Round 23 – Geelong v Adelaide: The game goes on

 

Drying my hair does not normally bring me to tears.

 

It’s not the only thing that’s set me off this morning.

 

A slight dilemma faces me: to wear the new Merino Wool ‘vintage’ guernsey my brother Darren got me as an early Christmas present which has become a mainstay the past month, or crack out the 2009 premiership jumper.

 

The latter has my Stokes badge on it.

 

Decision made.

 

As Darren and I battle traffic on the drive from Werribee to South Geelong, the talk is reminiscent. How good the Departing Three have been. How great the era was for Geelong. How lucky we were to see the flags. How Mum had to wait the full 44 years to see her second. How we might not see any more.

 

The last remark is from me, and flies in the face of my ever-optimistic “next year, the flag is ours” mantra. But today, it not only feels like there will be no flag, but like there will be no football ever again. There have been retirements – Scarlett, Harley, Ling, Corey, Ottens – and departures – Ablett, Chapman, Hunt – before, but there was also finals. Even as Geelong was slipping further and further from the precipice, there was still the dream of the unlikely. That idea that, once we got to finals, it was anyone’s game.

 

When Steve Johnson, Mathew Stokes and James Kelly walk off Kardinia Park today for the final time, more than with any of the others, it feels like it is the door finally shutting on that blessed era forever. They’ll lock the chain, throw the key out to sea.

 

This is big.

 

And I can’t picture Geelong – or footy, for that matter – without my all-time favourite STOKESY!!! in it anymore.

 

As I scramble to my seat just in time for the start of the game (much later than I hoped, as per usual), I think we’re going to lose today. Because, bar Selwood’s 200th, we’ve struggled in the special matches this year. And because Adelaide smashed West Coast Eagles just last week. And because they still have something to play for. And because our young guys are running out of steam and our old guys are tiring and that pretty much just leaves Selwood and Hawkins in the middle bracket trying to carry the team. And because Adelaide is just a darn good side.

 

But it’s not a bad start. I mean, if you can get over the fact that two AFL sides went the better part of a quarter kicking just one goal apiece. Cowan gets the Cats’ first, and it warms my heart. His return was lost, understandably, among the angst of the departures. But after his previous failed attempt at a comeback, it’s good to see this come off.

 

But both teams miss, and miss again. And Stevie J tries a trademark snap. It misses. Not that uncommon. But then he kicks one, a glorious snap, and it’s beautiful and perfect. The crowd cheers. It stands and cheers. Cheers some more. It’s as though no one wants to be the first to stop clapping. Let’s cheer our champion; that might have been his last. No one wants to let go.

 

We have to eventually, though, and the game goes on.

 

Mackie is brilliant – he is the other side of the retirement coin. There were questions over his future, but he is sticking around. He plays like a man wanting to prove why he will still be there while his mates were moved on. He does it with style, class, and takes a speccy for good measure.

 

Goals come to Selwood, Horlin-Smith and Hawkins, and against the odds, the Cats led it comfortably at the first break.

 

It’s like two opposing forces are pulling Geelong through this game. From one side, there’s nostalgia, reminiscing about the past. It’s the Johnsons, Stokes, Kellys, Mackies, Bartels and Enrights of the team. But pulling with increasing strength in the other direction is the next generation, even on this day that is not theirs, unable to keep quiet, keen to show their worth.

 

Cockatoo is exciting. He makes a lot of mistakes – today is no different – but you love him for why he makes them. He has all the skill in the world, but excitement enough for two worlds. He gets the ball – sometimes, even getting near it is enough – and it’s like he becomes so enraptured with all the possibilities (and you just know there’s at least ten running through his head) that he tries to do three things at once, and succeeds in none.

 

But as he learns composure and grows comfortable in the top grade, you just know it’s all going to fall into place and he’s going to be that brilliant, unique player that draws people through the gate. It’s fitting he’s wearing number 5. But he’ll make it his own.

 

Adelaide gets the first through Sloane, but then there’s a beautiful chain from Geelong, and it ends in a Vardy goal. He gets two for the term, and quietly reminds Cats fans he’s someone to be excited about, too.

 

Stokes is doing what he does best, helping others score, being part of the chain, doing the team thing always. Kelly is doing what he does best, bringing the pressure, leading the way with his tackling, being a calm head. Johnson is doing what he does best, frustrating the heck out of all and sundry with the most ridiculous decision-making known to man. But we’ve always loved him for it, and it’s comical groans that come from the crowd. He’s never changed; he’s always been our Stevie. And his flashes of brilliance are never far away.

 

But the warm fuzziness starts to wane in the third quarter as Adelaide kicks five in a row. There’s one point in it. The festival of fun is over, and the second-half fadeouts that plagued this season threaten to spoil our celebration. The crowd does not grow discontent, but it grows quiet. There is some uncomfortable shifting in seats.

 

Let’s not do this again, boys.

 

But Geelong will not have this day ruined. Cam Guthrie snaps one. Breathe. Walker is subbed on for Menzel – who has ticked off another box on this long journey of his – and kicks the next. The noise level is rising. That man Vardy, another of the comeback trio, kicks his third, and the crowd roars. It’s his second from a chain from defence. Betts gets one back, and it’s eleven points at the final change.

 

Hold on, boys. Do it for Stevie. Do it for Stokesy. Do it for Kel.

 

They are giving their all, and their teammates don’t let them down.

 

When I was a teenager, at the pinnacle of my footy worship, I used to be a flag fan. I always took one to games with me. Sometimes two. I made a banner, once. On the eve of the 2007 finals. One side read ‘Cat Attack’, with some claw marks I’m still rather proud of to this day. The other side read ‘Stoked!’, with some simple white stripes running across the blue cardboard. It is the most artistic thing I have ever created by a long shot. I dusted it off and brought it with me today.

 

Stokes has always been my favourite, that magnificent little guy who never gave up, despite being overlooked in three drafts. Who, for all his smallness in stature, was giant in heart and kicking ability. He first won me over with his big bombs on goal in his very first pre-season. What a ripper.

 

Against Sydney a month ago, he kicked a marvellous goal. They have been few and far between in recent times. Any distance beyond thirty metres has looked a challenge, and he’s tried to pass off more often than not. Darren turned to me after the Round 19 goal, as I was screaming my head off blissfully, and told me to make the most of it because it might be his last.

 

I burst into tears.

 

Heading into this last quarter, I wanted desperately for him to kick a goal, but would be at peace with the fact if he didn’t. He was having a great game regardless, and kicking goals was not a necessary part of his game anymore. He was a midfielder, now. And he was more intent on setting others up.

 

But then, for one glorious second, it’s like he’s 21 again. Adelaide tries to work it out of defence. Stokes slices between two Crows with remarkable deftness, steals the ball right from under their noses, snaps. It’s curling back, but it curls too much. Behind.

 

A bubbling excitement in the crowd is cut off. There’s no sound of disappointment, because I think people feel it too deeply. They all wanted him to kick that so much. But he didn’t, because football doesn’t often have its fairytale moments. There’s a delayed applause, because it was still a beautiful play. Great effort, Stokesy.

 

Johnson misses. He’s had what feels like a thousand shots at goal, but still just the one major to his name. But then Walker steps up again and kicks one. Then Mackie – who’s playing a blinder – slots one through. He’s a beautiful kick, but I’ll always be glad he made the move from half-forward. He’s been a brilliant half-back.

 

Then it happens. Stokes marks the ball in the pocket. It’s just on the edge of his range. He has to take the shot. The crowd holds its breath. He kicks. Goal! My ‘Stoked!’ banner gets to make its triumphant return. The cheering from the crowd is rapturous for Stokesy and the team gets around him. It’s wonderful. His last hurrah.

 

Only it’s not. He doesn’t kick another goal, but he has a hand in more than a few Geelong scoring attempts as the ball keeps finding its way to him. He’s going to have more than 30 possessions at this rate. He tries so hard to set Kel up for a goal a couple of times, but it never quite comes off.

 

It would have been a nice touch, but goals have not been Kelly’s role in the team. He’s probably leading everyone on the ground in the tackle count, and that’s a better tribute.

 

Stokesy heads to the bench and the crowd cheers wildly, getting to its feet. It is almost a throwback to his breakout game against Port Adelaide late in season 2006. His fourth quarter that day was phenomenal and, as a 21-year-old with just six and three-quarter games to his credit, he was given a standing ovation as he dragged his weary body to the bench.

 

Kel comes off ten seconds later and the applause extends. This is looking like the fitting send off everyone so desperately wanted. We’re five goals up and Adelaide just looks like a prop in a play of which Stevie J is the beautifully flawed star.

 

Except Betts is having a good day. He’s always given Geelong headaches. He kicks his fourth, but it doesn’t feel like it will make any difference.

 

As if offended Adelaide would try to make this any less than a really good win, Geelong gets one back. It gets marked down as another to Walker, but it was Vardy who took that great mark. He passed it to Stokes, who even now will do the team thing – he always has – and he handballs it over the top to Walker, who finishes the job.

 

Kelly takes a long, hopeful shot but it goes out on the full. But he’s still around, still involved. He and Stokes, the best of mates, link up. They move the ball so well. It gets to Motlop – who, thankfully, looks like he’ll be staying around a little while longer – who then gets it to the Tomahawk on the lead.

 

Tommy doesn’t make it about him today. He’s not showing off, he’s not missing the ones he should get. He’s been doing the grunt work to win the ball in the forward line or create opportunities. There has been no complaining, no fuss. He’s doing this for his mates. He slots this one through beautifully.

 

It’s his third for the day.

 

The lead is out to six goals, and suddenly, it doesn’t feel like a regular game anymore. Stokesy, Kel, and Johnno are taking over completely. There’s fun. They’re everywhere. The crowd cheers them on, encourages them. Who cares about the scoreboard now? They’ve got the win, the margin is irrelevant. Let’s just enjoy this.

 

And it’s beautiful to see. Football played for pure enjoyment. In among the constant demand for success, off-field dramas, on-field dramas, coaches being sacked, players turning coat – somewhere along the way, football became convoluted, its waters muddied.

 

But for these last five or so minutes of the Cats’ 2015 season, it’s like all that has just dissipated, and the 21 Cats out there, and the 26,128 fans in the stands, and all those people watching at home, are reminded why we love football. The real reason we love it, stemming all the way back to those earliest memories of our childhood.

 

Because it’s fun.

 

Stokes kicks a long, beautiful ball deep inside 50, and it’s Johnson on the end of it, taking a wonderful mark in the goal square.

 

Even Stevie J can’t find a way to miss this. He has his second. At last.

 

And the crowd has rarely sounded so boisterous, and the players have rarely celebrated a goal so hard. And Stevie J looks like he’s wiping back a tear. He’s not the only one out there.

 

And there would barely be a dry Cat eye in the house. We’re so happy. So sad. It’s beautiful.

 

The Crows, the forgotten team out there, kick another. Horlin-Smith hits the post, the third Cat to do so today. But he’s in elite company – Stevie J did it, too.

 

And then the glorious play: Stokes, to Kelly.

 

“Find Stevie!” I cry, and I’m not the only one in the crowd laughingly calling it out. But it’s clear everyone at Kardinia Park is on the same wavelength, even the players. For who should be on the receiving end of the kick other than the Mercurial Magician himself. Stokes, to Kelly, to Johnson. Perfect. Johnson’s forty metres out, and this one goes astray. But that’s okay, because that’s kind of perfect in its own way.

 

Nothing has ever really gone as expected when the great man has been involved. He’s never been one to read from the script. I think he threw out whatever script he had been given many years ago and thought, “I’ll just wing it”.

 

Stevie has another shot, but this one is a point.

 

It will be the Cats’ last score of the day. With the clock ticking down the final seconds, the ball finds its way to the Adelaide forward 50, and who should mark but Dangerfield? This is almost too good. The talk is we’ll have him next year. I’m hopeful, but not willing to believe it until I see him in the Blue and White Hoops lining up at the first centre bounce of season 2016. But we love a bit of fun at the Cattery, and as he lines up to take his shot from fifty out, the applause starts. The Kardinia Park faithful are cheering him on, welcoming him with our tongues in our cheeks.

 

We can have a laugh, because we got our fairytale moment. We’ll worry about our next era when it comes. For now, we’re saying goodbye to the last. The greatest.

 

If the ball had have gone through, Dangerfield’s goal might have surpassed Gary Ablett Junior’s remarkable effort from the boundary line as the most celebrated opposition goal in the history of Kardinia Park. But the siren sounds, and the kick sails across the face and is punched through for a behind.

 

The Cats’ final score stands on 119.

 

That was our winning margin in the 2007 Grand Final.

 

And it was perfect.

 

 

MATCH DETAILS

 

GEELONG:   5.6  8.9  11.11  17.17 (119)

ADELAIDE:   1.3  3.6  9.12  11.14 (80)

 

GOALS:

Geelong: Vardy 3, Walker 3, Hawkins 3, Johnson 2, Cowan, Selwood, Horlin-Smith, Guthrie, Mackie, Stokes

Adelaide: Betts 4, Lynch 2, Smith, Sloane, Walker, Thompson, Jenkins

 

Umpires: Rosebury, Findlay, McInerney

 

Crowd: 26,128 at Kardinia Park

 

 

About Susie Giese

Born into the worship of the mighty Hoops, Susie has turned to adopting a Zen-like state during games in recent years to preserve her heart. The Cats of 2015 have the ol' ticker a-racing, though!

Comments

  1. James Grapsas says:

    Great article, Susie!

    119 was also Geelong’s score in the 2011 Grand Final.

  2. Nice work Susie. I had to be content listening to it on the radio, then watching a replay the next morning. It was a strange game. The final siren sounded and a door closed. But another one opened too.

  3. Cat from the Country says:

    I was there to witness loved senior players leaving for the first time.
    It was awesome. I am glad the players all came out to play properly for the whole team.
    I too loved the joy that returned in the final quarter.
    With the joy came the goals and a wonderful win for the final Geelong game for Steve Johnson, James Kelly and Matthew Stokes.

    We will not see their like again.
    But the excitement promised by our kittens encouraged by our senior and middle players is something with wich we can look forward.

  4. Peter Flynn says:

    Hi Susie,

    Although we have to consider in context, the last quarter waxing finally freed Geelong up from Scott’s shackles.

    Johnno’s left foot torp was outrageous and audacious.

    He was free!

    Thanks for a terrific read.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    As a Crows supporter at the ground, I could see how much those three meant to the Cats faithful.

  6. SneeringGruden says:

    Hi Susie,

    Great read, you summed up the prevailing atmosphere changes on the day wonderfully.
    I was apprehensive en route to the ground, and wasn’t really sure how the day would pan out.

    I struggled to keep it all in when I saw little Stokesey kiss the hoops after his goal.
    I lost that battle with myself when Johnno kicked his 2nd and was swamped by his mates in the goalsquare.

    Luckily my daughter went down to the fence to grapple (successfully I may add) for a souvenir football handed out by the players, because I was a sobbing mess by the time Joel Selwood was on the microphone struggling to verbalize what the day meant to him.

    A bittersweet, sad, joyous day. My most memorable day at the football since the 2007 grand final.

    Thanks for the brilliant post!

  7. Peter Fuller says:

    Susie,
    Congrats on a fine piece. I do think though that you have let the cat (pun unintended) out of the bag. The only previous reference which i can recall of the situation in which no-one wants to be the first to cease clapping is in the Moscow Politburo (Brezhnev era, iirc). The unlucky individual would face an unhappy future. Were you implying that the Kardinia Park Soviet despatches its disloyal citizens to the Gulag?

  8. Lovely piece, Suzie. Like you, I was smiling through tears – feeling sad, grateful and delighted to have been witness to/part of such a joyous era. Thank you for your heartfelt and beautifully written post.

    P.S. Peter F – wasn’t it Stalin who insisted on the endless clapping? Whatever, expulsion to the Gulag seems more in keeping with Lyon’s Freo.

  9. WILL we be able to shed a tear when Stevie J (whoever dreamed up that dreadful moniker ‘Johnno’ should be taken out the back & shot) pulls on the gold and black and has a gallop for the Tiges.
    Won’t be the same but they’ll have to endure the play-on-and-havva-left-foot snap from 30 meters out. Just as we’ve had to sit through. From a supposedly set shot. Three thousand times!
    Mind you, Susie I was absolutely thrilled to see some Cats’ supporters really took Stokesy to their hearts.
    To me he was sort of an “extra”. Always around, but not all that memorable.
    Good luck to you for absolutely embracing Matty.

  10. Wonderful writing Susie. You’ve captured the day perfectly. We Cats fans were privileged to witness an outstanding send-off for our departing champions. A joyful, emotional afternoon for all who were there.

    Right up there as one of the best days I’ve experienced at Kardinia Park in 60 odd years. Well done Geelong and Adelaide.

    Cheers, Burkie

  11. Great pick-up, James! The number 119 has been a kind one for Geelong :)

    Dips, I’ve been to a few games of footy in my time, but none has felt anything like this one did. It was such a strange atmosphere. Enjoyable, but very strange.

    Cat, we’re very lucky at Geelong that we’ve always had such wonderful players coming through. Stephen Wells is an incredible man.

    Peter, that torp was the fittingest of fitting ways for Stevie J to bow out. It was him to a tee.

    SneeringGruden, well done by your daughter! And I get the sobbing mess, thing. I was a bit of a wreck, but my sister was in a worse state, and I think that helped me, because I kept laughing at her.

    Peter F and Jen – the sign of any good piece of writing is when we can draw tenuous links with obscure historical facts. I love it :)

    Richard, I don’t think any other club/supporter base will have the same tolerance level for Stevie J’s Stevie J-ness. We’ve been conditioned from an early age; you can’t replicate that in less than a season.

    Burkie, it was a phenomenal day :)

  12. Thanks for a lovely piece Suzie.

    I saw you carrying your sign “Stoked ! ” as I was walking into the ground. I laughed and thought you were inspired. It added to the celebration.

    Of the hundreds of matches I’ve seen this was the most fun.

    Hold onto your thought “next year the flag is ours” Maybe not next year but 2017 looks good.

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