Round 5 – Hawthorn v Adelaide: Poppy does it for Shaun – a great night at the G

Let’s not beat around the bush. This game, brilliant in every respect, including the result, encapsulated all that is wonderful about our game and why it continues to beguile its legion of supporters.


This wonderful evening can be summarized under six headings: quiet crowd; speed; three little men; the Poppy factor; doing it for Shaun; loud crowd.


Quiet crowd: We arrived at the G some thirty minutes before the first bounce and the first thing I noticed was that the numbers seemed small and the atmosphere subdued. I mused that this was the start of Anzac weekend and maybe folks were in a reflective mood or perhaps it was just that few supporters from Adelaide had made the trek east. Certainly, the pre-game entertainment, for which the term ‘lame’ was surely invented, did little to excite or engage. All this was to change.


Speed: From the opening seconds of this match, ball movement was simply dazzling. Especially from Adelaide whose hand balling was as sharp as the great Geelong sides of the mid nougties (how hard to say this). For the Hawks, players such as Billy Hartung (who looks to me like a kid who’s wandered into the G from AFL Auskick), Isaac Smith and Brad Hill ran and ran along the MCG wings like rabbits.


Because of this rare speed, the ball was lobbing in the respective forward lines with huge frequency and by half time a total of 20 goals had been scored. Annoyingly, indeed maddeningly, the Crows barely missed  a shot at goal in 60 minutes of play. My young Scottish friend insisted on telling me that the Crows’ tactics were ‘interesting’, but I had other epithets  in mind at the long break. For the third week in a row, we were in a dog fight.


Three little men: This was a night to showcase the skills of three exquisitely gifted small players. Eddie Betts began proceedings, a goal on the board within a minute, then two more before quarter time (Ben Stratton shut Eddie down after that, a very good performance by an unheralded performer with the creative moustache). Cyril (who requires no surname) took a wonderful mark and tackled and ‘assisted’ all night, and ended the game with three goals


And then there was the Poppy factor. Has there been another player called ‘Poppy’ in VFL/AFL history, and has there been a player who has extracted more, I mean every single ounce of energy and ability, from one strong and compact body? From dour ‘chaser’ and defender who raced after players as if his very life depended on winning the ball, Poppy is now an excellent goal sneak, and very fine mark, both on the lead and in the stratosphere.


Of his five goals on this grand evening, three stand out: racing like a fierce terrier with two Adelaide players in pursuit, he scoops up the ball without breaking speed and rockets towards goal, and slots it – you reckon that didn’t get the crowd excited? Goal two arrives after a huge mark, using his opponent as a stepladder. When one stands on a footy oval, it’s apparent that fifty meters is a long way to kick, especially with short legs, but Poppy delivers with ease. Goal there is the clincher, the one to put the Hawks in front with 90 seconds to play. Why do I just know he won’t miss from 45 meters and far from dead in front?!


Doing it for Shaun: There are some players universally admired by AFL supporters. They play with flair and within the rules, drawing little attention to themselves. Such is Burgoyne, four time premiership winner, who, on this memorable night, played his three hundredth game. A modest champion. Poppy said this was his primary motivation, ‘to win it for Shaun’.


Loud crowd: By the last quarter the mood in the crowd has changed…a lot. Now there are 45000 and with two teams swapping the lead; this crowd is baying and roaring like a good footy crowd should. Indeed, when Cyril slotted a clever goal to put the Hawks within points, the roar from the Great Southern Stand was like a thunder clap. And yes, the screams and roars in the final three minutes were such that  it was nigh impossible to hear the siren. But we did, and thus we sang ‘We’re a happy team…’ with such gusto. Because we were, and are!

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