Round 3 – Melbourne v Essendon: Friday night home



It’s about to rain outside, I can feel it. Hopefully it will. My new job as an oyster farmer has me wishing for bad weather on my days off. Tomorrow’s my first game for the year. I’m underdone, but hope it belts down! A year’s worth of cold and rain on a Saturday. I’ll just run harder.


Meanwhile, becoming a father has taken footy watching out of the pubs for me, and into the living room. For the first time in over a decade, damn it, we have a television.


It’s amazing how life and age and work change you.

Melbourne are playing Essendon, in the silence of swirling Tassie winds. I don’t listen to the commentary while watching the footy, or read the match reviews, and never, ever read the comments on social media. Life is way, way too short.


I watch footy. Try to figure it out.


Maybe that’s why this game is great. I don’t care where they are on the ladder. I’m sick of fans and media tearing blokes new arseholes. The entitlement, the insults. The contempt. The righteous sense of ownership.


Everything about footy has improved, playing wise, coaching wise. Everything. Only viewing wise is debatable, up to the individual. Personally, I love today’s footy, just like I loved it 40 years ago, even if the game and my reasons have shifted.


The one-on-one of my youth, the forwards who led AT the ball, the personalities, have been replaced by incredible skill, a toughness of body and will, the brilliance of rebounding waves, the sheer speed of hands and minds that work them.

Yes, the Bombers and Dees are, so far, down this year, but someone has to be. That’s how competition works. It doesn’t make them insipid or any other such word. As often as not, it just makes them off the pace.


Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I don’t watch enough of the big league to become numb to its brilliance. I know Essendon make poor choices, can be sloppy on the chip, lack a bit in the ruck. I know Melbourne’s defence gets the numbers back, but is always flying against itself, lacks that Lake-type who just says ‘bugger it’ and clunks them, and their half forward line doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter tonight, the game’s electric.

There’s high marks, obvious passion. Both teams determined to win, or, maybe more so, determined to not lose. Three weeks in is a very short time to contemplate the waste of five months of torturous training and discipline. The shattering of expectation.


There’s intense physical contest after intense physical contest. Damn straight the game has never been tougher!

There’s the individuals.


Max Gawn looks, to me, like he could either be the best or most annoying bloke. Either way, he obviously reeks of personality. And, as a footy player, is close to the best thing going. His tap work, his cunning and body-on-the-line style of ruck, is just brilliant! He’s always thinking, every contest. You can see it. Rarely the same trick twice. He rucks with the tips of his fingers, each game gives his team ten, twenty, extra clear passages of order from neutral chaos. He feeds his on-ballers confidence. And he drifts forward for goals.


You build teams around that.


I coached Melbourne’s new bloke, Jay Lockhart as a junior. No big deal to anyone, though it is to me, because he is the coolest, most likeable dude. With the fiercest, quiet sort of pride. That, and his laconic nature make him simply great to be around, and a joy, as a footballer, to watch. (And his parents are the most ripper people – the sort you build a country club around.)


He probably learned nothing from me, but so what? As a fan of the kid turned man, it’s simply great to see him out there, to genuinely barrack for someone. Smaller than, but no quicker than the rest, Jay kicked two in the first half, and often looks the part.


Observe Jay up close, his reactions to things. He oozes character. Is watchable whether you know him or not.


Second half, his options seem to be going a fraction wonky, but it’s his second game – he’s getting the ball. Once his lungs and legs match speed with hardened AFL players, I suspect he’ll do fine.


Michael O’Loughlin once told me he hated the way people talk about the freakish skills of Aboriginal players, how it undermines the work they do to get to the top level. He pointed out Adam Goodes was also the Swans hardest trainer.


But there IS something special about the way many indigenous players go about it. Freakish, electric! Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti isn’t getting much of it, but he twice turned the game. Running back from goals with the ball; “Will I turn left, will I turn right? I’ll do both, then kick it on the left… or right!”

So good to watch!


The game’s blown out to a well-maintained buffer after half time. I can’t see it shifting, but why be greedy? For a half the match has been ding-dong – and McDonald-Tipungwuti, at just the right times, is making Aussie Rules sing. There are still great pockets of skill and courage, there is still fierceness at the contest.


Jones is playing like the absolute warrior he always is. Time and again, opponents nail him, but he won’t fall. If the old school whiners and piners want something constructive to do, they can just watch him hunt a Sherrin.


Or, for Essendon, Michael Hurley. Mate, he has mongrel in him! Plays with the body, attacks the back of the head, the ribs. Old school defenders, take a look. He WANTS!


Then, there were the thoughts. A million of them.


So many Melbourne blokes are using the big don’t argue. It’s fantastic! Coincidence, or do they train it? Is it the new blind turn?


Body language becomes amplified when you watch without sound. It tells you more about desire and personality, exactly who to barrack for, than a thousand stats men.


I still think one of the purest pleasures of watching Aussie Rules is when a player kicks a goal, and mid, happy celebration stride, cuts back through his teammates to thank, or point to, the one who set it up for them. I saw it several times in the game, from both team’s players.


That selflessness is football. Is sport. Yet there aren’t that many codes in the world where you see it happen so frequently.


The day it does, is that day I’ll join the whingers, and find something else to invest my heart in.


The final siren goes. Without volume it just looks like someone cut a lot of blue and red puppet strings.


It’s now raining on Tasmania’s southern Peninsula. I just saw two determined teams play a good, solid game of modern footy. Not its highlight package, but definitely its engine.


Both sets of players are walking into their respective rooms, each one now facing an entirely different set of challenges.


Bring on all the scorn you want, I can’t hear it.





  2. Well said Matt, that was a cracker of a game to watch, with the commentary muted and albums from Noah & the Whale, Patti Smith, World Party and Jackson Brown on the HiFi.

    The social media trolls and commentary ‘experts’ couldn’t do half the things those they malign and impugn in their wildest dreams. Even the stuff-ups.

    If we get more of this open and electric footy, I’m all for the 6-6-6, and a pox on the rugby rolling scrums.

  3. At long last, a most entertaining game of footy. For SIMPLE SIMON it was almost a GOOD WIN. Alas it was not to be. Unfortunately there could only be 1 winner and, as it turned ot, Essendon was in front when the final siren sounded. As a neutral supporter, I really enjoyed this contest but admit I felt for the Dees – playing such good attacking footy only to miss out on the spoils.

    Over here in Crow land, I despair for my team – I fear they have gone backwards from last season if that’s possible. Aspell in the SANFL appears necessary for Taylor Walker to hopefully regain confidence. I think Pyke is playing him too far out from the goals. For mine, he should be left at full forward (in the SANFL for now) to make proper use of his goal kicking skills. .

  4. Rulebook says

    Old dog love your passion I admit I don’t have as much as I once did.While I completely understand that footy has to be sanitized due to the huge risk re sueing and providing a safe work place the umpiring instructions given are putrid as a umpire I am not a fan of Hayden Kennedy what so ever.Old dog I love it when I’m watching a kid make it who I have coached and get bloody nervous watching thanks mate

  5. Matt Zurbo says

    On yas all. Footy with a good soundtrack can be brilliant. I always used to play the Zz Top Bikie song, La Grange at the pub. Made the game more fun!

    Cheers Mal. I try very hard not to notice the umpiring. I know they are under some pretty shit instructions, and it will just make me angry.

  6. Matt Zurbo says

    Season 37 John. A bit rusty, but got there, mate.

  7. Bats21sleeves says

    McDonald-Tipungwuti is a superstar. He’s got a hard solid body that can take and give the most solid bumps in the game, yet he plays with the ball so charismaticly almost as if there are no opponents.

  8. Matt Zurbo says


  9. Chris Weaver says

    Top piece, Matt.

    I’m a Melbourne fan who is in the rarest of camps – I didn’t expect finals this year, knowing how much the climb to the mountain’s peak took out of a young side last year.

    So much of footy is about fitness, especially early in the year when the bruises haven’t yet set in, nor the barbs yet killed off your confidence. Melbourne’s inability to get the bulk of its developing talent out on the training track manifests itself in lowered endurance and strategic naivety. It’s hard to implement strategy in an increasingly patterned sport if you can’t practise it over summer.

    I’ve been really impressed by the general standard of AFL footy in the early part of this season – but then, like you, I’m in awe of the speed, skill and athleticism these men (and women) display.

    McDonald-Tipungwuti was excellent – as balanced as a man running through a minefield at speed. And Fantasia worked hard all night, bringing other forwards into the game, marking cleanly and converting his chances.

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