Round 21 – Geelong v Richmond: Sleepy Hollow No More

These days, what relationship do AFL clubs have with their namesake locations?  For the most part, the answer is “not much”.  In the case of Geelong however, I see significant parallels in the recent history of club and city.

 

The last time Richmond beat Geelong was in May 2006 at Kardinia Park.  I was fortunate enough to be in attendance that day.  Back then, the redevelopment of the ground had already begun but it still had the feel of a trip to the country.  The home team, in the midst of their last season of mediocrity before their “Great Era” began, had the lackadaisical attitude of a bush team.  And even as the result shifted from improbable to likely to certain, it was impossible to pay out on the genial local supporters as they trudged out.  Disappointed, sure, but benign in their acceptance of another typically sub-standard Geelong performance that was simply a continuation of their free-wheeling but casual teams of the 80s and 90s.

 

I easily navigated my way the short distance to my car in the neighbouring streets where, even on match day, parking was free and easy, relishing the opportunity to trail the yellow and black scarf on the trip up the highway.  It had been – in short – a “nice day out”.

 

Geelong – the place – is no longer “nice”.  Thriving, yes, vibrant, yes, increasingly confident about its place in the world.  But these days a trip to Geelong is more like visiting a young, ambitious friend in their sassy new apartment than dropping in for a cuppa with Aunty Thelma.  There’s a hard edge to this place now.

 

For the Geelong community, the realisation that it needed to “harden up” hit home in the early 90s when the combination of economic recession and the failure of the Pyramid Building Society hit the town brutally.  Over a quarter of a century, Geelong has transformed itself from a struggling rustbelt town to a prosperous, growing modern city.  It’s the services centre for the surrounding region, developing new industries and stronger interdependencies with Melbourne, but at the same time capitalising on its proud heritage in manufacturing and wool.

 

Guiding this transformation has been a number of strong, unashamedly parochial local leadership groups drawing on the region’s business and community groups.  No longer content with the mantle of “Victoria’s leading regional city”, the movers and shakers of Geelong want a category of their own – “Victoria’s Second City”.  Semantics, maybe, but words shape perceptions and perceptions quickly become accepted truths.  And the truth in 2017 is that in the business, politics and community development of Victoria, Geelong takes a backward step to nobody.

 

A similar hard edge has been a feature of the Geelong footy club since May 2007.  Just under a year after my “nice trip”, a wire tripped in the collective psyche of the club.  In a night of carnage that would do Jack the Ripper proud, the genial losers who played their footy attractive but soft, turned into a merciless killer, crushing my Tigers by over 25 goals.  Three Premierships and only one year without finals have followed in a decade of glory.  In that time, only Jeff Kennett dared to question, once, the mental toughness of the Cats, and his team paid the hefty price of not beating Geelong over the next five years.  There are many factors that have contributed to the Cats’ success in this period.  Perhaps dumb luck in assembling an extraordinarily talented playing group is the most important.  But there is in my view a strong similarity in the manner in which the club resolved no longer to accept second best to the way in which the town’s civic leaders had determined to turn around Geelong’s socio-economic fortunes a decade or so earlier.

 

The coalescence of these two modern, tough Geelongs is epitomised by the new Kardinia Park.  Always a difficult ground for visiting teams, Geelong’s home ground now resembles a fortress.  Geelong the footy club may be the primary beneficiary but it was Geelong the community that lobbied long and hard to extract no small measure of State Government support to retain and develop Kardinia Park from a country oval into a thoroughly modern stadium.  In doing so they have managed to retain the degree of difficulty factor that is often lost when stadiums are upgraded to the point of uniform blandness.  Their record at the ground in the last decade is intimidatingly lopsided.

 

So, in this atmosphere of fierce parochial pride from community and footy club, was it any surprise that the visiting Tigers came a cropper.  Facing a side down in numbers and coming off an uncharacteristically poor home performance, Richmond was installed a clear bookies’ favourite.  Trouble was, players, fans and media all fell for it.

 
Granted, a 14 point loss in one of the most intense games of the season is hardly the stuff of nightmares, but when added to the imposing pile of losses dating back 11 years, it underscores the difference in professional pride and steely resolve that still persists between these two sides.  If one game alone might seem a flimsy basis to draw this conclusion, examine the two clubs’ records in close finishes this season.  Geelong’s uncanny ability to lose none of several nail-biters compared with Richmond’s series of brain-fades and meltdowns in similar positions is the difference between Geelong launching a legitimate tilt at another Premiership and Richmond again making up the numbers in the finals race.

 

Yes, the conditions were tough and unfamiliar.  Yes, the Tigers had some legitimate claims to the “we wuz robbed” tag.  Yes, the early injury to Josh Caddy limited an already compromised forward line.  Yes, Alex Rance had his colours lowered by Harry Taylor.  But these are the challenges that need to be overcome to be the best. These are the excuses that Geelong sides of old would have made with that nice country-bumpkin smile.  Not so the 2017 Geelong.  Like their surrounding city, they are taking advantage of the strengths and opportunities that their circumstances provide and making the most of them.  In times of trouble, as Saturday threatened to be, this attitude counted for plenty.

 

If the sum of all this means that Andrew Mackie can rush a behind with nary a Richmond player in sight and get away with it, then good luck to him.  He’s probably one of the last who can remember the days when Geelong was “nice” – and lost.

 

 

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. great piece Stainless. the economic geography oozes off the page

    I think I would love Geelong, in the way I do Port Kembla. But I am sure I have only ever passed thru to Port Fairy etc. Have never even put my feet on the ground, despite living in Melbourne for a year once. bucket list…

    Chris Hyde! What a day he had in 06. what a false dawn and a false darkness it was. sliding doors…

    be very interested to see selection this week. I still haven’t seen the first 3 quarters v Freo this year (wasn’t home), but I understand they pantsed us. so how will Dimma and friends avoid that – hopefully not with the admittedly enthusiastic Lambert slashing it away in the F50 – that may see the two Hills and Walters tear us apart.

    Menadue is overdue…

  2. actually Freo have a nice batting line up…

    Hill
    Sutcliffe
    Clarke
    Hughes
    Collins
    Walters
    Cox
    C(r)ozier
    Johnson
    Tucker
    Lyon the great spinner

    all using a Tab/verner

  3. I think the turning point for Geelong (city) was the mayor of the day figuratively and literally burying “sleepy hollow” in a coffin in the late 1990s. We had just moved here and could feel the depression that Pyramid had caused. The ‘death’ of sleepy hollow was followed by the rejuvenation of the waterfront. Now there are several large officeblocks being built to house NDIA, DHS and Worksafe to add to TAC. Population is expected to double in the region over next 50 years so the country town feel will be a distant memory by then.

  4. Bob Morrow says:

    well written , a thoughtful & entertaining piece

  5. The utter silence when Guthrie was tackled, dropped the ball and was released. He picked up the loose ball again and was re-tackled, only to drop it again and be released. The third time he took possession in the same play he managed to get it off to a teammate. And that’s just one glaring example. Then there was the time Jack was mauled in the goal square and kept out of the marking contest. Was Richmond robbed? They were certainly outplayed in some aspects of the match, but The Striped Marvels headed back up the Geelong Road knowing they’ll be able to take The Sleepy Hollow Handbags on the MCG where their supporter base won’t be locked out of the ground.

  6. Bob Morrow says:

    OOH Wrapster sour grapes ??

  7. Just wait for the re-match Butterfly Bob. Just wait for the re-match.

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