Round 23 – Hawthorn v Collingwood: How Clumsy Jack saved the season

Thus, after a most difficult and unusual season, the Hawks’ hopes of achieving the unachievable come down to a Sunday afternoon at the G. We are playing Collingwood who cannot make the finals who are farewelling at least two very popular players and just maybe one Premiership-winning forward. As if the loss of Roughead, Spangher, Schoenmakers (for most of the season), Ceglar (just one week ago) is not enough, suddenly we have NO experienced ruckmen, as Ben McEvoy has pulled out at the eleventh hour. My Melbourne-supporting friends are pretty dismissive of our newest ruckman, Jack Fitzpatrick: ‘injury prone’, ‘very very clumsy’ are the nicest things they say about Jack, and as the game progresses, I confess they’re probably right – one kick went straight to a Collingwood player, and a goal resulted.

But let’s rewind to the start and the simple ‘equation’: The Hawks win this game and we are in with the double-chance. Lose, and an Elimination Final awaits.

 

This game begins at a cracking pace and Collingwood are certainly committed and eager and very keen to beat the reigning Premiers. So, once more, we supporters are almost certainly in for a close game and a very tense afternoon. The Hawks show glimpses of good form early, but Collingwood’s runners, especially Adam Treloar, are getting a tremendous amount of the ball, especially at the centre bounce. Indeed, Brodie Grundy is playing a wonderful game and continues to do so all afternoon. Meanwhile, Pendlebury coasts so very smoothly across the ground, distributing the ball with his usual aplomb.

Something very interesting happened to Kate (good wife, nervous supporter) and I at half-time and it deserves a digression. An example of footy as the ‘social glue’ of Melbourne. We were sitting in the Ponsford stand, a long way back. I had my eye on empty seats just in front of us, simply to bring us a few feet closer to the action!

But what’s this, a family of four arrives – Dad, all tattoos and scruffy beard, Collingwood colors from head to foot, Mum, quite overweight, cheery and even more Collingwood colors, including a massive scarf, and 13 year old daughter, keen and also a Magpie, tucked in next to mum and sucking on a Coke. There’s a boy, smallish, about 10, full of mischief and cheek,  wise-cracking with his Dad. He is fully adorned with Hawks’ colors, including face paint. Go figure!  Every time Rioli goes near the ball, he takes a photo with his no 7 iPhone, THEN screams ‘Cyril’. When Cyril takes one of his brilliant marks, Dad turns around, all broken teeth but s0-friendly-manner and exclaims, ‘the guy’s a genius!’ I do a double take and check that it is indeed black and white that he’s wearing! At the end of the game he turns to me again and offers, ‘Good luck in the finals!’ ‘Thanks,’ I reply, happy for the brief meeting, at the same time sure that we’ll never meet again.

 

But the Hawks hang in, and in the third quarter display determination and real commitment. They are winning the ball more, with Hodge and Burgoyne, in particular, causing real headaches for the Pies. It’s a six goal third quarter, with two outstanding fifty meter goals by Billy Hartung (I confess I thought it too long a kick for such a small man) and Burgoyne executing with his timeless flair. What a wonderful player he has been at two clubs! And he seems such a fine guy, universally well-liked.

 

Let’s say it now…the final quarter was just plain thrilling and contained all the very best aspects of our great game, including that single most important of sporting contests – the result was simply impossible to predict. Until the final 20 seconds.

The Hawks, in the initial phase of the  quarter, continued to play well, with Cyril taking a regulation ‘speccie’ in the pocket and converting for goal. I also loved James Sicily’s mark and goal – he certainly can take a nice grab that boy.

We move to a three-goal lead, but I note that there’s still plenty of time for the Pies to claw back. Which they do, and how! Great running play, and the lead changes hands for the umpteenth time this afternoon. It’s time on well and truly, the Hawks seven points behind, and my pulse is accelerating, the crowd baying, agitated, nervous. There is total engagement  in the struggle before us.

 

There’s a centre bounce and a tall Hawk grabs the ball and kicks it a long way. It just keeps bouncing and BOUNCING. Goal!!! I think it’s Jack Gunston who’d been fairly quiet all day, but it’s actually skinny, awkward Jack F. the other Jack, who will struggle to have another kick of such importance in his whole darned life. ‘Poppy’ squeezes a behind, and the game’s over. Two rows back, three girls sing the theme song over and over. I’m exhausted and relieved. We’re in another finals series, with the coveted double chance to boot!

We ritually meet up with our oldest, Mike, after these games. He’s THE friendliest guy,  bleeds Hawthorn, and invariably is chatting to one or two folk when we meet him. So it is today and we’re introduced to a friend whose Dad played for the Hawks in the 70’s. He has his son with him and the boy’s not well. The bond between father and son is something to behold, and there’s care of an exceptional quality here. Kate is very moved and comments on our long and satisfying drive back to Berwick, ‘Meeting Mike’s friend was the highlight of the day, don’t you reckon?’ I had to think for a long time about this. I’d been very preoccupied since that lovely siren went: how to beat the Cats, will Stratton be right to play, is Hodge set to go to the tribunal?

But the main and recurring image is of Jack and that most unlikely, most ridiculous goal.

I must be honest with her.

‘I believe it was the EQUAL highlight,’ I reply at last.

 

 

Comments

  1. Peter McCluskey says:

    Passionate description emphasizes why footy is so important in unifying us Aussies in a common culture through the apparent diviseness that rabid support for one’s team engenders. I saw the game as a tragic outcome after an herioc comeback that deserved the win.

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