3 clubs, 23 rounds, A slab of passion….

Kicking your can all over the place

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The young teenage girl in front of me spent the majority of the final quarter of last years Preliminary final with her head in her lap unable to witness the response of her beloved Hawks to a 20 point deficit. I shared that sinking hollow gut feeling as the realisation that the Geelong curse was alive and about to deny our destiny to atone for the 2012 Grand Final defeat.

Four missed chances that result in points threaten to sap the revival momentum. The Cats tire momentarily with 5 minutes to go in a flooded backline they cant penetrate causing turn over via desperate long kicks trying to escape. 3 straight goals from Gunston,  Burgoyne and Hill put the Hawk beak in front. At the death Cat Travis Varcoe gathers and straightens for a pot shot to regain the lead only to uncharacteristically miss. Such is the noise that the siren sounds to fan indifference as  Cyril pumps a massive handball to Franklin in the goal square for a goal that will not count. The Hawk relief is palpable. The Cat despair unimaginable. The famous 5 point victory breaks a 11-match straight Cat ascendency over Hawthorn that stretched back to the aftermath of the 2008 Hawks victory. A truly epic game.

AFLPBGE13 JOHNSON SteveAnd now today, here we are at it again. Both teams undefeated after 5 rounds, just like back in Round 17 2008. Seats behind the goals barely a lick of cream from the intellectual hothouse that is the Geelong cheer squad. Familiar curse protagonists are missing – Chapman, Hunt, Podliadsy and Franklin at new clubs. Guerra, Bailey, Corey retired. The people’s money is on the Hawks. A gusty northerly tries to enter the ground but is pushed to swirl at a distance, fighting the seagulls hovering at the top of the stands who seem spooked by the long ground traversing strands of wire that plant doubt on swoops for errant chips. Strange grey black clouds from the dawn of time punctuate the rich day glo gold of the late Autumn afternoon sun. The players make their way to position and refreshingly there’s no histrionic pre-game push and shove, no need to score early points – the game itself broken down into every contest to content is mind game aplenty.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.57.32 AMYoung Will Langford goes to Joel Selwood and keeps him quiet til three quarter time. Guthrie goes to Mitchell and breaks even in the last quarter.  Cat ruckman Hamish McIntosh is planted in the goals square on his own, isolating his Hawk opponent to the fast incoming ball and the attendant inevitable opportunist crumbs. We’ve got history with “Ham” through our Kangaroo Archer club memberships and when he marks 5 metres out from goal on the siren, we know that it could go anywhere. He doesn’t let us down, clipping the post with a kick whose drop to the boot could spark a thousand Physics papers. Later he bangs a helicopter home from 35 out that defies its path and somehow squeezes through as if assisted by the spirit world. By games end he’s getting cocky chipping 15 metre passes to team mates through heavy traffic. It’s his best game in years and amazingly we’re happy for him given his horrible run with injuries at both clubs.  Tom Hawkins is swung to full forward in the last quarter and wins the game with 3 marks then goals in a game breaking over powering of his smaller Hawk opponent Kyle Cheney. He goes through 3 guernseys during the game, finishing, in this trial of player surnames on the back round, in the number 34 of 10 game player Joshua Walker. Geelong rides the thin margins better than Hawthorn and finishes flying and lead passionately by Steven Johnson in his best game for the year.

Amongst the expected clashes come moments of mutual respect almost lyrical in their beauty. Gunston taps Selwood’s back playfully in consolation after a holding the ball decision. Simpkin offers his hand to Geelong’s Cameron Stokes to help him up after a contested passage neither of them wins but which has sprawled them into each other at force. These players, they have so much more maturity than we fans who rail at each perceived character inadequacy of our opponents. Playing with passion while keeping anger in check. Balancing pride and innate competitiveness with team rules and individuality accountability. While we mortals in the stand can’t compete with that,  the Match Review panel weekly report highlights the struggle players themselves have in the heat of those many moments.

As we leave part way the exhortations about where their banner is flying high, (an obvious reference to crime around Greater Geelong) a fracas breaks  before us between young men divided into seperate standing bays by team allegiance. Whilst for most involved its a panto performance of finger pointing and lame taunts, experience tells us there’s always a couple of blokes in these situations who arent wired for just joshin and bypass straight to the belting somebody action. Usually its the pacifist mate who consoles such a street fightin man after an errant yet ordained stray hit who cops the biggest hit from him or his opponents in these random, primitive brouhaha. Outside the ground, such a geezer in an old school woolen Hawthorn jumper and #2 buzz cut sports blood on his forehead. On the field he’d be jogging off under the blood rule, taking his time. Here the time is with the cops who stand  waiting for the divvy van. Further on, Hawk and Cat adversaries slump defeated in handcuffs on their knees. The Hawk street fighter’s girlfriend mediates the situation by haranguing the arresting cop in advocacy of her man’s innocence with “How the fuck am I meant to get home? There is no queue forming to the right of her, perhaps discouraged by her bourbon fuelled charm school application of the King’s English to anyone in earshot.

Geelong 15 16 106 defeated Hawthorn 12 15 87

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Hit me on the chest with your centimetre perfect pass