It’s a long way to the top…of Etihad Stadium when you’re on the general admission gravy train. Last on the fan revenue food chain, no one in authority there really knows where you can sit except a vague generic insight consummated with a finger pointed upwards.
We work it out ourselves when we find an aisle unpopulated by staff there to check our tickets. Outside its blowing a gale but up here its calm and warm. Families gather around us. Big groups of lads head to the top row with their smuggled Wild Turkey and coke cans. Couples barrack under blankets while the odd elder loner fan is scattered among us. Old school. To our left, 4 Western Bulldog supporters in their tri-colour guernseys presumably here for a footy fix to inoculate themselves against a coming belting at Geelong that coming their way two days later. While the height takes away some of the immediacy, the opportunity to read the game from above reveals gaps in the Hawks game that tonight they can’t overcome.
So which North Melbourne will show up tonight – the tough gritty world beaters who’ve smashed top 4 mobs Sydney, Port Adelaide and Fremantle? – or the take the gas ensemble who’ve succumbed to beneath them Essendon, Adelaide and last week cellar dweller Brisbane?
5 intertwined events charged with symbolism pre-game build momentum within my growing sense of unease about the Hawks chances:
- Hawk legend Dermott Brereton’s boots into North article appears in the Herald Sun. Questions Drew Petrie’s relevance, chips Boomer again for selfishness, proposes Nicky Del Santo is a tad lazy around the contested ball. Over breakfast I confront the chance that we’re toast.
- I am a member/life long fan of Hawthorn as well as North Melbourne where my blue n white daughter Fagyn and I have seats in Aisle 17 in the midst of the Troo Roos. We decide on neutrality and General Admission Level 3 our compromise. I still can’t work out why people have to pay for these same seats further round the oval.
- The 4 dried apricots I have after lunch become a duodenal depth charge as the game progresses therefore I must withdraw for presenting for my traditional pre-game Souvlaki. The apricot are revisited for much of the post game night ensuring Saturday is a lost cause to cot, bowl and kip.
- Fireworks over Docklands herald my arrival like a descent in a warzone
- My uncharcteristic rant that proved totally off the mark:
While I take refuge in one of Dermies stats benchmarking North as 16th in the competition for marks inside 50, the Hawks seem up against in from the start. During the pre match warm up outside runner Bradley Hills knee feels “soreness” and becomes a late scratching. Brad Sewell, in and under grunter is subbed as his hamstring unravels just 5 minutes in.
After last weeks shameful loss to Brisbane, The Roos have come into this game determined to fill the gaps manning up continuously to frustrate the Hawks kick to precision game. Normally persistent runs from half back become frustrated as the Roos force contested turnovers across the centre line or “midfield” as the commentators now call it. Jack Gunston is the Hawk’s only standout forward with 6 goals, but its the third quarter that knocks the game North’s way as they go about slamming on seven goal to four goals to take a 35 point lead at three quarter time, several from undisciplined panic free kicks and one sublime hanger from Drew Petrie on the goal line.
The game had been up for grabs in the p until Brian Lake’s double brain fade in the third quarter. Outrun by Petrie for an opportunity just outside 50, Lake ensures an outside possibility becomes a dead set certainty when he punches the marked ball out of his hands earning a definite goal 50 metre penalty. As Roo three gamer Ben Brown goals from the square, the pair wrestle on the ground with Lake going the throat. In a rarity for AFL, the word “trachea” is introduced by TV/Radio Doctor Peter Larkins fearful the compression was going to asphyxiate Drew. Hawks Lewis and Clarkson step outside the team cohesiveness to bake his behaviour as “unacceptable”, “undisciplined”, “not what we stand for” “unapricot like” pre-match. We also get the “let his club down”, “let his mates down”, “let his family”, “let the diggers down”, “let his country down” mantra so keenly invoked by accusers and accused in the wake of disappointing acts or behavior. Clarkson, returning after health issues, undoes stand in coach Brendan Bolton’s 5 game straight winning streak with this 20 point loss that puts the top position under pressure. “Bring back Bolton” one heckler offers on his way off the ground.
The wrestle took a bit of light off the good work of Ben Brown, the latest in a number of forwards for the blue and white tried and rejected (Majak Daws), injured (Robbie Tarrant) or off the boil (Aaron Black, Drew Petrie) this season. “Brownie” has that look of a gangly bloke in Year 12, short-sleeved white shirt out, popping home a carton of big M and a couple of Jiffy donuts at recess and at the ready for half a dee if you just give him a call. Takes a couple of big grabs and kicks crucial goals. Hope he hangs in, as he’s got cult figure written all over him, a status attained by Hawk Matt Spangher who struggles to body the big forwards Black and Petrie despite his obvious heart.
Post game, every Roo’s player Dermie bagged has played beyond themselves. We get trapped in a tiny stairwell that an impeccably dressed attendant informs us is the best exit option “at this time”, and the apricots kick in seriously in the ute on the trip back to Ballarat in an in-gut reminder of those loud, rumbling, surprising pre-game fireworks over Docklands.