STAND UP AND FIGHT LIKE HELL!

Primarily a rugby league follower from Queensland, a stint in Adelaide in the 70s and 80s educated me in the attractions of footy, southern style. I became a Bombers supporter. Today, I watch the GF in my Scarborough lounge, 1600kms from the G.

The final scoreboard shows that Geelong defeated Collingwood by 38 points in the 2011 AFL Grand Final at the MCG before a crowd or 99,500. It sounds convincing, but scoreboards seldom tell the tale. This was no exception as we were treated to a wonderfully intense match that was tightly fought throughout, full of theatre, injuries, the odd controversy and its fair share of heroics.

I’m still struggling to understand how the Cats managed to get themselves into a position to win let alone run away with it in the end. At death’s door midway through the second quarter, they managed to not only stem the flow but also claw back to a narrow half-time deficit through sheer grit. Then belief turned into third quarter confidence before the avalanche of the final stanza. Maybe,  when all seemed at risk, they just put into practice the last line of the little used second verse of the club song (above).

It may be a very unkind thing to say, but possibly the best thing that happened to Geelong was not the presence of Stevie J on the field but rather the injury to the J-Pod in the second quarter. At that point, the Magpies were clearly on top – three goals up, Cloke threatening to win the game all by himself, Krakouer providing the pizzazz, “the press” forcing Geelong errors, Pendlebury controlling the middle, O’Brien running strongly from the back. For Geelong, Hawkins and Podsiadly kept getting in each other’s way whenever the ball came forward, Varcoe had drifted out of the game after a slashing start, Taylor was on the end of a hiding at centre halfback, and there was little system to their game. Only Stevie J looked like a scoring option.

Then the J-Pod crashed to earth. Perhaps the hold-up in play came at just the right time for the Cats. They took stock and realised that they were possibly as close to oblivion as one more Collingwood goal. Lonergan went to Cloke and blanketed him for the rest of the game; the midfield, especially Bartel and Selwood, stood up; Hawkins came into his own in the forward line; their tackling gained venom. By contrast, the enforced break didn’t help the Magpies one little bit as their flow was interrupted.

The third quarter was a classic Grand Final struggle – not pretty, urgent, desperate, energy sapping. For Collingwood, Wellingham’s “goal” could have been a telling blow, Shaw rebounded consistently, Thomas threatened to do the outrageous, and the clearly restricted Jolly refused to give ground to Ottens, but there was nothing up forward. For Geelong, Lonergan and Hunt were strong at the back, Mackie supported Bartel and Selwood across the middle, Hawkins continued to contest everything that came his way, and Stevie J kept providing an avenue to goal.

The final quarter will be writ in Cat history as a beautiful thing. It was won in defence where Taylor reprised his 2009 heroics with a number of telling marks, Hunt continued to be strong at the ball, every possession was fiercely contested, and the Pies were not given an inch to create anything like a scoring opportunity. Bartel and Selwood coerced the ball forward, Hawkins imposed himself with several impressive grabs and Varcoe re-emerged to almost nonchalantly have a hand in a couple of majors. The icing was Ling’s goal, a fitting reward for a typically gritty performance from the understated skipper, the latest incarnation of awkward Geelong rangas.

Collingwood will rue a lost opportunity to kill the game in the second quarter. Perhaps they should have; perhaps they played their grand final last Friday night in their courageous win over the Hawks. They paid the price for playing an unfit Reid, for persisting too long with Didak, and for continuing to play down the wings when Geelong was ripe for the picking down the middle early on. But they had good players all over the field in O’Brien, Toovey, Shaw, Pendlebury, Thomas, Brown and Sidebottom. And full credit to Jolly for pure guts and commitment. Unfortunately they didn’t get enough from Tarrant, Didak, Ball and Swan. There was no fairytale for Malthouse but his place in the coaching pantheon is already established. Have a break, Mick – you’ve earned it.

The Cats will revere 22 heroes and it’s hard to deny their claim. They simply refused to lie down when all was against them, the sign of a truly great team. The back six conceded only three second half goals and deserved their photo postmatch – bravo Lonergan, Scarlett, Hunt, Wojcinski,  Taylor and Enright; Bartel reinforced his status as one of the current “greats” of the game with Selwood (almost) his equal now and definite successor; Ottens is Mr September with another whole-hearted effort while young West looks the goods; Hawkins came of age today as a key forward; Stevie J was just Stevie J as only Stevie J can be, all the more meritoriously given his suspect knee. Rookie coach Scott handled himself well on the big day and somehow got another flag out of the aging list he inherited. The next challenge for Scott will be to rejuvenate his squad to remain a force in 2012.

Meanwhile, lap it up, Cats!

About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. As well as being one of Footy Almanac's online editors, I moonlight as an editor for hire - check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au

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