Varcoe’s Point. Or, the Point of Varcoe.

Sunday afternoon. Numbness still pervades my bones. The auditorium plunges into darkness, the audience goes quiet, waiting for the curtain to lift. Kate’s dancing concert explodes into a life of colour and sound.

Kate was born with Down Syndrome. All the people in this concert were born with Down Syndrome. The concert and regular weekly dance classes are run by an organisation called “e.Motion21”, a group that started some four years ago with six members (of which Kate was one) in a local Council neighbourhood house. Now the group has about 180 members dancing in suburbs across Melbourne, and into some Regional towns like Geelong. These days they conduct around 1,000 classes per year. “Moving bodies, moving boundaries” is their catch cry. We see kids as young as four and adults up to about 35 all enjoying their day; the result of eight months of weekly practice. Such is the growth of this organisation that the yearend concert has graduated from a daggy little room on the first floor of a shop, to the vast auditorium at Camberwell Grammar.

In the darkness I watch the concert unfold. Sitting near me are the rest of my family, Grandma, Grandpa, Nanna, and Kate’s former school carer Penny. Penny is no longer Kate’s carer. She doesn’t need to be here, but she is. There’s a joyous feeling in the room. The vibe is uplifting. I’m waiting for Kate’s segment with anticipation and trepidation. Apparently her group will be “shaking their thing” to the sounds of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Relentless, irresistible flashes penetrate my thoughts. Friday night at the MCG; Geelong versus Hawthorn. I see Varcoe jumping at the footy at centre half forward; I see open space in front of him, except for one lunging Hawk defender who he has wrong footed. I know there are only about 40 seconds on the clock and the Cats trail by 6 points. I still feel the exhilaration 48 hours later; a surge like an electric current through the veins. Backsides in the crowd involuntarily lift off seats, voices join in a cacophony of sound that is primeval; screeches, shrieks, screams, and guttural, nonsensical explosions. Hands clasp heads like a student who has just completely stuffed up an exam. One bloke in front of me grabs his own buttocks. I see bald blokes pulling their hair out, I see eyes bulging out of sockets, people frozen in strange postures with hands raised and mouths open. Terror, tension, and strain contort facial expressions. Reality is suspended. Clear thinking impossible. This game hasn’t stopped a nation it seems to have stopped the universe.

Numbskull No.1 behind me yells at Numbskull No.2,

“Fuuuuu………..Nooooooooooooo!!!” This comment makes more sense than his other utterances throughout the game. There is an exception to every rule.

And Varcoe is free.

Kate will be on soon. I’m back in the present. A little tacker is on the stage. He’s about as big as a pine cone and dressed in a sea blue one piece outfit. He immediately shields his eyes from the glaring lights. He’s looking for Mum and Dad. The on-stage carer tries to cajole him into position, but he won’t be moved until he sees Mum and Dad. I don’t like his chances. The audience is sitting in darkness some three hundred in number. His carer finally persuades him to take his place but his eyes are still searching the throng. He makes a few moves that could be described as dancing, and hops around the stage pretending, I think, to be a fish.  A loud applause erupts. This concert is all about having a go.

Varcoe is on his left side. He wants to get onto his right. A confident Varcoe wouldn’t care, but this one is battling some demons of confidence. It’s been with him for several weeks now. During this game he has been making exquisite position but hasn’t quite nailed home the advantage. He’s been playing like a falcon that swoops majestically on a fleeing rodent but misses the target. He skips into open space, such as there is open space in a game like this one. But he’s wobbly, trying to counter his own momentum. He has a decision to make: do I risk the extra step and straighten up or do I kick the ball off the outside of my boot and guide it home? Pressure, extraordinary pressure, forces players to defy logic. And anxiety. Get the ball onto boot! He almost gets it right.

A change of direction at full pace requires a complete rebalance. And it takes time. I saw the same thing in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics. Carl Lewis came off the bend so fast in the 200 metres semi-final that he had to put in a few short, stuttering steps to get his equilibrium. It was a brilliant run but the sight of him having to correct his magnificent stride was like discovering a brush stroke error in a Monet. Lewis needed to balance to the left. Varcoe needs to balance to the right.

It’s Kate. There she is. On stage. Dancing. A few years ago she would hardly talk to a stranger. Hell, she would hardly talk to anyone. She was caught up in her own anxieties; the normal anxieties of youth and her own mysterious anxieties of mental incapacity. How I wish I could reach in and feel what she feels, think what she thinks. She spent a good part of her time, when in the company of others, with her head down, trying to be invisible. She couldn’t express her thoughts. She had no words. The world whirled around her like angry, rampant flood waters across the Queensland plains. But now she’s on stage dancing. This is her expression. Or part of it anyway. Sometimes she overwhelms me.

Varcoe was overwhelmed. He never quite got comfortable. Like a car that hits gravel and swerves off the bitumen, regaining a perfectly straight trajectory in a short amount of time is nigh on impossible. An over compensation occurs. To the left, to the right, to the left. The battle with the physics of movement is usually lost.

The Cats finished third in season 2013. That’s about right I reckon. They played brilliantly in flashes but with a flakiness that they could never really eradicate. When Varcoe ran into goal with 35 seconds on the clock it wasn’t just he who was shooting at the big sticks it was the whole Geelong team.

He just missed.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Great Dips. Varcoe babied it. Did the cats panic? They rarely played 4 terms all year. 3rd is about spot on. Rapt for Freo; they’ve rekindled my interest in a disastrous season. Hawks have hunger and experience on their side.

  2. “When Varcoe ran into goal with 35 seconds on the clock it wasn’t just he who was shooting at the big sticks it was the whole Geelong team.”

    I love that line

  3. Stephen Cooke says

    The Cats finished third, that’s about right. Agreed, Dips. Next year will be interesting – more young players means we could drop a few rungs until the next generation gels. A bright future, but an interesting 2014 awaits.

    We would have won that game with Enright. Enright mopping up deep in attack versus Rivers kicking out on the full from a kick-in. Hmmmmm.

  4. I am looking forward to watching the game again. Is there an end-on of Travis’s shot?

  5. Beautiful lyrical writing, Dips. I remember your piece on the Stawell Gift as one of the first Almanac pieces I read 3 years ago. This is your best since. Both capture moments in time exquisitely, just like old Claude’s paintings. So many great lines – the world whirling like Queensland flood waters; Carl’s misstep and Claude’s misstroke. Lines that conveyed a feeling more than a meaning. The counterpoint of Kate and Varcoe is hypnotic.
    I hope the piece makes it into the book; even though it is not a game description; because it is a genius piece of writing.
    P.S. Is it time to hang up the lucky undies and have them framed behind glass – “Lucky Undies – 2007 to 2011”? Will Bruce be selling limited edition copies (with imitation Travis skidmarks) as memorabilia during the Ch7 GF telecast?

  6. Bugger the cats Kate could teach Varcoe a lesson in committing
    Great stuff Dips

  7. A beautiful read Dips. Seems like Sunday was a perfect antidote to Friday night. I hope Kate continues to grow into the world around her.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Brilliant stuff Dips. Such a fine line between a Grand Final and finishing 3rd. ‘Bald blokes pulling their hair out’-gold.

  9. Dips, Magic words – especially how Kate ‘overwhelms me’. Beautiful.

    Couldn’t have asked for more from the Cats on Friday night. They were playing on empty for the last 20 minutes and still nearly got there. Hawks were just a bit too good and deserve to be in the Grand Final. Mitchell and Burgoyne were brilliant. A great game between two great clubs.

    Can’t wait for Saturday. Freo are a real chance. Pity they won’t be in the purple regalia. A purple, brown and gold GF, perhaps with the umpies in lime – Monet would love it!

  10. I remember the sounds – the gasps when you realise he has time to have a shot, the sighs when he (inevitably) misses. A significant story of lost confidence. 2 years ago he played probably his best ever game in a Grand Final. His gut running was only matched by his skill & finesse. He still has the running but clearly is so devoid of confidence. He missed a much easier shot last week. Sad to see, let’s hope he has a big preseason and finds his mojo

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great Peice Dips you encapture your Feelings re Varcoe and with Kates Performance a Truly Beautiful Story well told
    I had the Pleasure of helping Rick Neagle former Nwd Prem Player with cleaning up The Dignity for Disabled Office it was a great reality check on what is really Important
    A Poigant Article you should be really Proud of Dips

  12. Great game of footy. Looking forward to the big one.

    Thanks for the comments. Love the input of the Knackery. Priceless.

  13. Beautiful read, Dips.

    I fear all this focus on Varcoe will distract Geelong from the godawfulness of Josh Hunt. And while we’re on Josh Hunt, while I appreciate the admiration of Carl Lewis’ form, he was a bit of a ‘Josh Hunt’ himself

  14. Great read Dips.

    I imagine Travvie was as shattered as Kate was elated.

    For some players, such an end would drive them to greater things. But I fear for Travvie; he seems so emotionally fragile. I hope I’m wrong.

    Your description of the universe standing still was so apt. At the ground, it seemed as if Trav had so much time. When watching the replay, it all happened so quick. And as you rightly said, the team was kicking that goal. His hurried attempt summed up the lack of composure the team showed in the final 8 minutes.

  15. ‘overwhelms me’ got me too.
    as a father.
    as an ex-social worker.
    as a human.
    bloody hell Dips.

  16. Ahh, that’s a beauty, Dips.
    Love your perspective & your observations.
    Varcoe’s shot as personifing the game, team, the year. Gripping. Katie’s performance, taking her place on the big stage.
    I am always excited to read a piece of yours. It all started for me with the Bloody Daicos piece. It’s been a wonderful year of reading your thoughts.

  17. Peter Fuller says

    Beautiful juxtaposition in your allusions to the two bookends of your weekend. I’d wager that you felt the same exhilaration at the concert on Sunday, as you did in those tense (understatement) moments at the climax on Friday night – not just reliving Trav’s moment, but also ecstatic as you experienced Kate’s tension and pride, when she dared to fail, and came through .
    Congrats to Kate, it must be thrilling to see her transformed in the swimming pool and on the dance stage. Your fellow almanackers are vicariously living her journey. Well done that man, Dips and his family.

  18. Hi Dips
    Thanks for another wonderful piece. It was great to hear more about Kate’s journey.
    And equally to have such a compassionate perspective on Travis Varcoe’s moment of overwhelm.
    Kerry Smith

  19. The difference!

  20. Really love reading the comments. Thanks all. Hope to see plenty of people at the GF eve function at the All Nations. Should be a beauty.

    And congratulations to G Ablett on another Brownlow. What a star.

  21. Pamela Sherpa says

    Beautiful piece Dips. Some timely life balance after the Cats loss. Cats fans shouldn’t torture themselves over Varcoe’s kick . How bad was Hawthorn’s kicking ? They should have been miles ahead before Varcoe had to think about his kick.

  22. Great piece Dips, especially about Kate’s dance concert. Long may she dance.

    And I think you are spot on in your observation that it wasn’t just Varcoe but Geelong taking that last shot at goal. At three quarter time I was shaking my head that it took a game against the Hawks for the Cats to put their goal kicking boots on again (considering their miserable returns of more points than goals in the 4 rounds leading up to this game). From a Hawker’s perspective, it’s good to see that the Cats to can be overwhelmed. But what a game.


  23. Peter Schumacher says

    This sort of writing really puts life into perspective, I mean even as a casual observer I thought that Varcoe’s miss provided the ultimate in sports frustration but how important is that when judged against Kate’s achievements.

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