So the 2014 AFL Grand Final will be between Sydney and Hawthorn. A repeat of themail 2012 edition, which was consideredo one for the ages”. That year, I ended up being gouged a fair few hundred dollars to fly down on Tiger, I was waiting till the last minute as the two footy seasons finals were being played out in parallel, due to a quirk of the calendar, I potentially was going to see the Swans and South Sydney both in Grand finals on the one weekend, but it just wasn’t to be for the Rabbitohs. The Swans however, sealed a famous win over the more highly fancied Hawks in a tense and gripping game. We got photos, hugs and stumbles with Tim Rogers and Dan Sultan on the way out, they were the drunken people alive, and we were the happiest, it was terrific! Got to sit in the great southern stand and sing along to Paul Kelly playing in the MCG post game concert, then watched the replay in a pub in old bloods territory, high five a thousand strangers and made it back to be lolling about on the grass at the SCG awaiting the returning heroes, most of whom had had a Timmy sized tilt on the drink themselves.
This year, I’ll be able to walk to the MCG, having recently moved to Melbourne, ‘the home of football ‘. This will be my diary of my first Grand Final week in Melbourne.
After a morning ride along the Maribyrnong, past the other Melbourne spring sporting shrine: Flemmington Racecourse, I wandered down to Etihad, for the TAC Cup and the VFL Grand Finals. I arrived just after half time in the TAC, the Oakleigh Chargers were running like their namesake car, fast and bustling, with a bit of muscle to throw around. It is an under 18s competition, so you get that dispirite size of kids from the almost fully formed men, such as the beefy centre half forward for the Chargers, Darcy Moore, who was taking grabs at will, to the fluff-chinned , brace-toothed, awkward little things just dripping with uncertainty. But there was skill in abundance, and potential all over the park. Most of it was wearing blue and red, Oakleigh were five goals up at three quarter time.
I moved to the other wing during the break, and found myself in amidst the parents and WAGs, well, the girls they are currently texting and right swiping anyway…of the Calder Cannons. It was great, there was the front row of shrill and excitable mums, the gruff dads lamenting frustratingly as players didn’t ‘kick it long! ‘ then the proud partners OMG ingredients behind. They gave it a fair cracked, and got within 16 points at one stage, but had to roll the dice a few too many times, and conceded a rush of goals at the end from valiant turnovers, and it was the Chargers who won it, and did a lap of honour and all.
The ground filled for the main game. Twenty three thousand the crowd ended up, skewed 70/30 to those following Footscray. The team back in the VFL as a stand alone team was great for the grass roots local footy fan, so they were sentimental favourites, particularly over a Box Hill side who were benefiting from being able to put a few of the Hawks stars through their Gf fitness test today, most notably Cyril Rioli trying to return from a hammy injury.
The game was as close and tense as any I’d seen, goals were hard earned as you’d expect, but when they did come they were from great acts of dash and daring. The Dogs could move the ball like lighting, but missed a few from gettable spots. The Box Hill boys were clumping some great contested grabs, and it was 4.2 apiece at quarter time. Brett Goods and absolute cult hero Jin Yong were carving thrust the midfield for the puppies, while the unlikely named range James Sicily was proving a handful up the Hawks end. Was one point the difference at half time, nothing in it. Cyril started to lurk more dangerously in the third. After barely touching it in the first half, he popped up for some vital touches and tackles, but more importantly, a presence on the ground that seemed to sap the gallant quick up the guts style the dogs were committed to. Under Pressure was played at three quarter time by the ground announcer with a sense of both occasion and humour. There was a goal in it. The Hawks got out of the box and got the gap out to three goals, one a four bouncer running goal down the length of the eastern wing. The crowd bayed for free kicks, the players lifted. Tackles, smothers, risky kicks, huge pack marks, taps went down the throats of rushing rovers, the dogs got two goals in the space of twenty seconds. Every contest carried ever more weight. Every possession carrying the cusp of glory! Footscray forged ahead, scrapped another goal the buffer of a behind then dug in. All or nothing time for the Hawks but they couldn’t stick a grab, as the dogs flung themselves like super heroes as the ball scrambled up and down the park. The pressure broke and two more goals ended the contest, it was much closer than the 22 points suggest, but it was historic and meant the world to the sons of the west. I ran on the field with the rest of the delirious thousands and stood under the fountain of red white and blue confetti, happy to have witnessed history.