How good's footy?
Thoughts of a Bulldog Tragician, quarter by quarter, July 9, 2015
Quarter one: Well. That was just horrid.
Quarter two: I feared this might be coming. For the past three weeks we've been unimpressive even while we've won.
<insert timely platitude to justify our performance>
a) it's been a long year for the kids
b) this loss could be a wake up call
c) footy's a stupid game anyway.
Half time: We look like we're still on holidays. This is going to become a belting. A humiliation. C'MON DOGS!
Three quarter time: There is no excuse for those dropped marks. NONE. And Jake Stringer had better stop listening to stupid BT and his moronic 'The Package' comments and keep it simple!
Final siren: What happened? What the hell happened?
How can a team that laboured and battled to accumulate four goals in an entire game slam on 10 goals in a quarter?
How can the same 22 players who've been slow, reactive, heavy-legged and apparently auditioning for a blooper reel become suddenly fleet-footed, full of zest and energy?
How does that mood ripple through a team, elevating each and every player; suddenly rendering even the team's weakest link invincible and unstoppable?
It's certainly beyond any explanation I can make. After all, though this may come as a surprise to some readers, I've never played the game at the highest level.
If pressed, I'll admit I've never played the game at all. In fact my own sporting career was cut cruelly short. It had something to do with a tragic lack of ability.
So it's impossible to explain the great mystery (another one for Professor Brian Cox). The Unbelievable Momentum Shift in Footy.
Sometimes you see it coming. You smell it, like that delectable smell of September grass and the anticipation of finals footy; you sniff the imperceptible gear change and know your team is somehow a chance, no matter how improbable the score line. You shift in your seat, glance out of the corner of your eye at your fellow fans, to see if they're sensing it too, the answer coming with the growing hum of sound around you, the increased urgency of the support, the mini-climate of awakened hope and expectation that seems to exist on some invisible chain between players and fans.
On Saturday, though? There were none of these signs.
My own ability to detect the nuances of a momentum shift may have been somewhat dulled by the fact that I was supporting my Bulldogs in a vacuum, far removed from the reality of the game. I spent the match wrestling with a temperamental Foxtel ipad app, my only access to what was going on. From my window, if I'd glanced up long enough from the frustration and unique torture of a far-from-home Dogs' shocker, I would have been able to enjoy a view that took in the moody spectrum of silver sky and ocean in the coastal town of Lorne. And the not-so-beautiful chill of a maximum temperature of nine degrees.
Instead, on my screen, tiny and blurry Bulldog blurry figures (and I'm not just taking a cheap shot at 'Celeb' Daniel) were making mistake after mistake playing in the balmy tropics, far from our western suburbs home and my silent but vivid suffering on the Great Ocean Road.
The app, I soon discovered, was also a minute behind live TV. This meant I was receiving excitable texts from my sister, watching it back in Melbourne, and alerting me to some new Bulldog Catastrophe Performance Index measure that I'd fortunately not yet sighted.
'Can you believe Jake did that?'
(Was this The Lair taking a screamer, or as I soon discovered, conceding a silly 50 metre penatly?)
(Reported for punching Gary 'Voldemort' Ablett? - is it wrong to say I could only hope?)
(Who, for heaven's sake? Gazza or Koby??)
''Are these umpires the worst we've EVER seen?"
(Well, the answer to that one was easy enough).
Another member of the Tragician family was supporting the Dogs at closer quarters, however. As I've recounted many times, my mum, just 17 years old and not long off the boat from Ireland, in 1954 got swept up in the premiership euphoria. Watching them win the flag in only her third match, Mum adopted them as her team. From that ever so far away day, she has watched the Dogs almost every week, trekking to Moorabbin or Princes Park or to her seat in the John Gent Stand (even when nine months pregnant. And there were four of us. All born in the winter months).
I didn't hear anything from Mum during the match. Her commentary via text is usually even more intriguingly, or should I say infuriatingly, cryptic than that of my sister. Some of Mum's auto-corrected observations during a match have become legendary - gems such as 'Eoof eoof!' and 'Dairytale' (apparently, these stand for 'Woof Woof' and 'Fairytale').
At three quarter time, it looked like Mum had traveled all the way to Cairns only to endure a miserable stinker. She has seen more of her fair share of them - I've calculated that she's probably seen at least 1200 matches. And the win-loss ratio in that time is unlikely to be a kind statistic.
We've struggled to hang on in our last quarters in our recent 'winning ugly' series; it was impossible to foresee that in warm conditions, we could out-run and out-perform the AFL's $100 million+ franchise, in their all too appropriate Ronald McDonald colour scheme.
It started with The Bont. The contributions of the tireless Macrae and Picken had been enormous all evening; now the Bont launched a superb match-winning last quarter, just when we needed it most. Seeing him stream towards goals and launching two bombs seemed to be the catalyst for an unlikely transformation. Wallis and Dalhaus ran their hearts out to snap goals, Jake the Lair found the touch that had eluded him, Murf was, well, Murf, creating from half-back, his kicks like lasers to his team-mates, his desire to get us over the line patent in everything he did.
Amazingly enough, the last time the Dogs had 10-goal final quarter was apparently in 1992. We've only had eight 10-goal quarters in our entire history.
It wasn't a bad time to unleash one.
Earlier this month, I'd heard Damien Hardwick describe July 'big boy month.' "The month of July is when the big boys step out," the Richmond coach explained.
"It's a make-or-break month, not only for our football club, but most football clubs.
"It's when the contenders step up and the pretenders step away."
Before the first ball had bounced in Round One, I'd even written a blog anticipating these bleak July months, where I fully expected hope and form to drop away as our young group wilted in the winter chill, and times to become tough indeed.
But stunningly, improbably, the Dogs sit sixth on the ladder. We've won in all sorts of ways: excruciatingly tight wet contests in the Sydney rain. Grim endurance and outlasting our opponents in ugly wins against the Saints and Blues. Free-wheeling, dazzling displays against the Crows and GWS. And now a goal avalanche to effect daylight robbery in a great heist.
The Foxtel app immediately ceased transmission after the siren. I didn't get to see the euphoria of this unlikely win or see the boys belting out our song.
But I saw their jubilant reactions on Twitter after the game.
'Wow' said Jake Stringer, keeping it simple.
'How good's footy', tweeted Lukas Webb, who didn't play but travelled with the team.
I didn't get a garbled text from Mum either, and she doesn't participate in the Twitter-sphere.
But I think I could guess her thoughts, 2000 km from the western suburbs where she fell in love with our magical, frustrating game and our club.
The backdrop of a glorious Cairns sunset could not be more different from the John Gent stand or the terraces of a feral Windy Hill or the Moorabbin 'Animal Enclosure.'
But she'd been there, a part of another rare, crazy and wonderful 'dairytale' from this team that aren't putting any limits on where their ride could end.
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About the Bulldog Tragician
The Tragician blog began in 2013 as a way of recording what it is like to barrack for a perennially unsuccessful team - the AFL team, the Western Bulldogs.