The Footy Almanac 2007 Week 3 Finals – Geelong v Collingwood: Fate, nerves, Otto

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!

 

 

 

FIRST PRELIMINARY FINAL

Geelong versus Collingwood

7.50pm, Friday, September 21

Melbourne Cricket Ground

JOHN HARMS

 

IT IS FRIDAY EVENING. Rush hour. It seems the entire city of Melbourne is preparing for a game of football. I walk up Flinders Street. The lights of the MCG blaze in the distance. Cars toot. Trams ding. The wind blows the leafless limbs of wintry trees. The rain falls.

 

I turn into Spring Street and walk up the rise to the Windsor Hotel. The Cricketers’ Bar is full of Collingwood fans. Blokes with Irish names, like Branagan and O’Anything, who’ve copped it so hard from the nuns and the brothers that their only respite is to run pubs or drink in them. And barrack for Collingwood. I find fellow Almanac writer, Matt O’Connor. I wish him all the best. It’s like the touching of gloves in a title fight.

 

I head to the MCG. I am in a throng of excited people. Lucky people, happy and thankful to have tickets. People making their predictions. Nervy Geelong fans (“The rain’s good for Collingwood”). Pies’ fans not entertaining the prospect of loss (“They’re brittle, the Cats”).

 

All week the city has talked about this. Geelong and Collingwood in a Preliminary Final. Like this is how it’s meant to be: two local clubs continuing their century-long rivalry. But there is also a hint of lament in the city’s conversation; that this is how it used to be. Every year.

 

Not now though. Only thoughts of the game. This game. A massive crowd queues at the Members’ gate. I meet The Handicapper and my brother Mick. I have two seats in the Olympic Stand for them; I have a standing room ticket. We go in, and then separate, planning to meet at half-time.

 

“We’ve got to win this,” I say.

 

“Surely,” says The Handicapper.

 

Mick is jittery but he forces out a routine. “They’ll be all right,” like he’s talking to his six-year-old.

 

Geelong fans voice their concerns. “Please,” we say. “Please.” Like it’s a prayer. “Please.” Like we have to ask permission of the Universe. “Please.”.Like we have no control over things. “Please.” Like things happen to us. “Please.”

 

I try to find a position, standing behind the goals at the Punt Road end. It is eight-deep with rabid Pies. When their side runs through the banner they sing the song like a choir of hard knocks. The affection is magnificent. The pride is endearing. I have to stop myself: I am finding Collingwood fans endearing.

 

I feel OK about the game. Sort of. My mind is telling me we should win. And I am ever-hopeful. But I’ve spent a lifetime watching wonderful Geelong seasons dissolve in half a quarter of footy.

 

As the ball is bounced, too many people are squeezed into standing room, and I’m at the back. The most important game for years and much of the ground is obscured. In the section of the forward pocket I can see Tom Harley drops a sitter. But I can’t see the goals at all, so I don’t know what follows. Just a huge roar which compels me to race to a TV in the bar at the back. I get there just in time to see Harley spill another one. “Oh no.” It’s not happening.

 

I have to find a better spot, which I eventually do. Only four deep on the half- forward flank. I move with those around me. On tiptoes, peering between heads. It’s not easy. Harley gets back into the game. He fires out a couple of handballs. He directs traffic. But why is he on Paul Medhurst? Why is Josh Hunt on Sean Rusling?

 

The contest is fierce. Bodies smash together. When Burns snaps the first goal of the night the cheer is stirring. The Cats move the ball quickly creating chaos, and little Stokesy goals. The signs are good. Then Chappy shows poise to find Ottens inside fifty. This is really good. I like this. Ottens looks determined, just as he did in the Kangaroos game, like this means so much to him. He wins almost every ruck contest. He palms to Ablett but the little bloke misses.

 

The Pies are gutsy. They tackle and harass and stifle and frustrate. To keep this level of intensity up all night is going to take immense will. Geelong move the ball quickly again and after a battle in the square the footy comes to Stokes who snaps another major. Soon after, Joel Selwood is free for a moment and caresses a pass to Stokes who just beats the spoil. He kicks his third and the Cats are on top. The character of the game becomes more obvious during the second quarter.

 

Nothing happens easily. Tight. The Pies kick the first two goals, and are in front. It makes no sense. Ottens wins knock after knock and the Cats surge again. Johnno is the creator. In a few minutes he marks a Bartel bomb and goals, he runs onto a Nathan Ablett knockout and snaps truly, and sets up another as the Cats pull three goals clear again.

 

But the game has no rhythm. It’s just a series of contests from footballers completely committed to the cause. At half-time fans’ fists are unclenched, their muscles relaxed. I can’t contact The Handicapper and Mick. The phone network is busy. So I stay where I am.

 

The second half is monumental. All sense of play is sucked from the ground. A spirit of profound struggle replaces it. You can feel it hovering. Ottens continues to dominate the game but the burdened Cats can’t convert. We kick five points in a row. Kelly misses from 40. Ottens misses a simple set shot. We should be well in front. But we’re not. And that lifts the Pies, who are relentless. Like their working- class forebears, they know they have to make the most of any opportunity. Their fans cheer every effort, every tiny victory.

 

Medhurst kicks another and bizarrely the Pies are in front. Mooney replies. I have never felt collective tension on this scale. People leave the ground at three- quarter time, unable to watch, unable to bear the strain. My mate Richard leans on a gum tree in Yarra Park.

 

The game has had the quality of drought. Always the promise of a crop, but it never seems to eventuate. During the opening minutes of the last quarter Johnno is the rain. He dances clear and finds Mooney on the lead. Mooney goals. Gary Ablett has the footy in the middle of the ground. A pack forms just inside fifty. Ablett is unsure. He roosts the longest drop punt he can. It carries the pack. Johnno has read it. He flies at the back and takes the mark. He goes back and pops it through. What a footballer. In Yarra Park, Richard has no idea for whom the roar tolls. He waits. He is relieved when hundreds of Pies fans stream from the ground.

 

But they’ve left prematurely. The Pies are not broken. Cloke marks and kicks truly. And then Didak escapes and runs into the open goal. It’s just five points the difference.

 

This can’t happen. The Cats have been on top all night. The strain is enormous. Row upon row of people look like they’re from an Edvard Munch painting. Some screaming. Some with their hands over their temples. The horror. If it happens. The horror.

 

From a ball-up Ottens, who has been a giant, wrestles, and strains, and forces himself upwards. He reaches and palms to Gary Ablett. It is the little man’s moment – if he can pull it off. He steels himself. He powers off. He shrugs Guy Richards’ tackle, somehow keeps his feet, and bursts a step and a half clear of the pack. It’s just enough time. He snaps the instant he can; just before he is swamped. Flat out. Across his body. A tough shot. High. Higher. He salutes. Goal. Pandemonium. We are released from the agony. The game is ours.

 

Surely. I look at the clock at 28 minutes. We lead by 11. As I’m mouthing the words, “We couldn’t lose from here,” Medhurst steers one through. “No.” Head- shaking. “Surely not.” Another prayer. “Please, no.” This would be too much.

 

The clock gets beyond 32 minutes. Hands over mouths. Hearts pounding. Siren. The ground erupts. Somewhere in the stands The Handicapper is in tears. She is not the only one.

 

There are tears everywhere. I stand motionless. Completely drained. “Otto,” I say to no one, and everyone. I applaud the Pies off. They are noble.

 

I find Mick and The Handicapper near the Betty Cuthbert statue. Mick looks spent. The Handicapper is bouncing, lively, excited. She wraps herself around my exhausted body. She understands now.

 

 

Geelong                4.4          7.6          9.13       13.14 (92)

Collingwood            2.5           6.7           9.8           13.9 (87)

 

GOALS

Geelong: S. Johnson, Stokes 3, Mooney 2, Ottens, Kelly, G. Ablett, Rooke, Chapman

Collingwood: Cloke, Medhurst 3, Rusling, Didak 2, Davis, O’Bree, Burns

 

BEST

Geelong: Ottens, S. Johnson, G. Ablett, Chapman, Scarlett, Rooke, Corey

Collingwood: Cloke, Clarke, H. Shaw, O’Brien, Lockyer

 

MILESTONE

Corey (Geelong) 150 games.

 

UMPIRES

McBurney, McLaren, McInerney.

 

OUR VOTES

Ottens (G) 3, S. Johnson (G) 2, G. Ablett (G) 1.

 

CROWD

98,002

 

 

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. That is till the most extraordinary game I’ve ever been to. Never heard noise like it. Never felt noise like it.

    Ottens to Ablett. The stuff of legend.

    I was tense reading this again.

  2. It was a fraught night for the believers, wasn’t it. So close that the thrill of victory was dulled by preparedness for defeat.
    Andy Morro left the members to have a nervous smoke at half time and they wouldn’t let him back in. Never lived it down.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    Helen and I were both going to the game except we had a sick child at home. One of us had to miss. The reasoning was that we had lined up one ticket to the grand final – the person whose team was more likely to win the prelim and therefore head to the GF would stay home with the sick kid. They would go the following week. That is why I went to this game and Helen stayed home.

    This was also the game that created havoc in the MCC. Many arrived early and claimed their seats, then went off-site to eat or drink or whatever. Some on trying to re-enter the G were refused admission because the reserve was at capacity – even though they had already reserved their seat. This lead to the current practice of patrons being issued a seat ticket once they had claimed their spot.

    AF

  4. High in the Great Southern Stand late in the final quarter, sitting with my wife and youngest child Paul who was 10 at the time. 5 points the difference.
    I turned to him and said, “We might not win this mate”.
    He replied calmly, “We’re gonna win Dad”.
    I was so nervous by that point I tried to ease the possibility of pain and disappointment,
    “I dunno mate Collingwood are…”
    Interrupting me, with more conviction this time, “We’re gonna win Dad”!
    My sweet boy the prophet.

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