Round 16 – Hawthorn v GWS: We can be Giants, just for one day

My wife and I are spending a week in Hobart. Greater Western Sydney is playing Hawthorn at the University of Tasmania Stadium in Launceston on the Saturday. It’s a chance to watch a game of footy on holiday when I would normally be watching Richmond take on St. Kilda at Etihad Stadium in the evening. There’s another reason as well. Our daughter’s boyfriend plays for GWS and he has arranged for us to pick up some tickets at the venue. My wife has a soft spot for the Giants and has brought a team scarf for the occasion. And since we are guests of the club I am prepared to make a huge concession.

 

I’m willing to wear a cap in rival colours to the football. Yes, I will be a Giant just for one day. I don’t mind displaying the Giants’ colours on the Apple Isle and barracking against the Hawks. After all, the Mayblooms were down in the cellar with us back in 2004. It’s history now that they took the high road to glory while we at Richmond stayed on the low road to infamy. The Hawks won four flags while we continued to struggle in the nether regions of the competition. Hawthorn were magnificent, but it’s someone else’s turn now – especially ours.

 

My wife and I begin our day in the bone chilling, eyebrow frosting cold of the Salamanca Market in the shadow of Mt. Wellington. She buys a smart woollen hat, gloves and some Tasmanian-made salted caramel popcorn for our boy back home. We make our way up the Midland Highway to the island’s second biggest town. Sometimes the pale winter sun shines and at other times we drive through regions of mist where the miasma appears out of nowhere. We make quick photo stops at the convict-built bridges at Ross and Campbell Town.

 

The stadium used to be called York Park before the local uni bought the naming rights. I always had the impression that the ground was out of town because you can see forested hills beyond the stadium when watching the television broadcasts. But the arena is near the centre of town by the North Esk River in the suburb of Inveresk, with its narrow streets of timber cottages providing a foreground for our view of the modern stands.

 

It’s Pink Ribbon Day and the Cancer Council of Tasmania is publicising its vital work. The Hawks appear in pink and brown stripes, a design that hasn’t been seen since the heyday of the garish wallpaper that was fashionable in the seventies. My wife and I are seated with about 50 Giants supporters, mostly family members. Toby Greene is injured today and sits in front of us with his mother. He also has Zac Sproule for company. Callan Ward’s parents are next to us. There are plenty of Hawthorn fans, but they’re quieter than their counterparts in Melbourne.

 

Today I’m like Bruce McAvaney. He watches AFL matches purely as a fan of the game without being immersed in the parochialism of following a particular team. He is loyal to Norwood in the SANFL and allows the majesty of the top flight to wash over him. There’s something to be said for neutrality. It can be an ordeal to follow the fortunes of your favourite team. I could get used to being an impartial observer.

 

The game is surprisingly fast and open. I’m expecting a comfortable Giants victory. But these Hawks won’t do the decent thing and accept their fate. Tom Mitchell might look like the weedy kid who no-one wants to play with at school, but boy can he get his hands on the ball. They might be laying the foundation for a new dynasty with the emergence of youngsters such as Burton, Heatherley, Hardwick and Stewart. Hawthorn gets on top in the third term after trailing by nine points at half time. But for some wasted shots at goal by McEvoy, Schoenmakers and Langford late in the third quarter, they could have added to the 15 point break they hold at the last interval. When the ageless Shaun Burgoyne kicks truly early in the final term to put the Hawks up by 21 points it appears as though we’re about to witness the latest in a long line of upsets in 2017. But the Giants demonstrate the top team syndrome. They have learned to prevail in the close ones. They boot the next five goals. Patton, outstanding all afternoon, swings them in front when he boots his fifth at the 18-minute mark. Callan Ward goals from a free and the Giants are 13 points up as we head into time on. But then Breust replies with a goal of his own, before missing from a similar range. There is a goal in it as we tick over 30 minutes. The Giants look to have the game sown up when they move the ball forward through a series of saving marks. Then the Hawks regain possession and launch yet another attack. Will Langford gathers a hasty clearing kick and lets fly. Heath Shaw is on the goal line and poised to commandeer the incoming ball. Then the pill hits the turf on the bounce and leaps straight over the head of the stunned Giants playmaker. Scores are deadlocked at the 31-minute mark. The ball is bounced, the noise is intense, there is a scramble in the Hawthorn goalmouth and Ryan Burton punches the ball through for a behind. The Hawthorn fans are out of their seats in exhilaration.

 

Then everything stops. Nobody knows what’s happening. The field umpire takes the footy in his hands and marches off with his colleagues. Interchange players and staff amble onto the field from the sidelines and the combatants shake hands. We realise then that the siren must have sounded despite no-one in the stands hearing it.

 

Bizarrely, Greater Western Sydney have now figured in their second drawn game in as many weeks,  following their tie with Geelong on the previous weekend. It’s the first time this has happened in the VFL/AFL since Carlton achieved it in 1921.

 

We make the journey back to our accommodation in Sandy Bay to catch the Richmond-St. Kilda clash on TV. By the time we make a wrong turn at the end of Brooker Avenue and end up on the way to the Tasman Bridge it’s clear that the Tigers have taken their own wrong turn back in Melbourne. The radio commentators bear grim tidings. The Saints are marching in with unstoppable momentum. We turn on the telly just in time to see Edwards and Caddy miss regulation shots at goal and Richmond reduced to a state of impotent panic.

 

I concede at quarter time and console myself with the thought that at least I’ve avoided the carnage by hiding out on this island. And of course, my affiliation with the Giants doesn’t expire until midnight.

Comments

  1. Rick Kane says

    Nicely paced piece balanced with how you keep us in the moment JG. I could smell the Salamanca markets, feel the weather as you drove north and hear the difference in a crowd in Launceston vs any other AFL ground and game.

    What you really brought to life was the confusion of the moment when the siren sounded. I was watching the same game on my phone in Preston, barracking for the Pink and Brown Hawks and I thought Burton’s thump had been disallowed. It was only when Hodge was interviewed minutes later and he said that yes players heard the siren and the umpire call game’s end that I understood what had happened. Your story, at the game, resonates. You are part of the moment. Watching on telly we are part of the explanation.

    Excellent last line (a real Tigers observation!).

    Cheers

  2. Michael Viljoen says

    Hi John,
    It seems you’re thankful you didn’t have to watch the St Kilda v Richmond game. In an age when betting on football is highly illegal for players, it’s curious to me that St Kilda had a sponsor paying their charity for every goal they kicked. I can’t begrudge that. Yet in turn they kicked their highest score for the year, with their straightest kicking of the year.

    Can you clarify for me something about this Tassie game. I’ve read it reported that Hawthorn’s final point wasn’t allowed specifically because it crossed the line after the siren. But my understanding of the rules is that if it is punched before the siren then it can cross the line after the siren and still count. So which is true?

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