The bumpy road to Round 1: A Tiger mate departs far too soon

An unlikely similarity between Damien Hardwick and me is that we both started planning for the Round 1 game between Richmond and Carlton a few days after the 2015 season ended.

But for me, it was less about finals retribution and kicking off 2016 well, and more about trying to help a mate.

On Grand Final Eve, I helped celebrate my mate Graham’s 50th with a large group of friends. He’s been a friend for nearly 16 years, with our eldest boys born a few days apart. The boys have grown up alongside each other, started Auskick, played club footy together, had shared birthday parties together, and sleep overs all whist our families grew to be very close friends. Two of the wonderful homes they’ve enjoyed have been a result of my wife’s architectural care and design. Many a meal was shared in these happy places with lots of laughs.

As a fellow Tiger, I have taken him to the G before, and talked frequently over our team for many frustrating but occasionally wonderful years. His positive nature was always a refreshing time, especially his unfailing view of the Richmond young prospects, usually over a few reds.

It was a great party, but I left early for the kids when it looked like going longer than planned. My wife came home later, with new friends she had met in tow, and the mini party continued at our place. Both Georgie and our guests commented on the fact Graham didn’t look well, and had retired to bed not long after I left, but I hadn’t seen any signs.

The day after the Hawks saluted with their three-peat, Graham was still feeling crook and went to the hospital.

Long story short, whilst the Hawks and Eagles kicked off their Mad Mondays, Graham was receiving the news he had advanced pancreatic cancer. By Thursday, as the papers turned attention to the Spring Carnival and the trade period, he’d been told he had until Christmas; The ‘get your affairs in order’ chat.

I remember being quite surprised when I realised Graham was having a 50th party. I always assumed he was younger than me and he kept himself in good nick. Over 15 years, I can recall the odd lurgy and the dreaded man-flu, but otherwise, rude health prevailed.

My reaction was to be unfailingly positive and, whilst not in denial of the serious medical advice, thought it best to help him set goals to be upbeat. With that, I sent him an invitation in October to be my guest for dinner in the Long Room, Round 1 2016 vs. the Blues. I didn’t naively say we’d beat the thing together, but more that I was with him on this tough journey and hoped things worked out well.

By Melbourne Cup, his life insurance had been paid out, and having worked in that field previously, I knew how rare that was. However, by the Boxing Day test, when all previous indications were he wouldn’t get to see that much anticipated Windies series, he was still in reasonable nick and outlasting the doctor’s initial prognosis.

Whilst the Open and the Big Bash competed for airplay, we kept in touch more by regular texts and I kept flagging our dinner date. He in turn was upbeat at all times, looking forward to it, especially as a Tigers first round win was in the wind.

Georgie saw more of him than I through meetings about their current renovations, and reported that he wasn’t always as his texts would indicate. As teams started to report their best pre-season ever (again), I started to tell him there was no pressure to dine with me, but the invite was there.

At the start of March, I realised that a potentially cool evening and even the walk through Jolimont Park may be difficult considering his health. He told me that a roast and red dinner might be a stretch but good seats and a pie in the members would be great. I bought two reserved seats, under cover, and contacted the MCC to see if they’d be retaining the fences and long security queues they did for the Big Bash, as I feared for him standing too long.

As the NAB Challenge came to a thankful end, I dropped in on him unexpectedly, having not seen him for a few months. Whilst not as bad as I feared he would be, (it’s all relative I suppose) it was clear that a trip to the G was not an option. I offered to share the couch with him on the Thursday and we could collectively yell at his impressively large TV screen, and he said we’d talk later in the week. Our chat then turned to the merits of the team and 2016 prospects. He and I disagreed on Yarran’s recruitment (he pro, me on the fence) and agreed that big Ivan was the key to our success. How true that turned out to be after just two rounds.

By game day, he was at Cabrini and unlikely to watch I was told. But our text messages at the end of that uninspiring Tigers win showed he had sat through, and I shared with him that he missed little by staying where he was.

It was our last exchange; my “Yellow and Black” at siren time returned with his “Thank God” soon after.

By the Pies match, he was pretty much on pain relief and despite ending another text message, I never spoke with him again. As the Monday reviews of Hogan’s body language, the Tigers lack of on field leadership and Freo’s game plan changes were dissected, he passed away. He had time to say a goodbye to his two boys, a situation I cannot really fathom for its poignancy and heartache.

From diagnosis to the end, was just about 6 months. A footy season if you will. If a week is a long time in football, his final season was longer than it was feared or predicated to be.

I’d be surprised if every Almanacker doesn’t have a Graham in their life. All round good guy, loves his footy, coaches basketball, adores his wife, lives for Foxtel for footy and the NBA, does lots with his boys, works hard, a dab hand at a barbie, incredibly welcoming and hospitable. In fact, it sounds strange and awful, but it was his sheer un-remarkableness that made him so special. There are loads of blokes like him, decent people who get on with life, but our lives are all enhanced by having them around. In fact, I imagine many Almanackers are just like him. Everyone should have a few Grahams in their life.

I am sure he had faults; he was a bloke after all. I imagine he would absent-mindedly wee on the bathroom floor or forget his wife’s birthday, and I know he was messy and not as alert as he should have been in picking up after himself. And he was very focussed and determined on the design of their current renovation, in part as he knew this would be his legacy for his family.

At both a wake this Friday and against the Crows Saturday, I’ll raise a glass to a mate. The Tigers could learn a lot from his strength and positive nature over what was his final season.

Yellow and Black

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.

Comments

  1. Very nice tribute Sean. My condolences.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Thank you for sharing this Sean. Lovely friendship shared by great writing. Thoughts are with you and his family.

  3. craig dodson says

    I hope Graham’s boys get to read this piece in due course as a touching reminder of their father..condolences to all

  4. Lovely piece Sean. Condolences to all.

  5. Great article babe. A great guy. Too soon for his family to read this but in time maybe.

  6. Lovely reflections. Puts everything into perspective. Just lost a friend and colleague – of 25+ years – at only 60. His niece’s closing words at the service were “[email protected]* you, cancer”, and boy ,was she right. Hope the Tiges win the flag for him and the family.

  7. Sean- you’ve shared this with restraint and honesty, and affection and perspective. Thanks. Go well.

  8. Elegantly expressed Sean. I am sure Graham’s family will get some comfort from it when things are less raw.
    The Jason Isbell song “Elephant” about supporting a friend dying of cancer, comes to mind with its final verse:
    “I buried her a thousand times,
    giving up my place in line,
    but I don’t give a damn about that now
    There’s one thing that’s real clear to me,
    no one dies with dignity
    We just try to ignore the elephant somehow”

  9. E.regnans says

    All the best, Sean.
    And to Graham’s family and friends.

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Sean a poignant and heart felt peice condolence to Graham’s friends and family

  11. Patricia Powell says

    Just when I thought I was all cried out you got me started again. A beautiful piece of writing and so reflective of Graham. We have lost a wonderful friend.

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Very sorry for your loss. Lovely, well written tribute Sean.

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