A Cats fan concedes it’s the changing of the guard
After months of uncertainty last week had about it a sense of clarity.
With all the incessant talk about the rise of Collingwood, Geelong was finally going to set this season right. The undisputed heavyweight champions were going to teach the Pies a lesson about finals footy.
We all knew Travis Cloke couldn’t kick. Didak hangs up his boots at the end of August. Not even Dane Swan could carry a team by himself in the heat of a Prelim. Stacked up against 14 All-Australians in a team which had reached the mountain top twice in the last three years, Collingwood had no hope.
The city of Geelong was full of festive confidence. The Geelong Addy had distributed car flags which fluttered up and down our major thoroughfares. The first painted cats appeared in shop windows in what has become a seasonal ritual as certain as the coming of spring’s first blossoms.
Life was good.
Having been invited by the Geelong hierarchy to attend the game with my guest, I thought it a good idea to invite my father-in-law Vince.
Vince is a diehard Collingwood fan who was desperate to see the game on any terms even if it meant the humiliation of facing defeat in the heart of the Cat pack.
For my part I thought it would provide amusement to my hosts to attend with an emotionally tense Collingwood fan who could play the role of piñata as the game descended into a one way contest.
Thus the night was set. Dinner was delightful. The company was full of bon ami. Vince was performing admirably in difficult circumstances.
The ball was bounced.
Cloke kicked the first goal from a set shot he was meant to miss. Didak was everywhere, Swan superb, the game a blur. Black and white players streaked up and down the ground. Collingwood’s score started ticking over like a petrol pump while Geelong’s was in a catatonic state.
Then a long Collingwood bomb from the centre landed in the forward pocket, took a freakish bounce to the right which only Murali could conjure, and rolled over the line for a goal. I received a text: “Even the ball is playing for Collingwood.”
As the Pies marched forward it was a night for the Collingwood Army to cheer with all their hearts. Two decades of pent up frustration filled the MCG. It was the loudest crowd I have ever heard. The voice of every Collingwood fan rang strong and true … except for one: Vince.
Sitting in a group with Brian Cook, Frank Costa and Gareth Andrews as they watched their boys be torn apart, cheering was simply not an option.
Poor Vince was bursting at the seams. As another Collingwood goal sailed through taking the margin beyond 50 points Vince clapped twice in a meek contribution to a roar which was waking the dead. His offence was met with a set of Julie Bishop stares.
So Vince began to cheer on the inside. With the control of a Buddhist monk Vince converted every goal, every roar of the crowd, into a sense of karmic contentment. By half-time, the serene look on Vince’s face confirmed that he was in nirvana.
To be sure, in the world of AFL cosmic forces were at work on Friday night. The truth was confronting.
For four years I have barracked for the best team in the comp. Games would be lost but an explanation could be found. Hawthorn may have robbed us in 2008 but the crime was manifest. (To this day the 2008 premiership cup is the only one which has an asterisk on it: *Premiers but not champions.) St Kilda mounted a challenge last year, yet in the heat of battle our mettle prevailed. But last Friday night I barracked for the champion team no more.
Geelong was simply beaten by a much better side.
While at the end of the game Vince may have been the only Pies fan with a voice in tact he caught that tram home in a transcendental state of enlightenment.
And so now Grand Final week in Geelong is overcast and gloomy. People want to talk about the footy, but then they can’t. The news reports of excited fans crowding around last minute training sessions are looked upon with envy. In the circle of life our time has gone.
The colour has drained out of the footy decorations which adorn the town and all that is left is black and white.
Yet, much as it pains me to say it, that is as it should be. Collingwood is now the champion team and any other result this Saturday would be a travesty.
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