Round 22 – Geelong v Collingwood: D. Menzel

When I broke my ankle on a sprinkler while training my guts out to be ready for pre-season, Fitzroy Under 19s did not cry. They put me on their “Specialist List.” I was young, but not stupid. I knew what that meant. If North had a player Fitzroy wanted, they might offer a few of their “Specialist List” as trade. It never happened. Funny that. Maybe North weren’t stupid either. I went on and played 33 years of footy throughout three states, living all sorts of stories. I was a hack who gave his whole heart – and, slower, dumber, older, still do.

The AFL went from a dream, to a distant thing, somewhere over there, on the same planet, yet another world.

When Michael Talia kept breaking down, Footscray would not cut him. He spent three years barely getting a game, playing a lot of twos, doing a lot of rehab. Anyone without talent would have been given the flick long ago. But this year has been his first of being a genuine senior player, at the club his family comes from. At the place he unashamedly loves.

I spoke to him for my book. He was built like a modern footballer. To be honest, had that handsome look of a modern footballer, but his passion for the Doggies was palpable. Old School. Blood. I’m stoked he’s doing well. To play anywhere else would have broken his heart.

 

Matt Febey was a great servant of Melbourne. He came over after his twin brother from Tasmania. Copped injury after injuries. Shocking, life-changing injuries. Got delisted. He was back in Tassie, mopping floors, while his brother was clocking up 100 games. He didn’t give up, though. He came back, would not lie down, got drafted again and, still getting injury after injury, playing when sanity said he shouldn’t, when many wouldn’t, clocked up ten years.

Then, in his last season, was dropped for the Grand Final for a lesser player who was never really seen again. Footy can be cruel. He is a ripper bloke. Deserved so much more.

Some blokes have done knees, been at home, rehabbing, no contact from the club until they were up for trade.

Some others broke down in the Teal Cup, but had so much potential they got drafted anyway.

 

Darryl and Shane Wakelin were great servants of the game. Darryl is a top-notch, corker bloke! I spoke to him for the book, too, over in Adelaide. He was drafted to the Crows, but did the cartilage in his knee. Got the flick. Stayed at Port Adelaide in the SANFL and won a flag while his brother battled away for St Kilda. Then, when Blighty came in and Grant Thomas started flexing his muscle, monstering the player list, Darryl was off loaded to Port, now an AFL team. Shane was in the mix, too, but the Power didn’t take him because he had torn his Achilles so badly. He had to stay, ending up at Collingwood.

Through injury, one twin got two flags with the club he loves. Through injury the other got none.

Stevie J was nothing but trouble early. Breaking his ankle jumping fences at parties, all sorts of stuff. There was a large call to chop him, but Geelong knew how good he could be. I dare say a lesser player would have been shown the righteous door.

I once had a teammate called Bucky. Just the most friendly, hard-working fella you’d meet! He’d done his knee once, twice, in the Amateurs. No coin for rehab, no help at all, really. Busted his clapper to get it right again. Came back for a third shot, so much sweat behind him. The ball went over the boundary. He simply stopped to pick it up and his knee collapsed. His career was over.

Tonight, I watched Geelong and Collingwood. My first AFL game for the longest while. Geelong, every time the crunch came, just weren’t good enough. They dropped the key marks, they missed the key goals. They lacked the cool good finals teams have to come back from seven goals down. Selwood looked all alone.

One of the dairy farmers at the pub said, “Why do all the Collingwood players look like they’ve just stuck their arm up a cow’s arse?” Haha! Couldn’t disagree, I guess. I hope it won’t date them like a rat’s tail set in steel. Fashion that won’t fade. But stuff it, good on ‘em! Any colour is good colour!

Collingwood were quicker, tackled harder, younger. You could hear the Cats ten year finals empire finally, slowly fall into folklore.

For the Pies, Grundy played well, Sidebottom played well. Pendlebury was more out the back of the pack, but still everything I love about him. Levi Greenwood had a corker, tough, old world game. And, for Geelong, Daniel Menzel starred!

Four reco’s, over 1,400 days out of the game. He was their forward line. In one quarter you could see why Geelong waited so long. Where their faith came from.

He kicked goals, had both that grunt and flair, took a hanger full stretch he had no right to take. He leapt way too early, and just hung around, in the air, through sheer force of want. He was hungry.

Oh, he deserved it!

In a game I cared little for, it almost brought a tear to my eye.

 

I once saw Darren Bewick come back from a long injury layoff and kick eight brilliant goals against the Cats. What a player! Built-up adrenaline can be a brilliant thing. I look forward to seeing where Daniel goes from here. But, more than that, I was stoked for that moment. For tonight. For the way he hasn’t let setbacks, or even Fate, stop him. For his dogged defiance.

He must have something special about him to not get a polite heave-ho after four recos. Maybe the bad times are behind, and he can do a reverse Coleman. I hope so. But he’s already succeeded, become folk-law all his own, as far as I’m concerned.

 

In a year of peptides hyper-bowl, a good bloke being crucified for promoting his culture, and tragedy in Adelaide, a game held the solid weight of someone to believe in, and barrack for. And continue to barrack for.

Thank you mate, wherever you are.

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says

    Good stuff, Matt – that first goal a very special moment. I’m with the dairy farmers. Resilience may just be the theme of the season.

  2. This is sort of writing that makes the Almanac such a special site.

  3. Daniel Menzel, how could have he been? A stirling return to senior ranks. Strong early marks, getting amongst the goals. As the Cats discard players like Bartel and Johnson in the soon to be future they can see another champion rising to take their place(s).

    Glen!

  4. Great writing as always Matt. When is the book going to be published? Looking forward to reading it.

  5. Sensational piece Matt.

    As an injury prone prospect I never had the resilience of a Daniel Menzel and I wish I had. I just figured my body wasn’t meant for football.

    Well played Geelong for maintaining the faith when usually ‘the industry’ wouldn’t be so patient.

  6. Tom Martin says

    Love this. For every Matt Spangher there’s another ten like Matt Febey.

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks gang.

    Djlitsa, FOREVER! By far the biggest slog of my life! Will let you know.

    DJ, who were you playing for when the body broke down mate?

    Tom, something about those Matts! Haha!

  8. I only made it as far as U17s at Hawthorn – had a couple years out and came back in the EFL with lowly Forest Hill. I think my ribs are made of balsa wood – busted about 4 in my last game. The same season I had also dislocated my shoulder and did my back in for the first of a number of times since. Nothing really career ending but just one thing after another. I have since cracked ribs playing touch footy (!), basketball and in another footy comeback a couple years ago (Super Fools). At 191cm and 77kg I break easily!

  9. Matt Zurbo says

    Hmm. Maybe touch footy?!

  10. Beautiful piece, Matt.
    I wrote a piece for The Age in 2012 when Menzel did his second?? knee. I’ll send it to JTH. It’s maudlin tone might be instructive in the light of this beautiful piece about last Friday night.
    Cheers.

  11. Agree Matt. Menzel was the only thing Geelong people could take out of that game. But what a thing! Every time he went near it I reckon my heart skipped a beat.

  12. Getting that up right now AJC. It’s also a fine piece (and taught me a knew word- guessing which one?)

  13. haha, so cool. look forward to reading it.

  14. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great feel good story Matt. Wish Menzel the very best. Dairy farmers must be a perceptive bunch. Very funny comment.

  15. Matt,
    Love the brutal way you describe injury and misfortune in footy.
    There is no other way but brutal.
    Great story, you made me look up Matthew Febey…
    And his brother.
    Cheers

  16. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Old dog it is a amazing story just incredible that he made it back to play another afl game and what a game has there been another comeback as good ? Remembering he played up forward in a team comfortably beaten and kicked 4 and took a hangar simply mind boggling. A great read on the subject 2 old dog thank you

  17. Great piece Matt!
    I was heartbroken when Nathan Foley announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago.
    Another player with a lot of talent cut down by injury.
    It’s amazing how sport can be simultaneously joyful and cruel.

  18. G’day Matt,
    I’ve read this a few times now.
    Great sentiments.
    From another who was dealt a cack hand by the injury Gods, I’m not keen with the “he deserved it” call. In a funny way, it implies that those of us who didn’t get back there didn’t deserve it.

    No I believe there is no “deserve” in injury town.
    There just is. Or is not.
    D Menzel has made some tough choices to get back – so good on him.

    Love your writing.

  19. Wow! Sarah, Ironmike, mighty Rulebook! G’day! It feels like getting the band back together! Haha! Cheers.

    Regnans, gutted that injury bit you mate. Couldn’t think of anything worse. Having played for 33 years so far and coached for a lot of them. I’ve seen many a great bloke or kid that gave everything, time and again, but injury would just not let them through. I’ve had my fair share but I can only imagine what that would be like. For what it’s worth, I reckon nobody deserves to be injured,, nobody! Sorry we disagree on DM. Cheers for liking the stuff. Hopefully the next one will be all aces.

  20. Phillip, yeah, was a pizzer!

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