Before I begin, kudos to Jobe Watson on winning the Brownlow Medal. What he has had to go through to mould himself into one of the best players in the game deserves significant accolades.
The pressure of being the son of Essendon legend Timmy Watson, who is revered by all of us at Bomberland, is nothing to scoff at. He started too soon, was out of his depth and lacked the prerequisite work ethic to make it. Well, the dedication came, and his extraction abilities in packs and his disposal by hand were exquisite.
Problem was, he couldn’t kick.
Taking that weakness and making it into a strength – look at his goal kicking this year – and taking on the captaincy are no small feats.
Those my age or younger will only remember Gavin Wanganeen and Hirdy as our previous winners. None of us will begrudge welcoming Watson into the fold alongside those celebrated Bomber players.
In a nice touch, I was born in 1976 – the last time we had a Brownlow medallist before then – Graham Moss. My son now shares the same story…
I came pretty close to missing two Grand Finals in a row. Last year, I was overseas and in the middle of the year without sport.
I was never going to ‘sneak a peek’ at the big game and took some solace in partying in Lisbon, Portugal. Fortunately for me, last year’s final ended up being a rubbish game and a really unlikeable team won… What? Oh that’s right, it was a freaking epic and the hated Pies lost to the most popular team of the last decade. My bad.
This year, though, I was primed to take in the second half of the season and the Finals campaign. My Bombers were up and about when May 24 came around (unlike my Lakers, who were knocked out of the playoffs two days before the end of the YWS) and there were signs that the top teams weren’t unbeatable. I was watching only one game per round and keeping things in moderation…
And then the wheels came off.
Firstly, the Dons hardly won another game of note and then, to add salt to the wounds, the top 6 teams ended up being Hawthorn, Adelaide, Sydney, Collingwood, West Coast and Fremantle… On the ‘Who cares??’ continuum, I don’t think I could pick 6 worse teams to have to watch.
Not to mind, however. I hadn’t held out hope that my September would be made on the back of football. There were other things to help keep my house in order.
So I cut a deal with a mate that if the Grand Final ended up being something like Sydney and Adelaide, we’d opt out. Arrange a hike. Take the kids to the zoo. Put on a previous classic like 1984, 85, 93 or 2000 instead. 🙂
But this didn’t mean that I didn’t watch an early final or two!
And of course, I wouldn’t say that I was sucked in to the hype and excitement of the AFL Finals, but there are always compelling reasons and stories to get behind someone or some team.
Okay, maybe I was sucked in…
You know you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel when you’re hoping for Fremantle to hold out against Adelaide because you really admire Pavlich and you wouldn’t mind seeing Barlow do well, and those South Australians could do with some humbling, but really, are the WA fans much better?? Alright Pete, take a breath, it’ll be okay…
There’s something inherent in a bipartisan sports fan about going for the underdog. In the first Preliminary Final, it was easy. Go for Sydney over Collingwood. No problems there; I mean, it’s Collingwood. And also, were the Swans really the underdogs?
The second final wasn’t so easy. Adelaide? Really?! I get that it’s Hawthorn, but the Crows? I’m not sure I can do it…
But when the game starts, it’s much easier. Initially, you merely hope that the underdog plays well so that you actually have a contest. And then some of the stars start to shine – I’m looking at you Kurt Tippett and Patrick Dangerfield – and without the feral South Australian home crowd to rile things up, your genuine hope for an upset takes over.
Be careful what you wish for
Would I really have been happy if the Crows had held onto their lead with five minutes to go, giving me a Sydney vs Adelaide Grand Final?
Would I really have gone hiking or to the zoo or watched something else?
That’s the beauty of AFL Grand Finals. It’s the culmination of such a big season with so many subplots and side-‘stories’. So when the last Saturday in September arrives and there’s a game to be played in the middle of the MCG, with 100,000 or so screaming fans, you can’t help but want to see it unfold.
We all have our favourite memories of Grand Final day. What are yours? There’s the obvious Essendon victories, 3 of the last 4 of which I was present for.
But I also loved the ’07 game, where Geelong flogged Port Adelaide; I have no problem with the best team for the year standing up when it counts and dominating.
There was the 2003 game, where the less fancied Brisbane Lions absolutely gave it to Collingwood. Nothing warms the soul like a Pies defeat. And 5 goals from Jason Akermanis, who was a bona fide star before becoming ‘Aker’, the media tool…
And of course, last year’s game, where an even-money contest played out aptly, Geelong goaling with seconds and taking an early lead, the Pies playing themselves back into the game and getting in front, and the subsequent ‘Col-ling-wooooooddddddddd’ chant.
But then we had the Geelong comeback, led by its on-ball stars and punctuated by captain Cameron Ling’s goal to seal a memorable victory. I watched none of this as it happened, only on DVD many months later, so the impact of the game’s dramatic moments were softened.
But not this Saturday.
While it may be just one game, it’s also part of the Australian fabric. Sure there’s too many that place far too much emphasis on its outcome, either emotionally or financially. But I’ve realised from 12 months away from sport that these are the days to celebrate.
Just like Christmas Day isn’t the day to start a diet (nor is Boxing Day – gotta munch a pie and chips if you’re at the cricket!), Grand Final week and the game itself isn’t the time or the place to harp on about the perils of our obsession with footy.
Eat a hot dog, go to a bbq, read up on the match-ups, have a few drinks, pick a first goal kicker, scoff down a pie or two, be around friends and enjoy yourself as you watch a world-class sporting contest played out by some of the fittest, strongest and most skilful players on the planet .. well, except for Ryan Schoenmakers…
I can’t wait!