Sep 27, 2021
The Monday Knee Jerk Reaction: Grand Final 2021
On a Monday, you want irrational reaction. You want emotion to trump reason.
What you really want is idiotic hysteria.
You’ve come to the right place.
Melbourne (140) v Western Bulldogs (66)
As I write this, I’m mindful of how quickly Richmond fans went from having all the goodwill in the world to being insufferable.
I’m here to assure you that won’t happen with Melbourne fans. We’ll keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.
Why, to prove how grounded we remain, I had a beautiful moment about half an hour after the game where I let the staff come up from the basement and have a drink with me.
The day started early, I couldn’t sleep, the nerves had got me, and luckily, there were only a billion hours until the game started.
I know a few people like the night or twilight timeslot because they think the most exciting thing about a footy game are fireworks and a light display. I do not.
The AFL like it because they like money and the ratings were so high for this one, mainly because most of the Eastern seaboard’s population are currently locked in their house.
Higher ratings mean more money, so therefore the AFL would like everyone to be locked in their houses on Grand Final day. You heard it here first.
Personally, my favourite bit about a Grand Final is the football, but I know that marks me as odd and old fashioned.
The day crept by so slowly that it made The Irishman seem like a fast-paced jaunt.
My stress levels weren’t helped by deciding to watch the Melbourne Storm, only to see the favourites choke so hard my throat hurt watching it.
I thought the Storm game would be a distraction, instead, it was a reminder that bad things happen in big games, and I started shaking and couldn’t feel my arm.
Luckily there were about ten hours of pre-game lead-in on Fox Footy and who wouldn’t want that?
By the time the pre-game entertainment started I was a mess, I felt all 57 years of pain and suffering weighing on my body. I had all the symptoms of covid, plus Ebola, avian flu, swine flu and gout, and I knew I only had gout.
The pre-game entertainment was a welcome distraction, I was keen to see how the first Grand Final held outside of Australia would go, and overall, it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. In fact, it was rather excellent.
All thought of the game was quickly put aside the moment I saw Baker Boy’s tracksuit. An assault on the eyes but strangely hypnotic. And yes, I would purchase one in a heartbeat if it came with a vest and hat.
We then had a host of WA artists perform Great Southern Land, Colin Hay kicked off Land Down Under and Eskimo Joe continue their decades-long attempt to understand just what are the point of fingers?
Overall, it was competent stuff that worked a lot better than it should have and was easily the best gig of 2006.
The only jarring moment was seeing Mike Brady wander around the Melbourne CBD singing Up There Cazaly without being caught up in a riot or being tear-gassed by police. I also noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask and he should be cancelled immediately.
Then we had Amy Manford belt out the national anthem and she was amazing, and I was suddenly ready.
As the teams ran out it suddenly dawned on me this was happening.
As a Dees supporter, the first quarter was everything I wanted, the Dees had shown up.
Jack Viney flattened Jack Macrae almost immediately, and Mitch Hannan was on the end of a bump from the hamstrung Steven May.
I couldn’t sit down. I was pacing the lounge room, like an overweight prizefighter.
A 21-point lead at quarter-time had me suddenly daring to believe that the curse of Norm Smith, my life’s greatest nemesis, (if you don’t count my own self-sabotaging behaviour) could be over.
Then the second quarter began, and suddenly the entire complexion of the game changed.
Adam Treloar went into the middle, and Marcus Bontempelli started to get going.
Bontempelli has always terrified me, and suddenly all my nightmares were coming true.
The Bulldogs had arrived, surging the ball forward relentlessly.
And the goals came. Adam Treloar had two goals in the first three minutes. Melbourne were being destroyed by Collingwood and they weren’t even in the game.
Treloar then set up Aaron Naughton and I went from pacing to sitting down on the couch and didn’t bother using a glass anymore, I just drank the Grange straight from the bottle.
When Gawn kicked what was a goal (it was I tell you, I’ve studied it more than people have studied the Zapruder Film), only for it to be called a behind, I became convinced that the curse had once again put its fingers around my heart and started squeezing.
Halftime came as a welcome relief, things were not going well for the Dees, and the Bulldogs looked fantastic.
The Bont had grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck, the Dees early momentum had stalled and now I had a Birds of Tokyo performance to get through.
It was not a good time to be locked in my house alone. This wasn’t because people were obeying Covid restrictions, it was because I have no friends.
The third quarter got going, and not a lot had changed. If anything, the Bulldogs seemed to be getting better.
Collingwood’s Treloar kept getting better, Bont was killing the Dees, and then Jason Johannisen booted a goal following a hanger in the goal square.
The Bulldogs weren’t only winning, they were putting together a highlights package so good it made a Michael Bay film appear understated.
By this stage I wasn’t sitting on the couch, I was lying in the foetal position on the floor.
Then, with 11 minutes 17 seconds left in the third quarter, Bontempelli booted a goal while an AFL official tried to put the Norm Smith Medal around his neck.
I was pretty sure at this point it was all over.
It may surprise you, but I’ve watched the replay about twenty times already, and there is no sign at all of what was about to come.
Melbourne had not been slowly getting back into the game. There was no stemming the bleeding, an increase in work rate or winning stoppages.
None of the usual warning signs of an imminent turnaround.
With just under ten minutes left in the quarter, Caleb Daniel slung Max Gawn over the boundary line, in an obvious attempt to murder him, but even this didn’t seem like a moment the Dees decided enough was enough.
What did happen though, was from this point, Luke Jackson got a run in the ruck, and it was to prove telling.
With just over nine minutes left, James Harmes burst out of a stoppage and hit Bayley Fritsch on the lead. The following goal at least proved Melbourne was still alive.
To think we got him for the pick we got in exchange for Jack Watts. It’s like trading in your 1987 Corolla and getting a Ferrari in return.
Then from the next stoppage, the ball went forward, and Fritsch leapt didn’t mark but landed on his feet, gathered, and snapped another.
The man is a double threat, immaculate hair and goalkicking, a dangerous combination.
The very next stoppage Petracca burst forward and hit the man that North Melbourne rejected, Ben Brown who kicked true.
Suddenly there was one point in it, and I was up off the couch, like a man reborn.
The Dees were back in it, and I was more excited than a man who discovered a tub of quince paste in the back of the fridge.
Just minutes earlier I was living a nightmare, now suddenly, all my dreams were coming true. We may not win, I thought, but we were in it.
Even Steven May, who due to his dodgy hamstring was as lame as your parents trying to rap, was taking marks.
Then Brayshaw dived for a mark, and went back for the kick, with BT complaining he wasn’t preparing properly for the shot at goal, so of course, he drilled it and the Dees had four in a row.
The third quarter was rapidly approaching the end but at least the Dees had the lead, and the fourth quarter looked like it would begin with both teams pretty much on even terms.
Then the last minute of the third happened, surely the most astounding minute of football in a Grand Final ever.
Ben Brown kicked the ball forward, only for the ball to hit the ground, falling to Christian Petracca on the boundary, who off a step put the ball on the outside of his foot and dribbled it straight through the middle.
I’ve stood and looked at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, viewed the Mona Lisa and seen Bruce Springsteen live numerous times, and I can tell you, Petracca’s goal was art on this level.
To sum everything up in a tenth of a second and then to execute what was an audacious attempt and make it look easy, I mean, you’re watching a genius.
The next stoppage saw Jackson get the ball to Viney, who extracted it to Petracca, who handballed to Oliver, it was like a greatest hits album, all killer no filler, with the ball ending up in Tom Sparrow’s hands, who launched for goal, and there was Tom McDonald, pushing Zaine Cordy through the goals and over, to allow the ball to go through untouched.
It had been thirty seconds of complete mayhem, and it wasn’t over.
Once again, the Dees sprung forward from a centre bounce, Luke Jackson showing that he’s a midfielder and a ruckman, gathering the ball cleanly and hitting a full-tilt Clayton Oliver on the run with a looping handball, who streamed into the forward fifty and drilled the goal.
In one minute, it had gone from entering the fourth quarter on relatively even terms to the Dees having a comfortable lead.
Every footy fan had the same question on their mind, what the hell just happened?
The only thing I can say is a few times this year when the Demons hit their top gear, they go to a level no other team can get near. It becomes irrelevant who is out there against them.
They did it in both finals, against Geelong in that Round 23 second half, against the Lions earlier in the year.
But this was something else.
Bontempelli’s goal, rather than being the goal that broke the Dees, became the Bulldogs last shot in anger. The Doggies were cooked at this point, and we just didn’t know it.
Like Melbourne’s earthquake last week, which signalled something was up, decades of pressure building up below the surface were finally released in the most dramatic fashion.
I couldn’t believe it and I can barely believe it now.
The fourth quarter became a procession of Melbourne goals, where like every Melbourne fans second favourite thing, compound interest, the returns just got bigger and bigger.
Fritsch ended up with six and Ben Brown delivered everything Melbourne could have asked of him.
The pure joy I felt as the minutes ticked down, and after Alex Neal-Bullen kicked truly I relaxed and knew we had it, is hard to describe.
The thing is, and I know so many Dees fans felt the same, this was something we genuinely believed would never happen.
It hadn’t just been a few years between drinks, it had been 57 years. Why Queen Elizabeth II was the Australian Head of State last time Melbourne won a premiership!
That’s meant fifty-seven years of going to games when you knew more often than not that not only would you not taste victory, you were going to get belted.
So many of us over those years weren’t at the snow. We were at the bloody MCG, in the cold, in those old red seats of the Olympic Stand, watching our club be embarrassed on a weekly basis and paying for the privilege.
We sat through the merger debate, where those of us who voted no, had to watch the yes vote get up.
People would say Melbourne fans didn’t have any passion, but when you consider what we went through, it was amazing there are any Melbourne fans at all.
And it never stopped hurting. No amount of tragedy inured you to the pain in the soul, no callouses built up to protect you.
All that existed was a feeling that there was no escape. We were in hell and hell is forever.
Yet in the space of an hour, 57-years of garbage had been flipped on its head.
The thing that was never going to happen, was happening before our eyes.
It’s why all fans stick loyally to their footy team, and why those that don’t will never understand it.
When the siren went, I thought of the generations that went before, those that worked and fought to keep this club going, to stop it falling away, of being merged, or moved.
From the high-profile cases, Nathan Jones, Jim Stynes, Robbie Flower, to the many we never hear about.
There’s no one person behind this. There are decades of thousands of people pouring in their time, money, mental health.
From the fans who purchased memberships every year when it was a lost cause, to those that fought to stop the club merging, to the ex-players who sacrificed their bodies, to the guy that played the trumpet in the stand.
Thousands of acts of devotion.
There’s no doubt Petracca was the Norm Smith medallist, but like it’s been all season, this is a team that puts the whole above the individual. The penny dropped about that this year, which is fitting as we were still using those last time Melbourne won a premiership.
Take Max Gawn, who when Luke Jackson was up and about, was happy to drop out of the ruck to capitalise on his hot hand. There was no trying to be the hero, as Max had done that the week before.
What worked for the team was what was important. What an act of true leadership.
Add to that Oliver did more on Bontempelli in the second half, probably limiting his own possession count for the good of the team.
With the Premiership finally secured, I was as emotional as my rather outdated view of manhood allows me to be.
I certainly felt for Bulldogs supporters, I’ve been on the end of these and it’s the worst, there’s nothing I can say to make that any better.
I’m just glad they have had the experience I’m having now.
To watch the players celebrate just meant so much to me, and despite Simon Goodwin not being allowed to speak, to be fair, Basil Zempilas did allow us to lift the cup and I’m thankful he let us play a small supporting role in The Basil Zemplis Show.
And now, it’s so nice to be able to watch a Grand Final replay without having to get the projector out of the garage and it’s in colour. I mean it’s been so long we’ve gone from black and white to ultra-HD in between premierships.
I never thought I’d say this, but it was even better than an AFLX premiership!
In the end, it’s the hope that kills you, but it’s also the hope that sees you reborn anew.
Footy is tragedy and footy is glorious, I write this as someone that’s been through it all.
I loved footy before Saturday and I love it now, and I will forever.
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