The Albatross Rules, Chapter 12- Round 5, Gunundurra–Heathvale Roosters (home): Shut the Gate

There was the distinct whiff of scandal in the area after Tex’s ten mile streak. Apart from the Albatross’s injured small man another of the neighbourhood blokes had been on a spree and the guardians of local virtue were up in arms. In fact this second incident had a lot to do with Tex’s exploits. Somehow the Murchison’s prize stud bull had got loose. The boys from Albertville tut-tutted in sympathy and kept their counsel.

Privately, Tex protested his innocence with passion, but to little effect. After all, when you’re alone and naked and 1,200 kilograms of prime beef are heading your way, head down and angry, you’re in no position to attend to details! When you hear the gate that you’ve just slammed behind you being lifted and shaken by an enraged beast you’re unlikely to go back to make sure that you got the chain back on just right. Tex fled the scene, whiter than a ghost. He neither looked back nor stopped running until he reached his family shack on the outskirts of Albertville.

Freed from his electrified enclosure, the rogue animal headed out along the creek. Wherever he found a herd of heifers inadequately protected he forced an entry. He left, in his wake, a string of properties requiring fencing work and the probability that some unlikely calves would be born on highland dairy farms that year. The despair at Murchison’s grew with each day that the bull evaded recapture, heightened by the thought of such precious seed wasted on such unworthy bloodlines.

Con only wished his team could display such single-mindedness. Maybe the cold waters of the creek, in which they’d done penance on Sunday morning, would focus their minds back on the job. Having felt obliged to join them he could vouch for the restorative shock of that frigid flow.

Three wins on the trot at the start of the season had flattered the team. They’d had an easy draw and hadn’t proved anything yet. The Gunundurra-Heathvale game coming up would be a tough challenge. It would provide a better picture of how the team was travelling. The following week they’d take on arch-rivals Mt Logan. With a bye in round seven it was quite possible that they could reach the half way mark with a mediocre three wins from six games. Their percentage was also not what it should have been as the Dwights Mill result had been so close.

In keeping with his grand plan, the club’s idiosyncratic president had decided that Albertville needed to be put on the football map. The bye would provide an opportunity. Albertville was hardly a footy destination of choice. But The Professor was convinced that the town needed to build whatever reputation it could beyond their own meagre town limits. He’d heard about the growth in women’s teams in surrounding districts. He made a few calls and called a few favours and—you had to admire him—created the inaugural annual Albertville Country Womens Football Carnival: the premier event, he confided with pride, of its kind in the world.

It sounded like a massive distraction to Con. And when the girls of Mt Logan heard about it and put together a team he knew that the extent of that distraction was about to increase. Sure enough, the Albertville netballers took up the challenge and became the foundation for the first ever Albertville women’s football team. Before he knew it Con had twenty girls of various abilities turning up to Albatross training sessions.

The coach negotiated a settlement of sorts that saw Caz take charge of a group of determined football hopefuls at the ‘Bridge End’ of the ground while the boys used the good light on the grandstand wing. The girls trained without great skill but with absolute conviction. The honour of the town was being provoked again by the upstarts of Mt Logan. They were determined to defend it. Besides, the netball team was now languishing near the bottom of the table (they were missing Rachmann’s height and strength around the court). If the girls were going to beat Mt Logan at anything now it would have to be football.

Among the Albatrosses, however, there were young blokes who, like Murchison’s rogue bull, found it difficult to stay focused in the presence of so much femininity. Young Formosa for one was clearly beguiled. Con could find no other reason why, in the course of a simple training drill, he should have turned his back on his team-mates and been struck square on the scone by an innocuous drop punt. To the Kid the women of the town, who he had spent the past two months avoiding, now seemed possessed of the beauty of forest nymphs.

Although they were the same motley collection of females with which the boy reluctantly shared the streets of the town every day, he found them transformed by footy nicks and loose guernseys. The sharp-tongued tough nuts became angelic sprites. Frumps became femmes of fascination. Town girls went from plain or pretty to ethereally beautiful. The big boned became Amazonian. In the midst of the dance (clumsy circle work to any neutral observer) was Honey O’Reilly.

Oh, Honey O’Reilly. Her thick hair fell over her shoulders in waves of amber. Her eyes, set wide, were as green pools in the limestone smoothness of her perfect oval face. Her smile spoke of delight and contentment, as if formed in childhood at the very moment that she first tasted the wonder of fresh strawberries.

Honey O’Reilly worked in the bottle shop and sang karaoke when she got drunk enough. In a fair world as close as a knuckle-headed kid like Formosa would ever get to a girl like Honey was across her liquor counter. But a smitten boy has no sense of his own undesirability, and the Kid had one thing in his favour. He could run fast and leap high, and he could catch and kick an oval shaped leather ball better than most.

“Oi!” Potter sent another drop punt in The Kid’s direction. “the sheilas ‘ll still be there t’morra.”

Formosa turned reluctantly back, caught sight of the ball in the last moments of its trajectory, and nonchalantly plucked it with a single outstretched palm, as only a player whose skills are innate could do.

“You’re bloody amazing,” muttered Potter to himself, more in astonishment than in admiration.

Runners up last year, The Roosters played a simple, direct and brutally efficient game perfectly suited to their spine of skilful talls and a squadron of fleet-footed crumbers always ready to swoop when the ball hit the ground. Con started with his usual full-forward, Pirelli, out on the flank to give him a bit of room and help him get a touch or two early. The team needed him in a confident mood. This also allowed them to play the Kid at full-forward. “Stay deep until you’re ready to lead,” Con stressed. The coach figured the Kid’s recent infatuation might work in the team’s favour. He told Maur’ to take her girls down behind the goals, and to make as much noise as they could.

One of the quirks of a game played on an oval field is the way its parabolic curve creates a focal point just beyond the goal square where the adoration of those beyond the boundary fence becomes concentrated. It has been the happy lot of generations of fancy forwards to wallow in the warm glow of the resulting attention. They loll about waiting for the ball to come their way and generally have far too much time to ponder their own importance. Once they finally decide to have a run they happily admonish the deliverer of any pass that causes them to divert even slightly from the direction of their lead. They’re known for taking credit and glory freely and for rarely taking risks. This afternoon Robbie Formosa was to get his turn.

The move came off perfectly. By quarter time both Pirelli and the Kid had two goals and were proving a handful.

Now anyone who had ever heard Honey O’Reilly sing karaoke knew she had a voice like a strangled frog. How such a dire sound could emanate from such perfect lips was a mystery. But to Formosa her raspy screams of “Go, Robbie” every time the ball came goalwards were like sweet, sweet, music. It resonated right through the second term in spite of the change of ends. In fact at that distance it was Honey’s screeching that carried the length of the ground whenever the girls found voice. Formosa felt invincible. Inspired by the attention, he was giving his bigger, more experienced, opponent a football lesson.

But his five to half time was not enough to shake the Roosters. They were a tough bunch.

Formosa posted two more in the third term, helping the Albatrosses to a five point lead. Another early in the last and they were three goals up. Everything was going smoothly. But Albertville had a guilty secret and fate, it seemed had determined that they would suffer the consequences of their with-held knowledge. As the umpire bounced the ball for the re-start a terrified scream went up from beyond the full-back line. The throng of girls gathered there split like the red sea at Moses’s feet. Onto the ground in a cloud of dust came the snorting, snarling, bucking mass of Murchison’s stud bull. The players, as anyone with any sense would, scattered to every corner of the ground. They sought safety in utes and in trees. The German wingman, Rachmann, leapt into an empty skip bin that had been parked on the wing ready to remove the rubbish from the ground. Spectators and umpires dived for cover. Only the smitten full-forward remained on the oval to face the beast, sure that such bravery would win him Honey’s heart forever.

Greg Murchison had driven up to the ground to watch the game and to forget, for a moment, his family’s terrible week. On his passenger seat was a veterinary dart gun and a handful of tranquiliser darts that he’d been carrying in case he spotted the valued beast. He raced with them to the fence and loaded. The crazy bull was charging the length of the ground. In its path danced the Kid, in the manner of a matador, arms outstretched. Murchison took careful aim.


Down went the Kid.

“Bugger.” Murchison reloaded quickly and took another shot. This time the bloodthirsty bovine bit the dust, staggering at the impact then struggling back into a wobbly canter before knuckling over and falling, horn to cheek, next to the comatose lad, the undignified victim of both Cupid’s arrow and Murchison’s barb. “Get that bloody nut-case outta there before Genghis wakes up,” cried the studmaster.

Normality was not restored until the big bull had been man-handled into the skip, and taken in it from the ground by the bemused garbage contracter under Greg Murchison’s careful watch. The game’s last fifteen minutes were played in fading light. The Albatrosses’ forward structure was all out of whack now that Formosa was sleeping it off. The Roosters came back hard. They pegged it back to just five points then with seconds remaining Meyers snapped from the pocket as the last rays of sunshine raked the ground.

The siren sounded with The Roosters in front by a solitary point. Between Tex and the Kid and Murchison’s crazy black bullock the team had somehow fashioned defeat from a game they had in their keeping. The Roosters players celebrated as if they’d won the cup. Stunned by the events, the girls of the Albertville Womens Football Team rushed onto the ground to console their footy brethren, while Robbie Formosa, who craved their attention most, lay on the benches in the changing sheds with only the recurring echo of Honey O’Reilly’s head-splitting voice to keep him company.

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