The F Word.

Now I know why we have byes.

I thought I’d handled the fall of my once mighty Saints well. I focused on the young kids, loved the look of Newnes and Wright, clapped heartily at Jack Steven’s heart and endeavour and above all prided myself it not turning the blowtorch on my men. They were having a dip and while the losses piled up, the hard work was always present. I could see the effort, that was enough.

The problem is, honourable losses still amount to the same thing- you lost.

The Eagles ‘catastrophe’ broke me. Not completely, just enough to want to walk away from the fight and reassess what it is I’m in this for. Sadly, there is not a Saints supporter amongst us who hasn’t left the fight just enough to stop its pain enveloping our lives.

My heart has broken four times in my lifetime. The very first time, 1997, I went out and drank myself into oblivion Grand Final night. That was not helpful. In 2009 I buried the hurt deep inside and girded myself to go again. That was even less helpful. By the 2010 Grand Final I couldn’t watch. I paced the backyard and snuck back to the TV every now and then to find out how much more pacing I needed.

The replay is best not mentioned….but there, I have.

I am a proud Saints man but when my old man turned to me after the 2010 replay and stated that he didn’t think he’d live to see us win it all again, a part of me ached at the misery of it all.

That’s no way to live. Sport is supposed to be redemptive, each new season is a new beginning. I left the West Coast game feeling philosophical about the injustice we’d just been served but by the middle of the week I was depressed by the futility. Two wins is a poor return for effort. We have been in almost every game this season but I have never sensed that we could win them. Not with the conviction of season’s past.

I needed the bye. I needed the perspective it brought. I know now, that this too shall pass.

It happens to all in turn, however hard teams plan for it not to. Bottoming out is just a step in the cycle towards the top. The graph of team’s performance is not marked with mountain peaks and crashing falls. This is not the stock market of bulls and bears, the chart of success and failure is a more fluid curve.

A high tide rises all boats. We rarely stop to consider how our team reaches their season’s of contention, we are too busy projecting forward to bother with the past. But the view from the top of the curve doesn’t allow a view of the other side either.

Truth is, few teams actually fall off the top, they slide. Slowly at first, a foot slides here, a leg stumbling there. Then there’s a shifting of the ground beneath. Momentum gets you up the curve, only to take you back down again. That downward journey begins when you know this team cannot go any further. There are moments where the sensation might suggest that the team is climbing again but it is simply retracing steps, climbing back up from where you came from. The journey of a thousands steps only promised success it doesn’t always deliver it.

So where are the Tigers on that parabola? On the available evidence they are fast approaching the first staging ground. The bottom of the eight is a rite of passage that all who contend must first pass through. The waiting for that day has been so arduous for Tigers supporters it has almost entered the realm of myth. ‘When’ we make the finals became ‘if’ we make the finals and has, in recent times, transmogrified into a celebration of the talent it requires to finish 9th so consistently.

I began the season with all the confidence in the world that the Richmond Football Club would be playing finals this season. It was, I thought, a more ambitious hypothesis to suggest the Saints might join them. I have been sorely mistaken with my Saints…. I still hope to be on the money with the Tiggers.

Every season I suggest to a good mate, loyal to the Tigers cause, that this will be the season they play finals. Without fail, he gives me nothing. What once was a wry smile is simply a silence now. He lets it hang between us, giving the statement no traction. Then he changes the subject. I know that he daren’t speak its name. It reminds me of Chris Connolly refusing to utter the ‘F’ word as his Freo side marched towards the eight. Connolly made light of his reluctance to concede that the finals were within reach. My mate does not. He has been burnt too often and singed fingertips tend to avoid the flames.

Could the stars be aligning though? A take down of Adelaide, a finals contender pre season, gives voice to the Tiger Army. They are up and about. Tattered old scarves are on the march. Blokes with beanies that saw VFL action wandered past me Sunday with copies of the Herald Sun, back page revealed, under their arm. The guarded hope is stirring once more.

The top four has a settled look. I sense that Fremantle might sneak past Essendon but that is the only possible change.

It’s within the antechamber of positions 5 through 8 that the bunfight has begun. North Melbourne are certainly doing their part for the Tigers’ cause. Stuttering along, winning convincingly then dropping off the Roos have smashed St.Kilda only to fall meekly to the might of the Suns. They along with the Pies, Blues, Eagles and Port are contemporaries of the Tiges. The ebb and flow of each of theses individual season will connect a larger jigsaw of finals permutations.

That is the reality of being a footy supporter- We are all contained. The experience of the footy season is not as all encompassing as the organisers would hope it to be. We do not stand apart from our allegiances and look at the whole. We, the fan, are motivated by what our side is doing. How does this help us? How does this help them? The road to the eight is potholed with poor form and dropped games. Percentage boosts and points dropped. Winning is vital but a loss is alright if the other contenders drop games as well. We start to use the phrases- ‘We should beat them,’ and ‘They might drop that one.’ Every week centres entirely on your result….until its over, and then it’s a deathwatch for every other team you’re worried about. Wishing them misfortune and occasionally trying to decide which side you need to lose because both are near enough to worry you.

I miss my side being in that hunt already. Still, I suspect Richmond folk are sick of it. The Finals are once again teasing the yellow and black but this seasons feels right…..Then again I’ve been wrong about this more times than my mate cares to remember.

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