Revisiting the Inner Child

Eagles V Geelong @ Subiaco on Friday 8 July 2011

The best thing about the footy is that it brings out your inner 5 year old.  All week the atmosphere has been building.  Gazza (I kid you not) was brought up a torp away from Kardinia Park.  Its got down to 1 degree in Perth this week, as Gazza starts work at 6am in our factory each day – managing the chippies who instal our windows in homes across WA.  But he wears his short sleeved blue and white hoops with ‘9’ emblazoned on the back with obvious pride.

Early in the week we agree that next Monday one of us will eat humble pie.  Either he will wear my blue and gold scarf or I will don the hoops for the day.  The potential embarrassment of wearing the Cats colours doesn’t worry me.  It’s just the thought of my skinny pale white collar arms emerging from where his muscular tradesmen’s biceps usually protrude.  And that jumper – in all my time at the company I have never seen Gazza in any other garb.  And he doesn’t look the sort of bloke who has a wardrobe full of #9’s.  I was just hoping that it gets washed on weekends.

All week I have been positive about our chances.  The all-conquering byes seem to be dropping away now it’s the business end of the season.  And its only been 12 days since the intensity of our first big test against the Blues in Melbourne in Round 14.  More importantly the weather has cleared this week after a fortnight of unusually consistent rain in Perth.  Subiaco will be firm and fast on a cold and clear Friday night.

So I sit at my desk early on Friday morning, studying the footy form guide with the usual intensity of a tipster in search of 8 (sorry 7 this round).  This is usually an activity reserved for the breakfast table, but the Avenging Eagle has entrusted it to me this week.  We are both making an early start to our work days so we can leave the office early.  We want to be thermoed, scarfed, fed and in situ on our perch behind the city goals well before the 6.40 bounce down.

Another example of the perfidy of Sepp and Seven and the Appalling Football League.  Those bloody Eastern Staters are forcing us to rush unfed and harried from our factories and desks to the Eagles only Friday night game, just so Victorians can settle into their ‘red cordial’ and log fires at their usual time.  It just heightens my adopted Sandgroper sense of righteous indignation.  “In victory revenge, in defeat malice” I mutter to myself looking at the team lineups.

No Selwood J, but other than that match winners stare back at me from every line of the Geelong team sheet in Friday morning’s West.  The Eagles are on fire at the moment, playing with the white eyed intensity not seen since the kamikaze warriors of the Pacific War – or at least since Woosha retired.  But Bartel, Scarlett, Chapman, Johnson, Ling, Varcoe, Corey, Enright, Kelly, Ottens et al – that’s been the silk department of AFL skill over the last 5 years.  Will this be their Iwo Jima or our Waterloo?

Christ we’re still 10 hours from bounce down and already I’ve got the jitters.  “Stick to the match plan” I tell myself.  The Avenging Eagle’s departing words this morning were “I don’t care who you tip; just make sure you pick us”.  Eagles by 4 points I decide.  Our height and intensity will win out over their speed and skill I tell myself and the other 370,861 people on the tipping website (we are in the top 10% – thanks for asking – wonderful what a winning home team can do for the %’s).

All day it’s that sort of tingling expectation with my inner 5 year old’s fevered imaginary world full of heroes and villains; triumphs and disasters.  On the Almanac website “Ged” shares his first careless Windy Hill rapture and his tragic tracky dacks (sorry Mrs Mac).  “Shaken” breaks into prose from his Geelong fortress (no Cats permitted) with memories of his Dad and Samboy chips (bit racist on reflection weren’t they) and a Perth childhood.  Then he spoils it all by tipping the Cats.  Still that’s a good omen because he had a similar crisis of confidence on the morning of the Carlton game.  Pull yourself together man!!

But for Christ sake – keep tipping the opposition.  We want your support, not the dead weight of your money.  By contrast, Harmsy has gone the reverse mock.  Humiliated by tipping the Blues to flog us by 39 points, he has decided that false humility is the go.  “West Coast by 15 points” he announced on the PPP website (Perfidious Purveyors of the Punt).  Pretty weak I thought.  “What profiteth a man if he gaineth riches, but loseth his pride and his footy team” (St Woosha’s epistle to the Eagles at Galatia – Chapter 5, Verse 11).

Arriving in our seats a half hour before bounce down, I scour the stadium for further portents.  Things are not looking good.  The man from Bunbury clearly hasn’t been able to get away from work early enough to take the 3 hour train trip to Perth.  The Italian lady behind has gone to Queensland for a month, and her Nonna has also given up her seat to the grandkids.  Gee folks, this is not the time to be blooding youngsters!!  We need our best talent on the pine as well as on the park.  We need desperate nonna-genarians who know this may be their last chance at glory (like Cox and Embley and Glass and Nicoski) not inexperienced kids for barrackers.

Worse still the blokes next door have decided that now is the time to introduce their 4 and 6 year old to the game.  And they have propped themselves at the far end of the row, leaving me to amuse the 4 year old.  He peers up at me with uncomprehending eyes.  “I’ve got footy cards,” he proudly announces tugging at my sleeve.  And he pulls a deck from his pocket that would have made Bart Maverick proud.

Seeing Harry OBrien on the top of his pile I feign mock disgust.  “Haven’t you got any Eagles?” I demand.  “Yeah, Shannon Hurn” he announces, searching feverishly through the pack.  “Good,” I tell him approvingly “he and Josh Kennedy are my favourites, who are yours?”  “NicNat (the paddywhacker is at the top of the list for all Perth children under 12 and all women under 90) and Shuey and Lynchey and LeCras and Darling and Coxy and………) he continues for 5 minutes – naming every Eagle including the rookie list.  “Christ” I think to myself “I’m stuck with sitting next to a junior Cometti for the night”.  Then I realize it’s not Dennis the Menace that’s been sent to torment and inspire, it’s an early reincarnation of myself tugging at my Granddad’s sleeve on the mound at Thebarton Oval all those years ago.  A bundle of precocious inquisitiveness and annoyance.  This small package of heaven and hell is my lot for the evening, so I decide to make the best of it and play ‘doting granddad’ for the rest of the evening.  Their dads are lost in beer and earnest conversation, three seats down.

And so the game begins.  I have told the Avenging Eagle that there are 2 crucial parts to tonight’s game – the first 15 minutes of both the first and third quarters.  Post-prandial sleepwalking after half time has been a worrying habit of recent weeks, and Geelong will doubtless be fuming after last week’s absent-minded performance against the Bomber’s babies.  Things go according to plan (Cats not mine) and fears (mine not Cats).  Varcoe waltzes away from a pack to strafe the first goal (Harmsy’s pet is already looking like Peter Matera reborn).  After 15 minutes the Cats lead by 4 goals to 1.

“Don’t worry,” I hesitantly counsel the panicky Avenging Eagle.  “We are getting plenty of the ball and our pressure is good, it’s just that they are using it while we are just bombing it long.  We are still in it once we settle down.”  And so it proved.  The next 30 minutes was one of those long, hazy, blissful dream sequences that comes all too infrequently.

You know the one where the young Sophia Loren; and Kathleen Turner in her white Body Heat split skirt; and the Avenging Eagle in her blue and gold Kylie hot pants and I are in the back of that limo………(sorry that’s the other dream).  Back at Subiaco the Eagles kick 9 goals without response either side of quarter time.  And its not height that’s doing it – its speed and running.  Not the Cats sort of running.  For 30 minutes they are reduced to cheat’s football.  Outside running.  Downhill skiing.  Varcoe and Stokes and Duncan lurk on fringes, waiting for a Selwood to spin the ball out to them.  But Selwood J is in the coach’s box, and Selwood’s A and S are intent on sending it in the opposite direction.  Chapman, Scarlett and Bartel suddenly look like pensioners in the soup line, not warriors on the front line.

Only Kelly, Ling and Harry Taylor stood tall.  I often to struggle to pick out newer players from visiting teams unless they are playing a blinder.  I have heard of Menzel and Vardy and Duncan but I don’t know what they look like.  They don’t impose.  By contrast Harry Taylor is all nonchalant calm under the barrage of Eagle assaults.  I can picture him alongside Simpson and his donkey struggling up Shrapnel Gully.  “Bit of incoming, Simmo – better lay low a sec’ while I dodge this one” he would announce while he picks his way calmly around the enemy bullets.

Before the game I worried about the Cats’ run and leg speed, but for 30 minutes they looked old and tired and not a little bit intimidated.  The hallmark of the Eagles football this year has been inside running.  Running with malice and intent.  Bash and crash ‘get out of my face’ running.  I have the feeling that somehow Natanui has set the tone with his agility and ferocity.  In the second quarter he tried the ‘give and go’ handball with his diminutive teammate Tom Swift.  He may be swift by name, but he wasn’t quick enough to retreat after giving the handball to a rampaging Natanui in full flight.  Guernsey colour is of little import when the Nat train reaches full speed and Swift was trampled in NicNat’s  rush to propel himself and the ball forward.  They unintentionally tackled each other out over the boundary line in a messy blue and gold heap, with no blue and white within metres.  Normally a fan would groan, but 6 goals ahead we smiled at the boys’ relentless intensity.

At half the Eagles led by 35 points (11-7 to 6-2).  I shifted nervously in my seat.  Chris Scott must surely now be channeling his inner Leigh Matthews to give his timid youngsters and disinterested seniors the bake of all time.  And Woosha must be tormented between warning against ‘third quarter siestas’ and trying to ignore one of the few residual ‘elephants’ in the Eagles panic room of 2008/9/10 memories.

The third quarter opened brightly.  The Eagles won the tap and the clearance and kicked long to Josh Kennedy clear on the lead 30 metres out from goal.  All night Taylor had worn Kennedy tighter than the aforementioned Kylie’s hot pants, and Kennedy was suffering from a chronic case of Twitter fingers.  He seemed to have spent the last 12 days sending Sticks and Juddy and Ratts and Fev “nya nya told you so” text messages, and had no residual strength left in his digits for holding the football.  He dropped the sort of unopposed chest mark that had rarely been spilt during the half time mini-league game, and the Cats rushed the ball to goal at the other end.

You could hear the collective deep intake of breath and ‘uh ohs’ from 40,000 Eagles fans, as the Cats reverted to their breathtaking ‘run and stun’ style – kicking 4 unopposed goals over the next 15 minutes.  Then Cox kicked a steadying goal, but it was not to be a replay of the Carlton game where the Eagles let them catch up only to comprehensively snatch it away as soon as the prize was in sight.  Sort of reminds me of a girl I once knew…… (sorry back on that Body Heat dream again).

This week the game transformed itself from 2 and a half quarters of alternating WW2 blitzkrieg from both sides, into a final 1 and a half quarters of smothering WW1 trench warfare.  We weren’t going to concede, and they weren’t going to relent.  The Geelong turnaround was typified by Paul Chapman.  He is the sort of unfashionable footballer that opposition supporters secretly covet.  Slow of foot but quick of mind, with untackleable child-bearing hips and mallee tree legs.  In the first half I had assigned him to pensioner status as he seemed to meander aimlessly around the forward line.  Assigned to the midfield in the second half, he eluded and humbled the younger Eagles tacklers with his strength and cunning.

Where did he and Scarlo and Barto go in the first half?  And without them to dish it out – no Varcoe or Christo cutting up the opposition with leg speed and creativity.  A few things occur to me.  In a long hard season, the older Geelong players need the ‘thrill of the chase’ and the fear of humiliation to really get motivated.  Like a cunning old dog they let the rabbit get 50 metres clear before they can be bothered to chase.  Their younger players are good at ‘finishing off’ a beaten opponent, but they understandably still lack the strength and experience to do it without their mentor’s lead.

Their close wins to start the year were motivated by a fierce desire to prove that 2010 and the exit of Gary Junior did not herald the inevitable ‘dimming of the day’.  Many saw a new dawn that was more a rekindled flame.  At a structural level the Cats appear to me to be short a couple of good talls.  We will find out a lot about Vardy (and presumably Hawkins) over the next few weeks as Ottens takes some ‘Selwood leave’ in the Queensland sun over the next month.  Frustrated by his inability to get to the contest in the last quarter he gave Nicoski the ‘Selwood wave’ with a stiff arm to the head 50 metres off the ball.  For the second time in a week I found myself saying “thanks Channel 7” (see my Wimbledon piece) but this time for repeated replays showing what frustration does to ageing champions.  Not pretty.  For mine, the key to the Cats as a premiership chance will be the whether they can get Cam Mooney fit and firing.  Podsiadly is honest but one-dimensional, and Stevie J was the only forward who genuinely put fear into the hearts of Eagles supporters and defenders.

As for the Eagle’s siestas?  Is it that they play such an intense game style that they are physically incapable of sustaining it for 4 quarters in the way that only Collingwood seem capable of?  Do oppositions start to understand Cox and Natanui’s rucking patterns and start to get a more even share of the clearances?  It is certainly something to do with clearances from stoppages.  The Eagles dominated the first half; thereafter Geelong took the ball away 80% of the time.  We became the hunted where in the first half we were the hunters.

I suspect those factors are a part of it, but above all it illustrates the limitations of our midfielders.  Priddis was the only Eagle ‘inside’ player to hold his own for 4 quarters.  Kerr played a brilliant first half, but his dodgy hamstrings don’t allow him to run out a game against quality opposition.  Hope he reverts to type and does an Ottens/SelwoodJ soon, and clocks someone so he can rest his body for a few weeks.  Embley and Ebert played their best games of the season, but more as outside runners than clearance players.  Shuey will be a star and did some good things, but is a couple of years and 10 kilos of muscle off being an elite midfielder.  Scott Selwood is an honest toiler but more of a tagger than a clearance gatherer.  Adam played easily his best game of the season, mostly tagging Stevie J or as the steadying ‘kick behind the play’ marking player.  I swear I saw him give the ‘Selwood wave’ to his brother in the Cats coaching box after the game.  Putting all of that aside, we would need someone to step up and give Priddis a hand for us threaten the Pies fleet of tough inside runners on their own turf.

By orange time the Eagles lead had been reduced to 11 points.  A Nicoski intercept goal gave Eagles fans some stress relief.  Then a long shot on the run by LeCras that might have broken the Cats resolve, just grazed the base of the post to the disbelief of 40,000 unbiased observers.  Then 8 minutes of unrewarded Cats dominance.  Wojcinski returned the favour and hit the post.  Then Vardy kicked out on the full from a set shot on a slight angle 40 metres out.  Then a Geelong shot from the goal line near their point post dribbled past the big opening, nobly agreeing to turn left only after it had passed the goals while 40,000 held their breath.

The tension was getting unbearable, particularly for the 6 year old who had spent most of the evening gorging himself on chips and coke, as I indulged his little brother and his father spent the evening on the beer with his mate.  This was clearly the time for a little strategic attention seeking.  Soon the pleas of “Dad I really need to go now” became intolerable to all within a 10 metre radius.  Much shifting in seats and raising of knees to chests followed as father and secretly pleased 6 year old exited for the conveniences, with Dad muttering “why didn’t you go at the break” and “if I miss a goal”.  A rowful of trodden toes nodded in agreement.

Finally the tension was broken as the Eagles got the ball clear on the railway wing, with the final pass to Embley on the run with only one man to beat.  Deciding not to trust a set shot from the angle, he tried to baulk the Cats defender who had seen that trick before.  Having exhausted Plan A and Plan B, Embley remembered his Monty Python and decided on Doug and Dinsdale Piranha’s Other Other Plan.  He reversed and ran in a big circle back toward the 50 metre line and the boundary, then straightened up and slotted it from 40 metres out near the right hand boundary.

We were 21 points up with 6 minutes to play, and I put the heart tablets away, as God had clearly showed his blue and gold colours for the evening.  The Cats kept coming with 2 more goals, and with a minute to play Podsiadly launched himself over a pack to mark near the right point post, in front of us at the city end.  “Please Hughie, just one more favour,” I implored mindful of my rising cortisol levels.  As the JPod ran around to improve his angle the Almighty reached down and bent the goal posts a few imperceptible centimetres closer together.  “See you Sunday,” I muttered gratefully under my breath as the kick clattered into the far post.

40 seconds later the siren sounded the rapture for Eagles fans and players, while Chris Scott had the look of an Old Testament prophet bent on vengeance.  Eagles by 8 points in a thriller (14-12 to 13-10).

Time to release and reward the inner child, as 40,000 new best friends exchanged hi-5’s and hugs.  Even the incontinent 6 year old and his precocious brother were forgiven.  The 2011 Eagles are the greatest resurrection story since St Matthew’s Passion.

The Avenging Eagle and I adjourned home with our friends the Corrigin Cockie and his wife in tow.  They normally let their student kids have their seats, but they had been sensibly selfish and made the long journey down from the wheatbelt to see this game in the flesh.  Their kids were suitably peeved on missing out, but as parents we all decided that it was appropriate revenge for years of inopportune toilet stops.

Heading home to watch the first, second and fourth quarters on replay we stopped off for supplies of ‘red cordial’ and take-away kebabs and gozleme.  Deciding to splurge on a couple of Yarra Valley pinots to celebrate I fronted the cash register and found it unexpectedly staffed by a friend from a previous life in the wine industry.  We shook hands and quickly reviewed the game, then he intoned those magic words “two at staff prices then Pete”, handing me back $20 more in change than I had expected.

Cue smiley face.  Cue inner child.  Thanks Hughie.  See you Sunday.



  1. John Butler says


    If they keep winning games we may be forced to take your boys seriously. :)

  2. Great piece PeterB.

    I’m more than happy to keep tipping the opposition if the Eagles keep on winning!

    Having not seen the Carlton game, I was still dubious. But, the Cats threw everything at as for that third quarter and they stood up to it. Perhaps, dare I say, we are the real deal?

  3. johnharms says

    Sorry for the delay in responding PB. I started reading this on Sunday and have just come up for air late Tuesday night. Epistle it is.

    This was a strange match in many ways. I was surprised when the Eagles kicked so many unanswered goals. But I was also surprised the Cats came back as they did. I was then surprised they didn’t win, when they had so much of it in the final quarter.

    Lucky the Cats have a good draw as a Vardy-Podsiadly-led Geelong would struggle against many.

    And surely Chappy won’t have another month like this last one.

    I think the Lions are in with a sneaky chance this week against a much-travelled Geelong.

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