The Footy Almanac 2007 Grand Final – Geelong v Port Adelaide: The chosen ones

The first printed edition of The Footy Almanac came out in 2007, before we had a website. In the absence of a real 2020 season, we will be publishing the 2007 pieces for the first time ever on www.footyalmanac.com.au. Follow the season!

 

 

Geelong versus Port Adelaide

2.30pm, Saturday, September 29

Melbourne Cricket Ground

JOHN HARMS

 

IT IS GRAND FINAL MORNING. I am walking through the Fitzroy Gardens. By myself. Past the river god fountain up to my left. Past the cenotaph. I look up at the majestic trees. I’m trying to understand my state. My thoughts. My emotions. My smallness.

 

I have an overwhelming feeling, as I stroll along. It is the deepest of feelings: that life matters, and that people matter. And I wonder why I am in such a heightened state of awareness on the morning of a footy match. Just a footy match. Why do I find such meaning in this?

 

I keep walking. I cannot remember life without footy. I cannot remember life without hoping Geelong would win on Saturday, and eventually be the premiers. I cannot remember life without yearning. I cannot remember life without an underlying sense of melancholy. I know La Conditione Geelong. But I also know that the human spirit is found in the fight to live a passionate life in the face of the human reality, that eventually we are no more. And as the ancient writer Paul reminded the people of Rome: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

 

I have never lost that hope.

 

So many of my childhood memories are connected with footy. Great family days when we all wanted so much for Geelong to win. Sitting around together watching the replay on and old black and white TV. Even days by myself, listening to Geelong on the radio, reading the paper, keeping a scrap book.

 

The first Geelong game I can really remember attending was at VFL Park against Footscray. 1971. By sheer fluke (“These seats look alright”) we sat right among the Geelong cheer squad.

 

Gee-Long CLAP CLAP CLAP, Gee-Long CLAP CLAP CLAP.

 

We were part of it, stirred by it. The Cats lost by two points after Billy Goggin’s goal was disallowed in the dying minutes. Ripped off. It was a shocking decision, and we drove home wondering why that always happened to Geelong.

 

As I get closer to the Wellington Parade the crowd swells. Generations of Geelong supporters walk together. I feel I know them. I know they are struggling with this. Trying to be confident. Years of failure haunting them.

 

“Is it me?” we ask ourselves.

 

Feeling inadequate. Feeling no sense of entitlement. Why? Why do I feel I don’t deserve this? Why have the gods chosen the people of Carlton and Hawthorn and Essendon? Why does the world belong to them?

 

But I admire these Geelong people; that they are not embittered. I admire their loyalty. I admire the gentleness of their souls, and their understanding that profound relationships are born of shared suffering. I admire their capacity to forgive. But, God forbid, what if we lose today? Is this to be just another test?

 

Only grace will save us, and the sausages and beers in Yarra Park. J. Dunne has gathered with C. Allan, B. Kane, and Brian Miller. GCJD Haigh and Tim Adam turn up. Amber arrives (“I’m so nervous”). Then The Handicapper, heavily pregnant, waddles up the path from Jolimont Station like a Grand Final veteran. We all chat. We discuss the team. Young Mark Blake has been dropped. The selectors have opted for the experience and stronger body of Steven King. The Cats must match Brendon Lade and Dean Brogan. We must get the footy before their classy mid-fielders get it. We tell ourselves it will be fine. We’ve been terrific all year.

 

We shake hands and embrace and wish each other well. Then the group disperses, heading to the particular seats, flung far and wide, that each has managed to secure (somehow). We walk down the tree-lined path towards the mighty MCG.

 

Inside people rush about. Some have found their seats and have sent a scout out for pies and beers. The Handicapper and I are three rows back from the fence, behind the point post at the city end. We are next to the Geelong cheer squad.

 

We wait. Past players, each holding a premiership cup, form a long line in the centre of the MCG. Some are very old. Bobby Davis is introduced holding the 1963 cup. He looks humble and proud. My tears well. Not because he is the only surviving premiership coach. Just because he is a wonderful man; a true elder of the tribe. He has the grin of a man who knows he has been blessed with a rich life, and is thankful for it. The Handicapper holds my forearm.

 

At last the players appear. Port run to the Punt Road end. Tom Harley leads the Cats through the banner. It’s almost too much. I feel uplifted and ready, and also deeply at peace, like that moment after a funeral where you’ve shed your final tear, and you are at one with the people about you. Look at Otto. Steve Johnson. Joel Corey. Nervous. Come on boys.

 

Gary and Nathan Ablett make me think of their father. His brilliance. His restlessness. I think of my own parents. My father’s lifelong love of the club. Him sitting with my mother in a little house in the Adelaide Hills. My brothers and their families. I think of the thousands gathered around Australia and the world. Please.

 

The players warm up and then line up for the anthem. Geelong people are in a state of baffled wonder, but we love our team, and we just hope they play well.

 

Ottens and Brogan face each other. “Come on Otto,” I say. The noise builds. Siren. Thud. The game starts like a Grand Final. Physical scrimmages. Max Rooke smashes into David Rodan, who doesn’t flinch. Nervous handballs go nowhere. Tackles. No one has any time.

 

The Cats start to make their own. They win clean possession and spread the footy. Quickly. Precise handballs. Accurate kicking. They make space. Chappy bombs, Mooney marks. Goal. Mooney marks again and dishes to Johnno. Another one. The Cats look OK. Johnno is alert. He intercepts a handball, and bananas towards goal. Just off line. Gary Ablett spoils the kick in, paddles, steadies, and goals. We’re out of our seats. The players are washing away our fear.

 

But Port fight back. Lade’s tap finds Shaun Burgoyne on the fly and he streaks into goal to reduce the margin to seven points. Around the ground, though, the Cats look comfortable.

 

“They’re on,” a bloke behind us says.

 

Hunt sprints along the southern wing holding the footy inside the boundary line. He squares to Ottens, now up forward. The crumb spills to Chappy. As he’s about to launch one home from fifty he sees Johnno on his own in the pocket. He passes with the outside of his foot. Johnno marks. And pops it through. Now Selwood’s got it. He has two to beat. With the poise of Robert Harvey he shows the ball to one tackler who takes the bait. He lets the other tackler come to him and pops a delayed handball into the path of Bartel who snaps and goals. The Handicapper’s eyes speak the unspeakable, “I think we’ve got this.”

 

The backline is rock solid. Scarlett is just too experienced for Justin Westhoff. Harley doesn’t let Daniel Motlop near the footy. Josh Hunt is doing enough on Brett Ebert. Quick movement of the footy from the defence creates the space up forward. Mackie runs through the middle. He is one of many. Mooney presents.

 

When Port gather the footy they are under immediate pressure. Late in the quarter Michael Pettigrew runs from the back pocket. Ottens sets off after him. He has ground to make up. He gives everything. And runs the Port speedster down. Holding the ball. Ottens, at that moment, is spirit personified.

 

At quarter time we’re feeling pretty good about things. But there’s a long way to go. Perhaps the boys have just had a good quarter. Perhaps things have gone their way and Port will take their turn.

 

What follows the break is ten minutes we will never forget. It is a moment of transcendence. Geelong plays the most beautiful, free-flowing footy imaginable. They win the ball deep in defence, and have such belief in each other they attack. They play with the purest skill. Hunt to Corey, back to Hunt, footpass to Rooke. Who handballs to Enright in an instant. To Stokes. Out to Johnno. Goal.

 

Minutes later Enright wins a skirmish in the last line of defence. He squirts a handball to Bartel. Even though he is in the last line of defence he has the confidence to loop a handball to the running Wojcinski who doesn’t break stride. He hits Rooke with a sharp left-foot pass. Rooke puts the footy out in front of Mooney who doesn’t stop. He wheels around on a Brownless arc and pumps a Polly Farmer handball to Selwood running wide on the flank. Selwood bombs long to Nathan Ablett. The footy has moved the length of the field so quickly that the defence is in chaos. Free kick. Goal.

 

Out of the centre again. Gary Ablett to Selwood who is streaming forward. He puts the footy to Nathan Ablett’s advantage in the square. One-hander. Just like his dad. Five goals in no time and the Cats are 53 points clear at the 11-minute mark of the second quarter.

 

The crowd is alive: Gee-Long CLAP CLAP CLAP, Gee-Long CLAP CLAP CLAP. I am nine again. I sigh. The tears come. The Handicapper looks at me.

 

I feel like we are chosen. At last. And we believe it. I feel like the boys are playing so brilliantly that something drastically awful would have to happen for us to lose.

 

They are showing us what is possible. They have had an epiphany. That they have invited in the football spirit. That they have come to believe that people are at their finest when they denounce the tyranny of self, in the interests of the team. And these are the fruits of that spirit.

 

And just in case I’m not convinced, when Chad Cornes kicks for goal the footy lands a couple of rows behind us. It bounces high, and I reach up and grab it. I hold it tightly. I have the Grand Final footy in my hands. The actual footy. I handball it back to the boundary umpire.

 

Port are shattered. The Cornes brothers try to lift them. The Burgoynes get the footy, but often deep in defence and they have few options. They too are giving everything. Salopek runs down Gary Ablett. But the Cats are just playing so well.

 

If any Geelong fans are still concerned, straight after half time Cam Mooney takes a mark and goals. Port’s hopes are snuffed out. The Cats continue to dominate, and we begin to celebrate, and enjoy the brilliance of the performance.

 

The Geelong heart opens. There are tears around us. People look at each other wondering whether they deserve this; this gift. The overwhelming mood is gratitude. The thanksgiving begins. It is a celebration which honours the players and what they have done.

 

Blue and white people are clapping and laughing. Families hug. Friends embrace. A balding man from the front row introduces himself to me, then returns to his family. As Geelong sweeps the ball forward the crowd directs, pointing out the players who are free.

 

To add to the moment Chapman flies over Tredrea to take a classic high mark; one of the great Grand Final marks. “Chappyyyy,” says The Handicapper. Even in the last quarter the Cats keep running and continue to kick goals.

 

This is how the game can be: great team footy played with a free spirit. By the time the final siren sounds, I understand hope fulfilled. I feel my own joy. And the joy of others. I look around the stadium at these people whose happiness has substance. The players. Mark Thompson. Us fans. You must understand suffering to know the fullness of that joy.

 

Tom Harley knows suffering. He and Cameron Ling were the only two players to speak publicly when things were tough. But they have led these boys, and have helped them find their best. This is a players’ premiership, assisted by a coach who has learnt much about life over the past two seasons. He has also learned what footy can mean to those who love the Geelong Football Club.

 

The players are gracious in victory. A six-year-old presents each player with his premiership medal. In return the player puts a premiership cap on the kid’s head. Jimmy Bartel beams. So do the kids.

 

Johnno is awarded the Norm Smith Medal. It could have gone to Matthew Scarlett or Chappy. But Johnno is the creator; the man who sees the game differently. Einstein said imagination was more important than knowledge. Johnno has a footy imagination like few others. We are fortunate he was given a chance to express it.

 

Tom Harley, a man of substance, makes a simple speech. The light in him shines. “We are Geelong,” he concludes. The boys do a slow lap. Geelong fans stay. When the players return to the race they link arms and form a circle. They sing the club song.

 

We are Geelong.

 

The Handicapper and I walk back towards the city. We feel blessed.

 

 

Geelong                5.7          11.13    18.17    24.19 (163)

Port Adelaide  2.2           4.3           5.5           6.8 (44)

 

GOALS

Geelong: Mooney 5, Chapman, S. Johnson 4, N. Ablett 3, Bartel 2, Ottens, Byrnes, G. Ablett, Rooke, Ling, Mackie.

Port Adelaide: Tredrea, S. Burgoyne 2, C. Cornes, Logan.

 

BEST

Geelong: S. Johnson, Chapman, Scarlett, Corey, Mackie, Enright, Ling, Harley, Ottens, Mooney.

Port Adelaide: K. Cornes, C. Cornes, P. Burgoyne.

 

MILESTONE

Pearce (Port Adelaide) 50 games.

 

UMPIRES

McBurney, McLaren, McInerney

 

OUR VOTES

Johnson (G) 3, Chapman (G) 2, Scarlett (G) 1.

 

NORM SMITH

Steve Johnson (G)

 

CROWD
97,302

 

 

For more Round by Round reports of the 2007 season click HERE

 

Printed copies of The Footy Almanac 2007 can be purchased HERE.

 

 

2007 Footy Almanac

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo12, Anna11, Evie9. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    Wonderfully evocative stuff, JTH – such a memorable time for Geelong supporters such as myself!

  2. A grand final stat,JTH well played ! A fantastic day for Crows supporters

  3. “I cannot remember life without yearning”
    One of many excellent lines.

    Gee, the cats gave the Power an old-fashioned pantsing that day

  4. I love everything here JTH.
    Observer and participant in the great human soup.
    That balding man!
    That sense of pilgrimage and what-have-we-here?

    I wonder how that feeling changed in subsequent years- 2007 being the first cats flag for a while.
    Love the Fitzroy Gardens.

  5. Did not really need to be reminded of this, nearly expunged from the memory. 2017 GF had helped heal the hurt, with Frootloops getting a good, but lesser, thrashing. This season also has promise, Port top all year, Frootloops bottom all year, doesn’t matter much what happens from now on!

  6. Nicole Kelly says

    It’s inexplicable, the high you feel as an “average-Joe” when your team is in the Grand Final. Soaking up the atmosphere pre-game, mixed with both exhilaration and impending doom – you captured the feeling well!

  7. Hi All,

    Amazing to think of, and re-live, that feeling before the game, and during the game.

    Thanks for all of your comments.

    The feeling did change throughout 2008 and then we lost to Hawthorn in the GF and things were returned to normal. What if 2007 was a mere aberration! And the Universe actually hadn’t chosen us! So 2009 was massive again. And 2010 was a all over the shop with the weird end v Collingwood the night my father died.And 2011 was such a free-spirited bonus All while having a household of three kids three and under. Unforgettable.

    I know different yearnings now. But they are yearnings. Acceptance and forgiveness are high on the yearnings list.

    JTH

  8. I should also mention I’d love the Cats to win the flag in 2020.

  9. Shocked to be sitting here reading that you’d like a Cats flag, JTH

  10. I’ve read this piece many times and love it each time. The suffering! And the meaning. What a day that was. I didn’t completely relax until Mooney’s goal to start the third quarter. Before that I paced around like a hungry lion.

    What will your mindset be if we are graced with the opportunity to play in the grand final this year? What will the walk through the Fitzroy Gardens do to your thinking?

    The Cats have been blessed in recent times. Let’s hope they are blessed again. We deserve it don’t we?

  11. Lovely memories for an old Cats fan John.

    The Ottens rundown of Pettigrew had me feeling positive (at last!), but it wasn’t until halfway through the third quarter (70+ points up) that I truly believed WE’VE GOT THIS (much to the amusement of my Tiger-supporting wife who was sitting next to me). Decades of disappointment wiped away in a perfect afternoon for the Geelong Football Club.

    Being among the 30,000 ecstatic fans at Kardinia Park the next day wasn’t too bad either.

    Cheers, Burkie

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