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Round 20 – Geelong v Sydney: Finding what you’re looking for



The aircraft launches up over Sydney and banks hard right, sets out over the east coast, far enough out so as not to disturb the city as we turn towards the south. We close almost immediately on Botany Bay and the National Park. Sydney is a city of precipice. We climb, up to heights our humanness is not made for, heights that minimize our earthly lives into the (relatively) tiny playthings that they are, up to the sun that is always above the cloud. The child flyer in me always wonders whether this time God will be there.


Any trip south for footy has the tint of pilgrimage about it. It’s a journey to the place where the deity is said to be housed, the pursuit of some kind of greater proximity to the source which will bring clarity or insight. It’s my third consecutive trip to Geelong to see the Swans and catch up with the Clowder of ‘Footy Almanac’ Cats. We’re one apiece from the past two visits, so this will be best of three.


Geelong, both team and place, has accumulated a significant mythology, even in my short football lifetime. I was raised on the statistical impenetrability of Kardinia Park. I was at the SCG for the legendary pickpocketed semi-final of 2005. I watched the stirring win after Jarrad McVeigh’s first daughter died in 2011 – Geelong had won their previous 29 matches at home; Sydney hadn’t won there since 1999. I was there for the captains’ milestones – a win to them for Selwood’s 200th and a win to us for Jack’s 250th. I watched them run through the joint banner for Goodes. And most recently of course, the red and white manifested a 7 goal first quarter to underpin a preliminary final win!


Inflight, I’m full of guesses about the next instalment. Is the mid-season climb just the height needed for a slide that started last week? Or will the sting of the Hawks rocket them through ‘the hardest trip in football’? Will Kennedy cancel out Danger? Can Tippett stay unbroken? But the cloud is thick all the way, its mantle insists on obscurity. I suppose part of the spiritual dimension of pilgrimage is carrying the uncertainty of what you will or won’t find.


Cat Flynn joins me on the 4.43 to South Geelong. It’s not a supporter train yet, it’s a workers’ train. And it courses off into the gentleness of the plains. If Sydney is precipice, this is consistency – a palate of fading blues, greens and pinks I don’t recognise. There’s the hint of the bay to the east. The You Yangs rise in the west – Wathaurung country – precious heights from which to survey things.


An hour later and we wander the dusk-licked streets of Geelong. This was home for Cat Flynn. I admire the weatherboard gems, clad and trimmed with wrought-iron – one bears the name ‘Catnook’. We sight the temple and what Flynn refers to as the ‘Gillette shavers’ poised over and illuminating its belly.


Anticipation builds at the ‘Lord of the Isles’ where the pilgrims gather below the figure of an LED Ablett Senior, immortalised mid-climb in his famous mark of the century. But it’s not Geelong’s God I’m looking for. ‘Who’ll take Selwood?’ Flynn asks. ‘George, I reckon,’ I say.


Cat Harms meets us at the gate, ensconced in duffel. It’s an atmospheric entry, some 30 000 in the cattery. And now I’m aware of the not so newness of my surroundings. It’s no longer odd to stand through a game of footy. In fact it’s helpful in the chill. It’s no longer quaint to top up the drinks at a tent at the bottom of the stairs. I’m no longer meek as a bird among cats. It’s snug now with Harms and Flynn, ping ponging opinions and biased ovations.


The Swans are present from the start. They allow early entries but match them with awareness and pressure. Tractor Tom gets first goal over Rampe but what he gives to the Cats’ early score he taketh away in a shove to Jack. The Swans are set and urgent, forcing holds and grabs and pushes. Reid, Papley and Captain Parks reap a crop. Minimal touches, maximum damage. And the rest of them run. They hit and rush and pluck in brute pursuit of the ball. Until it’s 7.5 for starters.


Reid’s brought his extra sticky fingers. Sinclair looks positively agile. Gary makes single-minded space while Papley gobbles it up. Lance is nowhere to be seen but it doesn’t matter.


The best thing is, they accompany each other. They run and play to the same rhythm. And the joy is, they never let up. Even when Grundy departs for patching and a Cat method comes together. When they are newly caught, they push on. When Selwood disappears on human crutches, they don’t relax. When the ball is skewing for a Cat behind and Melican has every right to see it over, he scoops and leans it around the pocket to Newman whose backhand overhead to Rampe has the ball suddenly far away.


The Clowder bemoans. They are calling for movement, creativity and desire. Harms insists they should try playing like the second team on the ladder, like they’re better than us Swans. A freshly head-dressed Parker lines up for a shot. ‘Tutankhamen’s got the ball!’ says Flynn. And any sense of the game being repartee quickly turns to ear bashing in the last. The Swans turn opportunism into finesse. Hanners and Papley goal to quell opposition hope and Heeney joins the party.


As the score stretches out to a certainty, I realise that I have been preparing for a loss. I have been priming myself for leaving without what I came for and looking for what the take away might be. And now, here is unexpected contentment; there is no need for an answer. Just the pleasure of the sensation that they can play with the evenness of the plains. That heights can be achieved on the ground.


The banjo starts and I turn to apologise. I feel like the guest who came for the weekend and broke the heirloom crockery. ‘Don’t do that Old Mate,’ says Flynn. ‘You came for the win after all.’ The bighearted Clowder sing with me in full voice. Everyone loves to shake the thunder from the sky.


A footy weekend is a chance to stop – to spend a Saturday afternoon just sitting and chatting in the pursuit of clarity or insight. I meet the Clowder for a Saturday debrief. We work the historical numbers and add them to the mythology. I imagine that the Cats won’t want to play the Swans at home no more. They may be leaning on the AFL lottery to relocate the fixture to Darwin. I hope we’ll all go together! The Giants are playing the Dees up in Canberra. The Bombers are starting up against the Blues. Folk in vertical stripes are beginning to feed to Docklands. Signs of faith on city streets – it still shocks me how polytheistic Melbourne is!


Sunday, as I turn for home, the steps of Southern Cross Station are drenched in Eagles and Saints. At the airport, there are Bombers near Hungry Jacks and Tigers in the bookstore. I wonder if they found what they came for?


The aircraft rumbles north on rain and wind, and descends into the glitter of Sydney. I take the four points from the seat pocket. In the week ahead, I will make the small calibrations of body and mind that re-entry asks of us all. And I hope that the boys, in their re-entry to the SCG next week, will burn with the intense fire that sustained pressure cannot help but create.


About Mathilde de Hauteclocque

Swans member since 2000, Mathilde likes to wile away her winters in the O'Reilly stand with 'the boys', flicking through the Record and waiting to see the half backs drive an explosive forward movement. She lives in Sydney and raises a thirteen year old Cygnet.


  1. Brilliant Mathilde. Your best for the year, and that’s saying something.

    What does it say about Melbourne traffic that it’s easier for you to get from Sydney to Geelong, than it is for me to trek from Kew?

    From where I sat it was boys against men on Friday night. The Swans journey so far this season has been remarkable. The Cats, as I have stated elsewhere, keep doing the same thing and hoping for better. Not much of a game plan. But where there’s life there’s hope!

  2. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Dips, you were missed!
    I am used to ridiculous traffic. I’m a Sydneysider.

    Hope the Cats recover from the momentary ‘unravel’ and serve you all into September. Perhaps we’ll have another opportunity to gather. Perhaps …

  3. Keiran Croker says

    I was on the 4:43pm as well Mathilde. Its a nice easy ride down to Cat land on the new regional line. I met up with my Swans mate who works down in Geelong. We were in a conclave of Swannies behind the goals at the Southern End (Doug Wade Stand?). I’ll take quite a few memories from this game, foremost though we’re Will’s one handed mark in the pocket and his last goal curling in from about 35m out. We followed the trajectory home and our part of the stand erupted .. not sure if the roar carried throughout the stadium?
    I’ll be up for Saturday’s Dockers game, so hope we can catch up at some point.

  4. E.regnans says

    Love it MdH.
    The pilgrim.
    Searching, searching.
    Who really knows what it is that anyone seeks?
    On we go.
    By aeroplane, by foot, by heights, by flats.
    Grand observations.

  5. Superb as always,Mathilde I could hear PJF thru your writing and rapt for Will Hayward I helped re coaching when Will was in our East Adelaide Primary Schools team even then he had the X factor

  6. John Butler says

    To the pilgrim go the rewards. Lovely work, Mathilde.

    In a season where I’ve been sure of little, I was confident about the Swans’ prospects in this one. The current version of Geelong are unconvincing. Now they have further problems, mostly self inflicted.

    The ability of Sydney to regenerate the team yet stay competitive, to blend experience and youth, is something I devoutly hope Carlton can emulate at some future stage.

    Is anyone any clearer what happened in those first six rounds? May football continue to mystify us.


  7. Peter Flynn says

    Old Mate,

    I wish my surname was Stevens.

    Influential night in Geelong.

    Superbly told. Fine detail and details.

    Swans midfield was off in the first 6 rounds. Heeney and Rampe missing at various stages.

    The MCG holds the key. As it always does.

    Go well and keep shaking that thunder Old MTe.

  8. Dennis Gedling says

    Dammit! Was in Geelong on the terrace with my partner last Friday for the game after being out in the Western Victorian badlands all week. Would have come over and joined the throng. Would have been a highlight in an otherwise bleak night. The parmy at the Cermorne Hotel was decent I guess.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Can just imagine the ‘biased ovations’ of Harms and Flynn.
    The Swans were very impressive, always nice when you’ve made a big effort to travel to be rewarded for your efforts!

  10. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    Keiran, Dennis … sorry I missed you!
    Merci Mountain Ash.
    Rulebook, I think Will has genuine instinct and the character to keep it too. And is ridiculously poised for someone his age. Although perhaps poise was actually easier back then.
    JB – may footy continue to mystify. Indeed. Nicely put.
    PJF – I wish your name was Steven too.
    Luke – I think the biased ovations were mine. I may have done a few vocal fist pumps at inopportune moments. Don’t think JTH or PJF could find much to ovate about!

  11. Matt Zurbo says

    Top, top stuff! As good a writer as you are an observer of the game. A pleasure to read!

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