The Geelong Football Club. Those words alone make many Dogs fans queasy. It’s true the Cats have won 29 of the past 42 matches against us, dating back to 1988, but that lop-sided statistic doesn’t do justice to the torture we’ve suffered at their hands.
Geelong, historically, can only consider themselves perhaps slightly bigger than the Dogs in most measurable aspects – crowd sizes, membership, newspaper inches. I’ve never felt like they naturally deserve to win more games and Premierships than we do.
However, in the years spanning those 42 matches they’ve played in eight Grand Finals (compared to our none) for three Premierships. In that period we’ve been unlucky enough to meet them in MCG finals on six occasions – for six defeats. Fortunately, I’m too young to remember Billy Brownless’ infamous winning goal against us in 1994 or Gary Ablett and co racking up 48 goals (48!) against our hapless backline over two finals matches in 1992.
I can vaguely remember 1995 when we finished the home and away season 7th and Geelong 2nd. Brownless again destroyed the Dogs as Geelong – even without Gary Ablett – won by 82 points, only two weeks after we memorably won down at ‘the Cattery’. ‘The Win of a Decade!’, as our 1995 year book put it.
Fast forward to 2008, our first Preliminary Final for a decade. We went to the MCG hoping for a minor miracle. After Footscray started the match brightly I turned to Murph and said we should “give it large while we can!” That Geelong would take control of the match and make yet another Grand Final was as predictable as night following day. When it comes to the crunch, Geelong would be too good for us; we’d seen it all before.
In 2009 we had the best chance I can remember to win a flag. The Dogs were a seriously talented team at their collective peak, loaded fully with match-winners and a proven coach. The stands at the ‘G were packed with our tri-coloured hordes for the first final against Geelong and I felt that secretly, deep down, our supporters were quietly confident. In the last three rounds of the season we’d knocked off three finalists – Brisbane away, Geelong themselves and a strong Collingwood.
What happened next was a disaster. A limp performance against a Geelong team who were too strong, too skilful, too fast and had too much belief. The final margin of 14 points flattered us, as for most of the day we were well off the pace.
But wait, there’s more. Geelong hasn’t only beaten us in September. In 2007 they were on a long winning run and the Dogs were the proverbial Joker in the finals pack. We had the chance on a Friday night to come out against them and make a statement. We lost by 75 points.
Before Round 16, 2008, the Dogs – after finishing 13th the previous year – had amazingly only been defeated once, and that was to North Melbourne when Brad Johnson missed a shot after the siren. Geelong had only been defeated once also. Our fixture at Kardinia Park was a 1-v-2 blockbuster, an important day for the club: were we really contenders? Did we really have a right to belong in this nose-bleed ladder territory? The hype was massive; tickets were changing hands on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars. Geelong beat us by 61 points, though, and our campaign never fully recovered.
More recently, in Round 20, 2010 we came into the game 4th and them 2nd. Again, a chance to make a statement; a chance to put a marker down just prior to September. Geelong beat us by 101 points. Notice a pattern? We only won two more matches in that year and limped out of the finals.
This cat-alogue of losses has been mentally scarring. I feel like Geelong have always, and will always, beat us and that’s just their rightful place, or the natural football order, or something similarly illogical. I never expect to beat them. If they were last on the ladder and us first I still wouldn’t have hope. I feel like Cats are destined to lord it over Dogs, forever.
And yet, in spite of this gloom and defeatism, I came to the footy tonight viewing it as an escape. An escape, firstly, from the bitter Melbourne wet and cold. I first got drenched on my way to a morning coffee in Footscray. My feet then got soaked going to and from a physio appointment at Western Hospital. I got drenched again buying a pair of dry socks on the way to work – the best $2.95 I’ve ever spent. I saw the purchase as insurance against pneumonia.
I looked at my weather app on the way to the ground and saw the temperature was 10.4 but “Feels Like” 1.1. I didn’t dispute the feeling. How do they (whoever “they” are) come to that “feels like” figure, Waffs and I wondered. Does someone get sent out of the weather bureau naked and come back with an uninformed temperature guestimate? Do citizens text in what the air feels like and BOM just publishes the median figure?
Anyway, going to a footy match under a roof with 29,000 others is, at least, a way of escaping weather which “feels like” 1.1.
I wasn’t just escaping from the weather though. Hand fully healed, I’d just finished my first full week of work since February. Finally having money again was great but the work itself was awful. I’d been told – admittedly by some slightly loopy mates – that I must work in a call centre once in my life, just to experience the characters and general bullshit that I’d find in one. So I did.
I came to the Geelong match fresh from 38 hours on the phones trying to convince Victorians to change electricity retailer. Energy is a boring subject and – unsurprisingly – consumers were usually not impressed by the cold calling. The pitch was repetitive. All day I told people that they can save for paying on time; that nothing physical would change about their energy supply; that we were a Victorian operated company. Yet time and again the people I spoke to on this mammoth database brushed me aside – some with more hostility than others.
Some of those I spoke to were old, some didn’t speak English as a first language, some were disabled, and some were all of the above. Occasionally I’d ask to speak to someone who was actually dead. The calls were painful and the sales culture surrounding me wasn’t much fun either.
I would constantly be asked “how many I was on?” How many sales, that is. In the tea room, in the dunnies, during lunch. How many are you on, Simon? How many have you got for the week?
I felt like my worth as a person was being measured each day by a numerical value. I noticed bosses greeting me more enthusiastically as my “scores” improved over the week. I was the best newbie by a long way, but I honestly didn’t care.
I gas-bagged with those around me; I spent extra-long in the bathroom; I wanted lunch breaks to last forever. I wrote about football at my desk as a “way out”. I raised my voice in a battle to sell electricity against crap, loud music coming from speakers overhead and 30 desperate people around me trying to do the same thing. Someone compared us to caged chickens. We were told to get sales “by hook or by crook” (those exact words); we were shouted at.
I’d endured a week working in a call centre. Another beating at the hands of Geelong wouldn’t seem so bad after all.
Both sides came into the match at 4-4 but the Cats, the reigning Premiers, were overwhelming favourites. Youngsters Cordy, Grant and Smith went out of the side along with the suspended Dylan Addison. Cooney, Roughead, Veszpremi and debutant Daniel Pearce came in. Zephaniah Skinner began as our substitute.
The Dogs marketing department took advantage of the Friday night timeslot, kitting out the team in ‘Hall of Fame’ jumpers. There’s a lot to say about the old-fashioned logo centred on the promotional jumper, but I still missed the hoops.
Pressure and intensity early on was low. It was as if the players were still warming up; as if they still felt like the mercury was 1.1. Geelong got men loose “over the top” easily. Our boys looked like they didn’t know where to stand or whom to mark. I could hear ‘Kepler’, Waffs’ uncle, audibly whinging a few rows back. The Dogs were 0-21 down already. A long night beckoned.
The tide was stemmed somewhat and the deficit at quarter time was 16.
The second quarter was a lot better. A Liam Jones set shot goal – always cause for celebration – was one of five we kicked for the term. Geelong added only three. One of them was kicked by Tom Hawkins after Brian Lake conceded a free kick which was dubious at best. Mass booing echoed around the stadium as a replay was shown.
The rest of Lake’s performance was almost unblemished. Two days before the match The Age published a revealing article where Lake declared doubts over whether he’d ever return to his 2010 best. Last year he only managed the five appearances and looked “horribly out of sorts”. This year he’s gradually returned to form, holding together a backline which has had, at various stages, Easton Wood (hamstring) and Lukas Markovic (hamstring) missing, in addition to Tom Williams, Lindsay Gilbee and Dale Morris, all of whom are yet to play. That Mark Austin, a number 76 pick in the rookie draft, has been drafted in and relied upon demonstrates the desperate state of selection. ‘Aussie’ was excellent again tonight on James Podsiadly.
The Bulldogs were scrappy but started getting first to the ball more often and were cleaner with it when they got it. They hit targets and took contested marks. Young Mitch Wallis was excellent. The team ran off the field to rapturous applause. Could we really upset the reigning Premier?
Daniel Giansiracusa, so often maligned by our support, put through a goal after the half time siren to reduce the margin to 7 points (seven behinds, that is – Geelong’s kicking for goal was woeful).
Geelong hasn’t just smashed us over recent years. They’ve done it to Hawthorn and Collingwood; they’ve done it at home, they’ve done it outside of Victoria and, most importantly, they’ve done it at the MCG. They’re a champion team with an admirable trait of winning from any position. Bartel, Chapman, Johnson, Enright, Scarlett, etc. Individually, their famous names seem endless. Collectively, the aura surrounding them is greater than any. Did our young side have the necessary belief to overcome Geelong?
In the fourth minute of the third quarter Tom Liberatore brought the deficit back to a solitary point before Paul Chapman steadied with two goals in 90 seconds himself.
The Dogs kept fighting. Shaun Higgins kicked his second goal for the night before Geelong – looking rusty; a shadow of the team who lifted the Premiership cup last October – turned the ball over in a dangerous area. Luke Dahlhaus, the beneficiary of said turn over, decided to pass to Mitch Wallis instead of going for glory himself. The ball went back to Geelong.
Zeph Skinner came on for Patrick Veszpremi. Just prior to three quarter time, Liam Jones marked 25 meters out but missed the kick to reduce the margin to five points. The groans were painful; the passage of play summed up the Jones conundrum in a nutshell.
The skill level of both sides was down but with a quarter remaining the result was in the balance. Being just 10 points down, our players, coaches and supporters alike sensed an opportunity to claim a big scalp before our eyes. It was Friday night football against the reigning champions and they were there for the taking. Come on boys, 30 minutes to make a statement, I thought.
Not for the first time this year Jordan Roughead missed a crucial set shot early in the final term. He repeated the feat two minutes later. “That’s what costs you in preliminary finals”, Waffs bemoaned, predictably.
Despite Geelong being pretty awful I still felt like our boys didn’t quite have the desired belief to go on and win it. After the Cats scored the first 21 points of the match the Dogs reduced the margin to ten; Geelong then led by 18 and again we fought back to reduce the arrears to one. But again, we couldn’t get in front.
Goals to Tom Hawkins and Steven Motlop extended their margin, again, to 21 points at the 11 minute mark of the last quarter. Surely that was it, we felt. They’ve taken our best shot. Two spirited, gallant fightbacks had already been achieved but surely Bartel, Chapman and co had finally shaken us now. Or not.
Zeph Skinner had given the team a new dimension after coming on. In a side with a lot of honest plodders but not much by way of flair or magic, his introduction was well received. Every time he went near the ball people roared. Every time he took hold of it we thought something would happen.
He helped Giansiracusa and Higgins to goals on the run and then nailed one himself to reduce the deficit to just three points. Three points! A trio of goals in just as many minutes brought the match to life again. The crowd found its voice. The Cats looked surprised at our run. The Dogs – again – were coming! We could do it.
But then the dream died. Steven Motlop and Jimmy Bartel steadied before James Podsiadly kicked the goal to seal a 20 point win at the 29-minute mark.
Geelong by 20 - exactly my pre-match prediction. A boost in the tipping charts was scant consolation though. For fleeting moments we looked close to doing the improbable. Geelong just had too much class and belief, too often.
The main difference between the Cats and Dogs was Steve Johnson. I don’t usually get excited by opposition players but the way he plays is hard not to enjoy. The balance he maintains; the tricks he pulls off. He plays the game as it should be played. He also plays with arrogance. A triple Premiership player, he’s entitled to. To paraphrase Bob Murphy in his weekly column after the match, Johnson only needs a parking space to work magic. Johnson ended on 36 disposals and Murphy was full of praise.
After the St Kilda debacle we’ve won four games and lost the other two narrowly to last year’s Grand Finalists. Progress is evident, especially from our young players. Mitch Wallis is second favourite for the NAB Rising Star award.