Round 20 – Hawthorn v Essendon: A view from Bali

Hawthorn v Essendon

1:45PM Saturday August 4




It wasn’t hard to locate a bar showing the Hawthorn v Essendon clash in Legian, the coastal suburb in southern Bali. A fair portion of this part of the world is catered to an Australian pallet; Westernised in a sense, to the point that you can almost feel at home if you try.



A naive worry had crept over me before I had reached this place that I would be unable to find a venue to watch this match. Of course, after mere minutes within these vibrant parts my concern was eased considerably. Shop fronts, bars and restaurants adorn the narrow streets, each attempting in part to present a slice of their Southern neighbour. My resort, located in a side street off one of the main thoroughfare’s, contains at least four bars, all displaying signage of the weekends football schedule, an enticement of sorts for Aussie tourists to relocate their usual afternoon activities from the poolside.



‘Moo Moo’s’, an Australian-style steakhouse, is quiet for this time of day. The game begins before midday Balinese time, and you get the sense that the establishment is just attempting to find its stride, like a person at odds with the morning slowly adjusting to the requirements of a new dawn. Staff mingle around with a slight look of boredom, any request attended to with a promptness surely unknown within peak periods.



To my delight, plasma screens are plastered around the venue – a couple above the bar show a boxing fight in some unknown country, others the pre-game to an NRL fixture. I spot a secluded corner towards the back of the venue situated just before the opening of a small beer garden, one with the footy spread across its television screen. The trudge to the empty corner reveals a small nest of Essendon supporters mingling on a large table in the middle of the dining floor, all with a sense of anticipation and excitement to what is about to unfold.



Just as I was beginning to feel isolated in my support for the Hawks, in walks a man with a cheap Hawthorn training singlet, one undoubtedly purchased from the numerous shops selling these fake sporting jerseys. All of a sudden, the allegiances in this small pocket of Bali feel slightly more balanced. With a Bintang in hand, and the hum of scooters whizzing by in the outside world, the game begins.



Essendon start strong, the voices of the Bomber folk behind me growing more excited with each foray forward. The quick Irishman, Conor McKenna, slots a running goal from outside 50m, their third without reply and in the blink of an eye the game has almost escaped the Hawks.



Gradually, Clarkson’s men steady, growing accustomed to the style and sway of this match. Ricky Henderson, the journeymen winger steers home a set shot from a difficult angle after a deft pass from Jack Gunston. At this point, half the quarter has passed, but you get the sense that it has a calming influence on his team. Soon after Isaac Smith and Gunston register majors, and the Hawks have finally settled. Their ready to combat these Bombers, the potential quality of this match evident from the opening stanza.



The second term opens much like the first. McKenna gets a second, as does the mercurial Jake Stringer. He looks on today, Stringer, like the game’s trajectory could shift with his desire. Not many have this ability as a footballer, but he does – a player capable of the magical, and one that is just beginning to reacquaint himself with his former footballing self, one which once ignited the Doggies forward half.



Again, the Hawks respond, taking the punches and then throwing their own. This game will be one for violent momentum swings, each team controlling their fair share of the contest before it is suddenly thrust away once more. Harry Morrison, the young Hawk in his second season wins a pivotal one-on-one dual at the Punt Road end, before feeding a handball to Luke Breust who skims home his first. He adds his second moments later, and before long the Hawks have slammed home five straight.



Behind me, the atmosphere in the bar has lifted, the parochial Essendon bunch growing more vocal with each passing passage of play, a task made easier through the constant stream of cheap beer. More travellers have begun to enter from the increasingly crowded street; curious on-lookers with an eye to the scores, as well as a sought after respite from the sweltering sun that has just begun to take its highest point.



Essendon again open proceedings to the half with a flurry of goals, the Hawks’ hard fought lead suddenly relinquished. It feels as if Essendon could break this game open on a whim. Their ability to carve opponents up with their dash is ultra-impressive, and in an age of footy which rewards teams who are able to congest, and crowd portions of the ground, the Bomber’s and their raft of speedsters have a valuable antidote.



The Hawks continue to hold, as they have done all day. Shaun Burgoyne begins to get his hands on the ball around the contest, his poise and skill continually aiding his team. As does Ben Stratton, the un-sung Hawk who is having a tremendous day. He always seems to bob up right when the Hawthorn defence begins to look susceptible, with a well-timed fist or a towering intercept mark. His influence has been strongly felt.



The Hawks steady at the end of the third, and begin the last term strongly. Gunston, that wiry, talented forward kicks two quick goals to give him five for the day, and suddenly his team is out to a three-goal lead. The Bomber’s, for the first time, appear on the canvas. The mood behind me begins to settle.



With the blanket of tension that has hovered over the bar all afternoon beginning to lift, the Bombers give one final push. Andy McGrath snaps a fine goal at the mouth of the goal square, and then Stringer, with bodies flying all around, collects the ball off a sea of hands and runs into an open goal for his third. The Dons have awoken, as have their faithful in this foreign place. That sharp tension that we were momentarily relieved of has returned.



Hooker, having been moved forward in a last-ditch effort from the Essendon coaching group, takes a towering mark unopposed in the goal square. The cheers rise behind me, tables begin to be slapped. The margin is back under a goal, minutes left to play.



The final throes of this game see players dive about with total determination. It feels like an eternity within this corner of Bali. Eventually, Burgoyne sends the ball inside the Hawthorn fifty to James Worpel, the young lad from Geelong in his first season, who somehow manages to out-muscle Michael Hurley in a moment of pure composure. He steadies himself and dribbles through the goal, the Hawks are ten points up with half a minute to play. I raise my hands to the ceiling in absolute relief. After all that, surely, they are home.



Almost predictably, this game has one more punch to throw. In the resulting scramble in the middle of the ground, Tom Bellchambers is awarded a free kick. Every player stops, waiting for the umpire’s instruction. Not Travis Colyer, however. The Essendon speedster pounces on the ball, the umpire happy to wave him on. Before there is time to process the previous few seconds, Colyer runs on to his left and guides the ball through the goal from the 50m arc. Eddie McGuire’s voice on the commentary roars around the bar. 13 seconds remain. They couldn’t get up here, could they? The resulting chaos at the centre bounce sends the ball the way of the Hawks, with the siren sounding as the Sherrin lands in their forward fifty. It’s over, Hawthorn have held on.



I remain in my chair as the post-match coverage concludes. ‘Moo Moo’s’ has thinned considerably by now, the boisterous supporters having filed back into the Legian area to resume their holiday. I sit in silence for a while, in awe almost of what I have just witnessed. Every once in a while, a match comes along that taps into the deep love and appreciation that every fan has for this great game. This was one of those instances for me. A classic, witnessed in a small bar in a distant land. As I pay my bill and re-enter the bustling streets, I notice the wide smile that has spread across my face. It stays with me, for the rest of the afternoon.



HAWTHORN       3.1       9.3       13.5     16.11 (107)
ESSENDON         3.3       7.4       12.5     16.7 (103)

Hawthorn: Gunston 5, Breust 3, Smith 2, Henderson 2, Roughead, Whitecross, Ceglar, Worpel
Essendon: Baguley 3, Stringer 3, McKenna 2, Hooker 2, Bellchambers, Fantasia, Brown, McDonald-Tipungwuti, McGrath, Colyer

Hawthorn: Gunston, Mitchell, Stratton, O’Meara, Henderson, Burton
Essendon: Z.Merrett, Hooker, Smith, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer, Fantasia

Crowd: 68,857



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