The Red Setter

It’s the Friday of the last week of the season for me (and half the Almanac community).  I feel a strange ennui.  Lost.  Listless.

It can’t just be that my Eagles are not playing finals.  Unless of course Carlton, Brisbane and the Kangaroos lose (all very probable) and we beat the Crows by 20 goals on Saturday night.  Not very likely unless someone loosens the wheel nuts on the bus that takes them to the game (hmm – there’s something to fill my day).

And the reward is?  Cannon fodder for Mr Wrap’s Tigers next week.  No thanks – I’ll take my methadone now.  I don’t need another hit next week.

My mood can’t have anything to do with our not playing finals.  As any reader of my despatches from the front will be aware, I wrote the Eagles off back in April.  They have exhibited my listless symptoms all season.  Perhaps I caught it from them?

Still there are footy season rituals to observe one last time.  After lunch I will go down the road to the Highgate florist and buy the bunch of irises that is my regular Friday offering to the Avenging Eagle and the football Gods (Goddesses?)  We call irises “Eagle flowers” because of their indigo blue and gold petals.  Next week I make the switch to lilies.  My footy gods will have departed, but there is still the Avenging Eagle to worship and pacify.

The signs of the season passing are everywhere.  Last week the Friday irises had gone up to $12 a bunch, and they were already starting to open and fade.  I knew it was an omen for what Collingwood would do to us, so I tipped the opposition (by 12 goals) for the first time all season.

Winter to spring.  Footy to ????  Horse racing and I are thankfully no longer on speaking terms.  And modern cricket is just ‘No More Gaps’ to fill time spent on menial tasks like gardening or sitting in traffic jams.

Next Saturday I’ll spend the day handing out how-to-vote cards for David Wirrpanda in the Senate.  That way the Eagles might win something for the season.  I have never voted for his party in my life, but he is an honest and committed man.  He fills me with more hope than any of the conventional offerings from Rudd, Abbott or Ross Lyon.

“We think we can win.  We know it’s a tough assignment.  Hopefully our approach will bear fruit.  The proof is in the pudding – at the end of the day.  So there is just a bit of water to flow under the bridge.”

This is an actual quote from Lyon’s airport interview yesterday.  Good to see that Ross is just taking things 6 cliches at a time.  Doesn’t he know that we want footy to take our mind of politics, not remind us.

After the footy finals I will take a spring break and renew my sporting interests with the return of the tennis in January.  But there is still one last footy ritual to observe with the last games for Andrew Embley, Adam Selwood and a farewell parade for Mark Nicoski.

Embley is my favourite Eagle of the past decade.  His first games in 1999 coincided with my marriage to the Avenging Eagle and our taking out Eagles memberships.  She dubbed him “the Red Setter” in his early games because of his loose, loping running style and the wavy hair that flopped down over doeish wide eyes.  When he got the ball he seemed instantly terrified, and would run in random circles while deciding what to do with it.

“I’ve got the bone.  Do I bury it or eat it?  Yipes, those other dogs are trying to take it off me.   I’ll just run over here while I think about it.  Damn, too late.”  Over and over – for his first 2 or 3 seasons.  He and Darren Glass are the reason for my “don’t dump a player inside 30 games” rule.  Though Glass was more the deer frozen in the headlights to Embley’s startled flight.

That Embley became a very good player is clear from his goals and saving marks throughout the 2006 finals series, which culminated in both a Norm Smith and a Premiership Medal.  At 189cm he was the model for the tall, athletic midfielder that we see today in players like Mundy and Pendlebury.

But I loved him more because he always retained the endearing human capacity to be unexpectedly awful.  He would miss successive set shots from straight in front and then hook one from over his shoulder when not looking – as he did against the Kangaroos in last year’s Elimination Final when he ended up with 4 goals.  No Eagles fan can forget the next week’s Semi Final against Collingwood when we had just hit the lead in the last quarter and had all the momentum.  The Red Setter is in space running the ball out of defence, when he inexplicably grubbers his kick to a grateful Magpie who slots the goal.

Professional sport is all about reducing error and the gap between your best and your worst.  Embers was gloriously retro – the last of the amateur geniuses from the 20th century.  He could serve like both Roger Federer and Anna Kournikova – and often within the same game.  His new passion in his restaurant and cooking.  Embers smiling in his chef’s whites is a staple of Perth TV ads – “you can’t make omelettes without breaking a few eggs”.

Adam Selwood (like brother Scott) is an Avis footballer – “#2 so we try harder”.  Lacking most of brother Joel’s gifts except ruthless tenacity, he is the epitome of someone who made the most of his ability.  A handy midfielder when he just had enough pace in our 2006 premiership year; he became a Ryan Crowley tagger before there was Ryan Crowley.  The games against the Cats in recent years have been legendary, with the brother on brother dramas.   But the Cat who will be most grateful for Adam’s retirement is StevieJ.  He knew he was going to be tagged, twerked and worn tighter than Miley Cyrus at an MTV Awards night.

Adam has studied for a Commerce degree from Curtin University, and I have heard him speak as an eloquent advocate for awareness of the meningitis disease that nearly killed him as a child.  Future premiership coach or successful businessman?  He can take his pick.

Mark Nicoski was almost an ‘almost’ footballer.  As a young player he had great physical talent and exuberance.  He was a raking left foot kick and running defender off our half back line, but I remember his stage fright in the 2005 Grand Final loss to Sydney.  Where most of his team mates won redemption the next season, Nico’s long affair with serious injury started with a fractured ankle midway through 2006.

Interminable rehabs with stuttering ‘recoveries’ followed by still more groin and shoulder injuries ensued.  After 4 or 5 seasons of this I was screaming “enough – sad story – but he’ll never regain fitness or confidence”.  Then out of nowhere the flightless bird took wings in 2011 as a defensive forward.  Having seen footballing death a dozen times, Nico was the perfect kamikaze for an Eagles game style reborn around a manic press.

He kicked 41 goals for the season, and I remember giving him second best afield for his job on Chris Yarran (remember when he was the best running defender in the comp – “earth to Planet Mick”) in our 3 point Semi Final thriller over Carlton at Subiaco.  Sadly that was the end of his 15 minutes of fame, and normal service resumed in 2012 with a hamstring torn off the bone.

My current ennui probably just marks the passing of time.  I’m late in the third quarter with a fair bit of catching up to do.  Still I’ve got a bit of momentum and the recent form has been encouraging.

I’ll enjoy tomorrow night’s game because I have no expectation.  I get to honour and farewell a footballer I have loved for more than a decade, together with two of our most loyal and determined foot soldiers.  I think we can win because the Crows are as hopeless as us, but that’s not what this week’s game is about.

Next week I start a new job working with homeless and mentally ill people.  I expect to see many Eagles players and fans in the queue.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Your startled red-setter used to run rings around my Bulldogs…literally.
    I used to dread seeing your pooch named to take on the Bullies. Even if he was coming back from the vets after treatment for hyperactivity or whatever, he always ended up best -in- show after a canine showdown.
    He also had a habit of kicking clutch-goals just as the little Bullies were getting a run-on against the Great Danes and Western Bull-Mastiffs.
    I respected him as a player but would have preferred he was kept on a leash when I was walking my dog around Subiacco.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great Eloquent read Peter and don’t worry as a Crows Supporter I have uttered stronger words tan Bloody Embley on numerous occasions re Next week I don’t think we as in Crows are any where near good enough but play Richmond I give any 1 a chance ESP North Melbourne

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Peter. Loved the linking of Rudd, Abbott and Ross Lyon.

    Always sad when players we have enjoyed watching bow out of the game. The club’s handle these farewells brilliantly these days.

  4. Apparently in his last year of high school, Embley never did any work, but none of the teachers could tell him off because he was earning three times as much as them. Loved his randomness too PB.

  5. Matty – I had a choice of writing my piece pre-game on Friday, or post-game on Sunday. I think I pulled the right rein.
    I read in the papers over here today that Woosha will launch a searching post season review of players and staff.
    Do you think that surgeons who botch operations get to do their own autopsies?
    Roll on MVoss ASAP.

  6. Shane Kennedy says

    Did the players throw in the towel in the vein hope of getting Woosha ousted?

    It is hard to read from over here in Geelong, but that is the only silver lining I can see in a very cloudy sky.

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