You Know

You Know.


Every time I, or a team I coach, make it into finals, about now, when the time is right and the steel has to come out, I tell this story to the squad. Because it was true. Because it hurt.


It was my first year at the club. We had only lost one game, and entered the Granny raging favourites. I was CHB. My opponent was an ex-VFL player, still in fine form. The league was of good standard, the entire coast came inland for the game. For some dumb reason we changed everything at selection, while they did their homework and got the jump.

   I had done well. Was one of our best. Had totally shut my man down, while rebounding when I could. Deep in the last they got a point. Concussed in the second, I was exhausted to the bone. Nobody, I knew, would notice if I did not lead for the kick-out. I wanted to save the very last of my energy for staying on my man.

   Nobody lead, except my mate, Strawb. This caused the full-back to miss-kick, which rebounded to the feet of my man. I was caught out of position and he kicked the winning goal.


   It’s piss easy to fool a crowd. Take three solid overheads, spin in a pack. You’ll get votes. It’s not hard to fool your coach. Puff, pant, talk a lot. Lay a good hit. You can even fool your teammates.

   But you know.

   If you’re honest, if you have what makes any good footballer or man, character, pride, you know.


   I knew.


   If I had lead, maybe I would have been a better option. Maybe I would have made space for someone else. Drawn my man. The full-back would have had more time.  


   I got votes. A trophy for my game, lots of ‘How unlucky was that miss-kick!’, but I knew.


   And still know.


   I had never won a flag. A lifetime dream, twenty-plus years of trying, of mud and blood and pain, pissed into the wind! Not because we lost, because I didn’t give the lot.

   My one chance! For me, my teammates, my community, everybody I knew, shot to fucking hell because I had only almost, given almost all I had!

   Because, in that moment, when legs are led and everything’s pain, I wasn’t quite brave enough, or tough enough!

   Don’t have regrets! Do! Not! A Premiership is like a tattoo for your heart! A scar. It stays with you, become you, always! Always! This Saturday, by Christ, earn it! Earn it!

   Have that fire. No matter the pain, be honest. Push past pain. Be men!

   Do! Not! Stop!


   And the win, loss, or draw, will take care of itself.


Sixteen years after that day, I moved Up North, then to the Tassie mountains. After a year of good footy in the Twos, in a young side that needed experience and had  a few out, I go the call up, and at 43 won my first senior flag. By a goal.

Damn, it felt good!!


  1. I love reading your articles, even though often, your world view appears different to mine.

    In this one you touch on what I would think is an existential question, what does winning mean, ultimately and is it everything?

    For me, I’m not so sure. I can barely remember the Under 18’s premiership side I played in, even though I do remember the keg one father brought us for winning (which might be why I can’t remember much more).

    I love footy, whatever. On SEN this morning a caller said he would be glad to see Lyons leave the Saints. The host countered the caller by saying that Lyons had delivered his team to three Grand Finals and that means a hell of a lot. The caller was adamant. He hated the style of footy Lyons had introduced to the club. He preferred the aesthetics of the game to winning.

    A few years ago now Matthews allowed Bradshaw to make up his own mind to be at his wife side while she was delivering their baby or to play in a Finals game for Brisbane. Bradshaw chose to be at his wife’s side. At the time Matthews and Bradshaw were generally ridiculed by the Footy media. Matthews had no qualms. He said if he had forced Bradshaw to play then he probably would have a distracted and disgruntled player on his hands. I love that Bradshaw chose family over winning.

    I think you have been too hard on yourself all these years. You made a judgement call based on your best instincts. At the moment you chose to or not to lead you can’t possibly know what would happen next. I reckon you gave it all. And from the many articles of yours that I have read, I don’t think you would be described as a quitter or lacking in character.


  2. Matt Zurbo says

    Peter B. Hm, don’t know where your reply went, but thank you, mate. You always add food for thought.Yeah, the nature of team sport is some people fall into flags, and others try their guts out and never get the chance. You are spot on. In the bigger picture, such is life.

    Rick, thanks for the totally ripper comments. I totally, totally agree on Bradshaw. And respect Matthews for doing what any grown man or woman should. We are humans first.

    I also agree that winning is not everything. FOR ME, haha, playing footy is about social aspects, community, and, very much about character. It is a test,. I think I said in the piece that it was not that we lost, but that I had not given my all. To love a game so much and have never experienced a flag left a big hole in my experience of the game, and, to a degree, in me.. To have not won one would have meant life went on. I would love the game no less. But to get one, finally, was huge!. I wanted it bloody bad! Thanks again, mate. Stoked you like the stuff!

  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Rick, also, the Lyon one is a tricky wicket, that I think comes down to each individual’s own view of the game. As someone who played many years as a defender, my version of asthetics might vary from the caller’s. There were not many goals in the last Coll v St.K game, and I thought it was one of the most brilliant, exciting exhibition of the sport I have seen. Their skills and amazing pressure and decisions and vision while under pressure, and the intricacies of the coaching, all took my breath away. The defending and defenders, were superb.

    Ideally, we could have our cake and eat it, too.

    I also remember years ago, when Ablett Snr had been out of form, and came back against the Bears, kicking, from memory, over ten. All he did was lead and chest mark, like Dunstal. The commentators all praised his new-found maturity as if they were school teachers. Then, Brownless came on in the last and jumped and flew and dropped speckies and span and fell over and kicked four points and I loved him for it!

    The object of the game, is winning. The priority of pretty football goes against the game’s core primal goals, I think. But what is the point of winning, if you can’t have a little fun?

    A great, tricky topic, indeed.

  4. Matt Webber says

    Never mention the draw. Never. Ever.

    Seriously though, Matt, a riveting little read, and one that reminded me only too well of my last full season of competitive cricket. Uni 3rds had made the semi’s and we batted first against St George. It was a flat, easy track. We were three down for not enough when I attempted the most ridiculously ambitious sweep shot only to be clean bowled by a full toss. Wasn’t watching, wasn’t thinking, didn’t care enough. We folded. All out for 80 odd. St George flogged us and went on to beat Randwick (from memory) in the granny, a team we’d smacked earlier on.

    Still irks me that I didn’t man up up and make it my responsibility to stick around and build a score.

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