Round 19 – Collingwood v Carlton: No. 1 in July

We were at the ground an hour before the bounce, perched in a mostly empty bay, buttressing a rushed salad bar dinner with cold MCG chips that must’ve been awaiting customers for an age. Spooked by the combination of GA passes and Ticketek’s insistence the match was ‘fully allocated’, it was the first time I’d been early enough to watch the raising of the banners in yonks. We attempted improving their syntax – but were at least impressed the Carlton cheer squad pulled-off rhyming with the surname of 150-gamer George Hewett. Collingwood’s pyrotechnics, accompanying their players onto the ground, seemed like hellfire, affirmed villainy.


Their start forced recollections of the match earlier in the season, however Bobby Hill’s absence, this time, was reassuring. The Blues waited for an inspiring moment – there was a good game in us, but it needed instigation – and in the end this was Mitch McGovern running to the arc for a handball (or a contract extension) and roosting our first goal. On any given week, there’s few more talented than him on the park. Jack Martin would be in the same company, and the ensuing team performance distracted somewhat from his own best night in the colours. He plays like giving a physics or maths lesson – a relatively wiry frame arriving at speed still enacts significant force; consecutive unlucky 50m penalties, borne of his own intensity, makes 100. But fortunately, from those twin mistakes, no Magpies goal. Earlier in the season, I’d clutched at the fact we’d had more scoring shots than the Pies, and therefore we’d been closer than a vibe acknowledged. In round 20, Collingwood seem decently prepared to return the favour.


It felt like a victory that we were ‘in touch’ at quarter time. And then, inexplicably, the proverbial foot was put down. Our game is built around ‘the contest’, they say, but the craft of this is often indiscernible in the upper stands. The small touches and footwork are cellular processes you’d need binoculars to really track, and yet might be inferred from what success at ‘the contest’ creates: sweeping ball movement, the gobbling of territory. I read later it was contested appetite in the second quarter that shifted the match in our favour.


Ben and I disputed the legality of a severe McGovern bump on McStay – a Scottish power play. My brother disapproved it. Eighty metres away, remote to what it would have felt like, I was uncharacteristically impressed, denied it was even late. In serious jest, mid second term, I turned to mate Hugh (netural supporter, quasi-nuffy) and suggested we could well be watching the Blues’ sixth win in a row north of 50 points. I regretted this immediately by his reaction – eyes wide, scoffing laugh, typing my abridged quote into a group chat. Not much of a response (everyone was doing better things or, more likely, agreed with me) but my slip of the tongue haunted until much later, when an exultant bloke in row EE let rip with an early ‘da-da-da-da-da’, auditioning for the role of ‘fat lady’. We got to that moment despite an injury to certain B’N’F leader Cerra. The arrival of substitute Paddy Dow early in the second half – despite his cultish appeal to the average Blues fan – left us scrambling to confirm those on-field, as though head-counting after an evacuation. We overcame, also, the inevitability of Collingwood’s resurgence, their indomitable, slightly juvenile last-quarter ‘will to win’. That drive, in this case, was blunted by their tandem commitment to inaccuracy. Black-armed Jeremy Howe – cumulatively memorialising all of the recent tragedies in the world, or just his own horrific broken arm in round one – reasserted himself as a forward, but Ted Lasso didn’t afford him enough time in the position to decide the match. The Blues’ win, as well, came despite our opponents’ heavy-handed attitude towards Charlie Curnow, which in the last term become so manifestly obvious to the umpires as to award him three free-kicks, goals, and the best-on-ground medal. Thus, it emerged as a famous night. The precious sight of Collingwood fans leaving early was a greater mark of triumph than the man from EE.


Among our group, at the close, there were sheepish smiles, handshakes, self-conscious and un- renditions of the song. Charlie perfectly acknowledged Hewett and the returning Marchbank when he inevitably collected his prize. The danger of medals and Richard Pratt Cups, of course, is their sense of ‘mission accomplished’. At least it can now be said that what a month or so ago appeared a ‘Mission Improbable’ has been rendered ‘Even Chance’. I don’t like to sound cynical towards the clan, but there is a peculiar enlarging that happens after landmark Carlton wins of this kind. Whereas usually it’s the rusted-on middle-agers that seem most vocal on the ramps and stairwells, on nights like these the teenagers (or pissed, collared twenty-somethings) take over. Amidst the fanaticism of the success-starved, you’ll be regularly invited to renew your vows or echo something celebratory. You’re reminded of the immensity of a mood. All moods are a proper envelope, of course, it’s just some are more obvious about being so than others. The surreal atmosphere of a landmark win subtracts heaviness from fans’ legs, fires a willingness for impulsive group sing-a-longs at different points on the walk to whichever train station – favourite recent example: the choir that rumbled the underpass of the NAB building post the Port Adelaide win.


In the weeks just gone, we’ve scalped both of the prime flag fancies and the premiers from 2018. Outside the ’G on Friday night, it felt, ephemerally, like we’d won command over the whole ladder! No point, then, in wasting any more work hours on finals predictors! Before the Pies and Power had their stoush the week before, Emperor Palpatine/Hinkley made snide remarks to the effect that Collingwood were too happy at being ‘no. 1’ in July. And yet it’s been found he misspoke! For if July is the strict frame of reference, then we Blues are most deserving of the title – along with the Giants, who loom terribly as high-vis final round obstacles. Next week, the Saints. By my own psychoanalysis (as dubious as any by Freud), our round 6 fixture with them marked the date a malaise set-in, a Sunday funk that refused to lift for months. Let’s hope this replay is redemptive, then. On Friday, two donuts post-game felt like a very modest order. Similarly, I hope two wins (at least) from our four matches to come isn’t too great an imposition on the football gods – who, let’s be honest, might also be confined to a van on a concourse, excluded from the pantheon proper.


COLLINGWOOD    3.4    4.6    6.11   10.16 (76)
CARLTON        3.4    7.5    10.6   14.9 (93)
Howe 3, McStay 2, De Goey, Cameron, McCreery, J.Daicos, Adams
Carlton: Curnow 6, Martin 3, Motlop 2, McGovern, Owies, Cincotta


Collingwood: Moore, J.Daicos, Murphy, Howe, N.Daicos, De Goey
Carlton: Curnow, Cripps, Newman, Weitering, Motlop, Hollands, Cerra


Collingwood: Nil
Carlton: Adam Cerra (hamstring)


Collingwood: Will Hoskin-Elliott (replaced Mason Cox in the third quarter)
Carlton: Paddy Dow (replaced Adam Cerra in the third quarter)


Crowd: 86,785



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About Joe Sexton

A middling utility lost to the game too soon. Now a teacher and occasional fiction writer.


  1. Frank Taylor says

    Nice writing Joe – a terrific piece of writing, well done.
    As a Pie supporter at the game, I was impressed with the Blues change of fortune, albeit on the back of The Pies 6 day, interstate turnaround.
    I expect to play your mob deep into September.
    Floreat Pica

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