Round 1 – Richmond v Carlton: Playing possum

Richmond v Carlton

7:25pm, Thursday March 18

MCG

 

 

The word Maribyrnong is the anglicised version of the Indigenous word ‘Mirring-gnay-bir-nong,’, meaning ‘I can hear a ring-tailed possum’. In Woodend, we get the brush-tailed variants, carrying their young on their back, brawling on the tin roofing, eyes looming, impossibly large, from the pitch darkness near the chicken run, when you’re late home from the football and have nowt but a phone-torch to your aid. I have always slept with a window open, even here in the inner West; in Woodend, you can always hear the possums.

 

I cross the Maribyrnong most days now, on my way in to university and to the city. The way out has become muscle memory: From Footscray station, find the bridge that leaps the platforms, and steer left, following the slope of Irving Street, to the railway bridge, Savers is behind you. Over the bridge, Buckley Street, past the VU campus, past the Laundromat Café and the proper Greek joint, left on Victoria Street, past the garage, the personal trainer, the orthodox church. Bus stop, turn left, opposite the Vietnamese bakery, the Bulldogs mural is on your right of the street.

 

A Jayden Short scythe-pass from the main drag and there we are, a slimmed-down house with upstairs bedrooms three degrees warmer than the lower one, and a miniscule kitchen with shunt-up windows appropriate for leaning out of. Half the place a Victorian echo, the other a cork-floored, white-walled renovation. The staircase is a deathtrap, and once you’re up them, the numerous bizarre level changes on the top floor require careful negotiation. It’s exactly what three young men seek.

 

Our rooms are hodgepodges of donated furniture and hasty IKEA trips, the fridge’s beer-to-food ratio has begun to look a lot more acceptable and there is not as much hard rubbish, cardboard, wrapping, mess, as there once was in the early chaos of moving-in. Our self-styled ‘Charter of the Boys’ is being adhered to. We’re making veggie curries, big chicken kormas, bolognese sauces.

 

There’s a cat over our back fence that braves our decking by dusk, but we can’t cajole him to say hello as we sit on the uneven planks outside, listening to the sounds of birds and people’s lives, feeling the inclination of Autumn as we busy ourselves with university readings. Walking from Yarraville, my new local ground where I’ll be umpiring football once more, the sun is setting over old houses, streets now arteries to my new home. From my window at night, if you lean toward the street just so, one foot in the air, you can see the lights of the city over the Maribyrnong.

 

Our landlords are mending the place, and we acquaint ourselves with the tradesman that pop in for a few hours on the weekdays. Ken’s doing the outside window – his young bloke plays for the CY’s in Willy, a ruckman, much taller than he is. According to his dad, Ro is in good nick. Mid-week, he pulls pints at his local, where one of my mates works. I tell Ken this, and he remarks on how small the world is. To a kid from Woodend in his third week of city living, this is grounding. Ken barracks for the Blues and is bullish for the year, but not for Round One.

 

Thursday afternoon, then, the first game all year where work has not interceded to render me unable to attend. My brother Ollie is coming down at 2:30 ‘Nice for some,’ I say. Platform 14 at Southern Cross. Back to my place for a tour, meeting my housemates, a cuppa. We leave my bedroom windows open. We’re meeting Dad at 5:15 sharp at the Cricketers.

 

Ollie has grown sharply in recent years, his curly hair worn long, limbs too big for his torso, shuffling duck-footed about in our dad’s old leather jacket. They take inspiration from each other, Ollie and Dad – the jacket has changed hands, and the hair has gone back the other way, Dad nearing 50 and sporting a shaggy mane that S.Kernahan would be positively disposed toward. He greets us under the shadow of Parliament House, pint in one hand, the promise of another once he asks me how my week has been. I see him only sparingly now.

 

It’s M28 tonight and not our regular M14 but, having last left the ‘G in the twilight of a Grand Final victory 17 months ago, there is very little to feel unsettled about. We’re there as always with Dad’s great mate Dan, and his young bloke Jack. Right next to the race, we see the Premiership cups driven onto the ground.

 

Last year, we watched the football with trepidation, a sneaking awareness that, even with no crowds and condensed games, things would worsen before they improved. The exact opposite emotions nestled itself into the ‘G this time around. Even with a tick under 50k through the gates, there was enough feeling to go around. This is only the start.

 

Carlton are flyers in Round One and came from the bowels of the stadium raring. Sam Walsh will be a better player than his midfield stablemate Cripps; the 21 year-old is slippery, considered, remarkably balanced and well sized, despite his frame. He has Pendlebury traits, Shane Edwards traits. He settles in accordance with the flow of the game and duly works away at carving a space in which to operate. It’s the Blues with the jump, bouncing with vigour from the half-back line and making the quick break from the stoppage. Balta is nigh on impenetrable, but Carlton snag two directly from the leftovers of the full-forward leapers regardless.

 

Balta, while I’m on the point, may be one of Richmond’s best draft selections since committing to a Campbell’s Creek junior at Pick 3 a decade or so ago. In his third year, he bounds to every contest and gets hands to every ball, spoiling only when he can’t manage the mark. His battle with McKay accentuates the game, two tyros cracking in desperately. Balta’s third quarter especially, holding the Carlton charge from the last line, is exceptional.

 

In the pocket, I’m clenching the Record as the Blues hold steady. Saad is cleaving Daniel Rioli in two on every half-back drive, with Docherty an echo behind. Martin kicks a preposterous goal, smothering O’Brien and gathering the football in one swoop, hoicking a snap over the left shoulder having held off Jones with one mighty paw. My voice is hoarse and cracking by the long break. It’s been an excellent game to watch.

 

Carlton break from the peloton in the third and make a dash for the line, but squander opportunities with gleeful abandon. McKay misses twice, and finds a new way to waste, playing on 20 metres from goal with Jayden Short closing in. The Tiger gets to him in the nick of time, forcing a dribbled, scragged kick out of bounds. Those in yellow and black sitting around me are constructive in their criticism. In response, Riewoldt dobs two tough set shots to prop up the Richmond lead, and the nagging hypothesis is that Carlton have little left to drag themselves to the finish. Already, Bolton and Prestia are working a fine double-act in the middle, with Graham filling the void left by missing skipper Cotchin. Cripps’ impact has lessened, and he has few mates on the night outside of Walsh that truly step up.

 

The last is Martin’s quarter, as it always must be. Somehow isolated on Saad, he kicks the first from an easy one-on-one marking contest. When Gibbons tightens the game to one good kick, he brutalises a half-forward contest, growls forward, gesticulating, before slipping over twice and finally manufacturing a tumbled kick from which Aarts pots his second. To end it he once again explodes from a half-forward scrum, barges disdainfully through Walsh and, when there is no direct avenue to goal, sets Bolton loose for the closer. There is glee in my pocket, understanding that the play of our football club seen through a screen for the last year are material, alive.

 

Richmond trot home by four goals and we are once again dancing the aisles, hands shoved jauntily into pockets, gliding our way back to Jolimont station. Dad, Ollie and I embrace outside Gate One. At age 20, Dad still asks for me to message him when I get home. I try my best to.

 

Shortly afterward, I arrive home to a quiet house in the West, scarf over the chair, walk upstairs, where there’s a quiet rustling from my bedroom.

 

Staring me down haughtily from his perch on my guitar below the windows is a young ring-tailed possum, eyes big and dark in the gloomy light. We gaze at each other for a time. He seems quite content with the warm spot under the window, nestled under hanging clothes and jackets, tail coiled tight. After a long moment, giving up the ghost, he jinks out the window, across the roof and out of sight.

 

Welcome home.

 

 

RICHMOND     3.3      8.5      10.8      15.15 (105)
CARLTON
         3.2      6.6      8.12       11.14 (80)

 

GOALS
Richmond:
Riewoldt 4, Castagna, Martin, Rioli, Aarts 2, Lynch, Caddy, Bolton
Carlton: McDonald, McKay, Gibbons 2, Casboult, O’Brien, Dow, Silvagni, Plowman

 

BEST
Richmond: Martin, Balta, Graham, Short, Prestia, Edwards, Riewoldt
Carlton:
Walsh, Cripps, Saad, Plowman, Newnes, Setterfield

 

 

Malarkey Medal

Balta (Rich) 1, Walsh (Carl) 2, Martin (Rich) 3

 

 

 

For more from Paddy, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. John Butler says

    Very readable, Paddy.

    You’ll excuse me if I find the game result somewhat less digestible.

    Just think of Melbourne as a bundle of country towns with pretensions and you won’t go far wrong.

    Cheers

  2. Like JB I really enjoyed this Paddy.

    Share house fun, your footy team winning flags, possums. What was that line about George Best and when everything went wrong?

  3. Paddy Grindlay says

    Have kept the windows a little less open in response.
    On George Best, Mickey: “It all went wrong with football, the thing I loved most of all, and from there, my life slowly fell apart.” God I hope not.

  4. Love this Paddy!
    A warning – don’t feed the possum or he will be back with his mates!
    I remember moving into a flat at your age and waking every night to what sounded like two drunks fighting. It was two possums in my bedroom roof having a go at each other. And they stunk. Welcome to Melbourne. See you soon!

  5. Poetry Paddy, pure poetry!

  6. Michael Nichols says

    I love everything about this report, Paddy. I applaud your even-handedness about Carlton, something that because of my age I still find very hard to accomplish. Telling this through the warm but oddly detached prism of that family of yours is heart-warming as ever. And starting with a possum and ending it a possum, how good is that? But such great economy, ‘Finds a new way to waste’ etc. Brilliant writing. Welcome back (?)

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