my review of the 1981 season which many of us old-timers regard as a high-point in the game’s history.

    Is it any wonder that the resumption of the 2020 season was such an anticlimax? It sputtered to life with no clear schedule and no certainty that it wouldn’t shut down again at any moment. The players were rusty and the matches were awful. After cherry-picking the great spectacles of past decades, I almost felt sullied watching such crap.

    Gradually, however, the games improved, the season developed a sense of rhythm, structure and purpose. Even the shorter games and the lower scores assumed an acceptable normality. The clubs’ adaptation to hub life – good, bad, indifferent – has been intriguing to watch, as has the remarkable disparity in teams’ abilities to cope with injuries. And then, like buds bursting, occasional contests that look like the real deal. West Coast-Geelong (surely the GF preview), Port-Richmond (another case of a likely Minor Premier peaking too early?), Gold Coast – St Kilda (go-for-broke game from two exciting young sides). With two-thirds of the season done, I’m feeling invested again, confident that the season will achieve a fitting conclusion that will have some meaning.

    Of course, the way we’re experiencing footy this year is unique and I hope will always be so. Having moved to Richmond just at the time the season commenced, it’s fair to say my anticipation of being immersed in a vibrant lifestyle fuelled in large part by the proximity of footy hasn’t exactly been realised. My daily (strictly one-hour, Stage 4-approved) wanderings frequently take me past the ghostly MCG, Punt Road Oval and innumerable locked pubs that would normally be thriving on footy-generated patronage. These poignant reminders don’t just put into sharp perspective the Lite’nEasy diet of footy beamed in from Queensland and WA. They’re stark reminders of the far more serious impacts this pandemic is having.
    Thanks for your thought-provoking piece.

  14. Outstanding summary Stainless. The season seems to have grown on us all. I think perhaps because it has lost some of its structure. That makes it more engrossing.

    Thanks Damian. Subscriptions are going through the roof for these services.

    Enjoying all the comments. Some good stuff to contemplate.

  15. Luke Reynolds says

    Agree Dips. The ritual of watching my team, whenever they may play, is important.
    I’m not watching many other games, but my boys are. I think the AFL has done a magnificent job in getting this season run. A season that back in April/May I didn’t think should be played. I’m glad they went to the effort.

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