Port Adelaide

That tap.

Thinking about this a lot today.

It took me so long to feel a part of this season; the magic just wasn’t there. I felt frustrated and reluctant. And while it hasn’t been what I’d call a magical year (yet) I feel there might still be time for something special to occur.

It’s good to be playing finals again.

It’s good to have hope again.

It’s good to feel the magic of footy again.

But to be honest, unless we win the grand final, this moment will always sum up this season for me. It’s absolutely incredible and I can’t imagine I’ll tire of it any time soon. Since I wrote the above, I’ve watched it maybe 200 times and the shine never wears off.

Robbie Gray, you star.

 

 

The finale.

butcher

It was late on the Friday night and a friend asked if I wanted to catch up for a drink and watch the footy the next day. “Sure,” I said, “but it will have to be after the Port game.” It would be our very last for the year, a year that held such high expectations and then delivered on next to none of them. I had been so worked up about this season, almost fizzing with excitement, and devastated that it would be unlikely I’d see the year out thanks to a pending overseas trip.

I didn’t end up watching the game on Saturday afternoon, instead I enjoyed it old school style by listening to the call on the radio. Fremantle were ‘resting’ players ahead of their finals campaign and Port had little to play for aside from pride. My friend reckoned we’d get up by more than 40 points, I wasn’t so sure. This is Port Adelaide version 2015 I reminded him.

But we did get up and got up well – 69 points in the end. Not that it matters. There’s no finals for us this year. What a bitter pill to swallow.

That said, despite all the heartbreak and disappointment, there have been more than a few highlights. Two wins over Hawthorn. My first trip to Adelaide Oval, especially given it was ANZAC Day and the incredible spectacle that brought. The emergence of brilliant young talent like Brendon Ah Chee and Sam Gray. The continued leadership of Travis Boak. Port reaching 60,000 members and surpassing the Crows for the first time. Chad. The friendships that I’ve continued to build around football. This blog.

Not everything about 2015 has been a total write-off.

I’ll watch this weekend’s games from the comfort of my lounge room and next week’s at my parents’ house in NSW. I’ll be barracking my hardest for the interstate teams as usual and if the Swans can’t get up then I’d love to see Fremantle win it. Finals aren’t quite as fun when you’re not in them but this year has been such an enigma, I’m excited that almost anything could happen.

And then next year, next year, it’s ours.

 

Sun down.

boak GC

It’s been a long year. To be fair, it’s ending better than it started but I don’t think there’s a Port Adelaide fan who would come close to suggesting 2015 has lived up to our expectations.

If you had of asked me in April to look into my crystal ball then I would have seen us sitting high on top of the ladder at this time of the year and likely even minor premiers. Getting ready for a big finals campaign. Hoping fervently that this would be the year we notch up our second premiership.

The reality isn’t even close.

The last couple of solid wins, including last night’s effort against the Gold Coast Suns, has given me a small amount of hope that this season hasn’t been a total write off. Port Adelaide will likely finish ninth or tenth and we need to ensure we remember the regret of this year and build on it in 2016. We’re a club with a strong work ethic, we just need to find it again. As coach Ken Hinkley said during last night’s post game press conference, “Our supporters would recognise the way we played in the last month and say, ‘that’s our team'”.

Instead of lodging myself in front of the game at the Palace Hotel with a beer and a parma like I have for many of Port’s pay TV only televised games this year, I headed to Ballarat to a friend’s party. Good mates, good food, good times. A good break. I checked my phone intermittently for the score and was comfortable with how it was progressing as we headed to a 37-point win up in Queensland, but I didn’t feel that desperation to watch it. Next week’s game against Fremantle will round out the year for me and then after just one week of watching other teams take part in finals, I’ll be heading overseas.

Of course, I thought I’d be going and missing out on Port Adelaide rampaging through September and into October. What a difference a year makes.

Bring on 2016.

The $410.

monfries ah chee hawthorn

“Do you want to put a bet on?”

My brother, lying on the couch, turned to me and uttered that sentence while I was lying on the floor in front of the heater at our family home in NSW. It had been a big couple of days with illness and the emotion of my dad’s retirement taking it out of me. I’m not much of a punter by any stretch but I said yeah, OK.

“Explain to me what all my options are,” I replied.

My brother went through them but in typical fashion I zoned out halfway through and had to make him repeat them to me. And I still didn’t get it. He suggested we look at a win by a margin and brought up the various odds (that part I could understand). I’d told a couple of mates on their Hawthorn podcast that I thought the Hawks would win by about 24 points but the bookies and everyone else had this lined up to be a flogging. Good for me. I went with $10 on Hawthorn to win by between 13-24 points which was paying $8 and then $10 on Port Adelaide to win by between 13-24 points which was paying $41.

One bet with the head, one bet with the heart.

We went out for a family dinner and missed the start of the game, which was for some insane reason being played at Etihad, the home ground of neither team. I had in my mind it was starting later but no, we missed the opening. My brother brought it up on his phone and told me Port were up. Honestly, I never take that as a good sign this year.

Except by the time we got home and turned it on, they were still up. At the end of the first quarter they were still up. At half time they were still up. And at three quarter time they were still up, though the Hawks had pared the lead back to just a single point.

Once again I find myself asking, where the hell has this Port Adelaide team been all year?

We attacked with confidence, direct and up through the middle. We defended as a team and didn’t panic at any stage. Whatever kind of magic that seems to be in the air when we play Hawthorn, I want it to be there all year long. This was the Port Adelaide team I know and love, the team that plays gutsy, tough, exciting football that makes you remember just why the hell you love this game so much.

I kept waiting for the inevitable reversal in the final term when I thought last year’s premiers would push back and overwhelm us but it just never happened. Both Robbie and Sam Gray played out of their skin, Boak was solid (is there a better captain in the AFL to lead by example? I think not but I’m supremely biased), and Chad was just, well, Chad. Brendon Ah Chee had a brain fade that I thought might cost us the game when he handballed over the top from a close mark to a waiting Monfries, who then scored a behind, however he made up for it with a late deserved goal. Love that kid. Jasper turned defence into attack in the backline and Broadbent and Hombsch were their usual calm, reliable selves. It’s such a cliché but the Power was absolutely on.

I love that next to no one predicted this. The fans just quietly believed, though I’ll admit my head kept telling me something different to my heart.

As the game wound to a close, the scoreline was set just right for me to win the bet. The seconds ticked down and Port sat 22 points in the lead. Tick… Tick… Tick… I’d told my brother that I didn’t care about the bet, I just really wanted the win. But at a minute and a half to go he looked up at me, surprise and delight on his face, and said “I think you’re going to get this.”

Let me tell you, no one has cheered harder for either a Hawthorn goal or Port not to get a goal than I did for that 90 seconds. Every stoppage, every out of bounds, saved us.

They probably heard us screaming from Etihad when that final siren went.

At the end, I was $410 richer. But beating Hawthorn twice in a year that will be better known for the disappointment and heartache it has brought? Well that’s just priceless.

It will be alright with me.

hinkley and ah chee

For the first time in what seemed like months, I was back at my old local – the Palace Hotel in Camberwell. I’d debated whether or not to head down there but eventually guilt won out. If you’re gonna get your heart broken then you may as well watch it happen on the big screen. I missed the start of the first quarter but a quick score check showed Port were about five goals up early.

Ah, the sweet smell of false hope in the brisk August air.

I settled in with a pint of Coke and realised I was pretty much the only one there watching the game. A well dressed man walked in and asked if they were going to show the Bledisloe Cup, then stormed out when staff said no. I breathed a sigh of relief. For a minute there I thought they’d have no compunction in kicking off the game of who could basically care less between two interstate teams no Victorian gives a fuck about. But they didn’t, and I stayed.

There was a lot of heat in the first quarter and a new record for the most 50m penalties given in a quarter was set (six). Players pushed and shoved, drove in hard on tackles and generally just niggled the hell out of each other. There was a lot of words exchanged millimetres from opposition players’ faces. Port finished the first quarter ahead and the tussles continued as the players walked off at quarter time, with even the runners getting involved at one stage.

I’ll make the point now – in a year of atrocious umpiring, this was the worst performance from those grubs that I’ve seen all year. ALL YEAR. Horrendous.

The next two quarters see-sawed – I think Port was often the better team and we played a nice line in getting the ball into our 50m repeatedly, however we just could not get the job done. A lot of sloppy kicking cost us. Alternatively, the Giants just had to make the break out of defence and all of a sudden they seemed to have free men everywhere in their attacking 50. The wrestling and scrapping slowed down as the focus sharpened on actually winning the game, not just the fight. These were two teams that had a fair bit to play for on either side – Port for pride and to rise to coach Hinkley’s challenge to stand up and be counted, the young guns from GWS looking to make their first finals series. Despite Port putting on a couple of handy leads, it was the Giants who went into the three quarter time break two points up.

So many times during that last half I looked at the clock and wondered how long I would have to stay here to be considered a respectable supporter. How long I would have to watch this for before my heart broke apart again. I remember looking at the match clock as the siren went for the fourth and dreading the fact I still had 30 painstaking minutes to go. I’d forgotten how awful seasons like this felt. I imagined that all I was doing was waiting for the disappointment of false hopes to hit again.

Something happened to that Port Adelaide team that walked out on to Adelaide Oval for that final quarter – they actually came to play. And play they did. They were running through the centre in waves with the same ease as last year or even 2013 and actually kicking goals. They were hard at the ball and I swear, their tackling was as intense as ever I’d seen it. I could almost feel their desperation. Chad Wingard stood up with a couple of magic goals and even the much maligned John Butcher got one. But it was the youngster Brendon Ah Chee that seemed most determined to make his presence known. Four years on our list, debuted in the AFL earlier this season – this was his breakout game for sure. Someone commented that he seemed to be made of “both cement and helium” because he laid tackles that drove opponents into the ground like nobody’s business then floated up high for a screamer of a mark. Kicked a pretty bloody handy goal too. (Let’s not even start on how amazing his handballing is.) Hopefully the kid has nothing but big things ahead of him.

I resisted the urge to bite my fingernails off and as we continued to heap on goals with little answer from the Giants, I finally conceded we might grab this one. Even an old bar fly came to chat to me, correctly ascertaining I was a Port fan before telling me he was glad we were knocking GWS out because he supported the Cats and wanted them to make the finals. Thanks mate. I was probably louder than I usually am but this was important for us. Despite everything, despite how incredibly disappointing this season has been in a year where we expected so much, Port showed they can still come up with a gutsy effort when it counts.

We never, ever give up, as they say. Still an important part of what makes us tick.

It’s been the topsiest and turviest of years, both in AFL and life. It’s almost like whatever I least expected has come to pass and things I felt so sure of have been called into question. A mate told me that this week he was expecting a happy post after the game following the unrelenting glumness of the past couple. Let me tell you, on Friday afternoon I wasn’t so sure. It was not a weekend I was looking forward to. But if there’s something I’ve learned recently it’s this: I have a wonderful family, brilliant friends, a job I love and a life I’m happy with. All it took was two hours on a Saturday afternoon to remind me I’ve also got a football team I’m proud of.

20 Questions.

port v dogs

It seems every week has to end with a dust up at the moment, no matter how good or bad the lead up is. This one was a cracker; raised voices outside a hotel in Brunswick after 12 hours spent in the company of each other and a never ending stream of beers and ciders. To be honest I’m not even sure where it came from. A comment that escalated after I couldn’t provide an answer and suddenly he’s storming off into a taxi leaving me standing on the side of the road wondering what the hell just happened.

“I hate people,” I told him, several times, “they are the absolute worst”. He questioned why and asked me what had specifically happened to me. At least I think that’s how it started, everything is fuzzy at that point. I told him I’ve watched from the sidelines a parade of the worst of human nature for the past nine years but the answer wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t give an example specific to me and if I’m being honest, there really isn’t one. There’s never been something so traumatic in my life that someone has done to me that I’ve been absolutely shattered. Not to say there hasn’t been awful things happen but I couldn’t pinpoint a specific tragedy that lead to my sweeping statement about human nature.

I think I stuck my tongue out at him at one point in a poorly chosen attempt at levity but it didn’t work.

Earlier he had suggested I was “hard to get to know” and I was horrified. He later described it as “distressed”. I told him, in an early afternoon phone call designed to smooth things over and ensure the friendship was repaired, that I thought there was an element of truth in his statement and that’s probably why I reacted the way I did. He also said I asked a lot of questions and he’s never really had someone do that. I wish I had of asked if that was a bad thing.

It’s disconcerting to have someone you’ve known for such a relatively short period of time nail some aspect of your personality that you hadn’t really considered. It’s equally disconcerting to repeatedly hear them give opinions on things and think, “fuck, that’s exactly what I think”.

I don’t think he hates people though.

I wouldn’t suggest I hated them but there wasn’t a lot to love about Port Adelaide yesterday. We’d beaten the Bulldogs earlier in the year but were nowhere near favourites to repeat it in the second half of the draw. It was a small crowd at Etihad and I barely saw any of my people there as we walked into the stadium. Possibly not the best of omens, especially given were a team that could ‘technically’ still make the finals.

All up we were woeful. Coach Ken Hinkley later described it as their worst ever loss in his time at the club, not because of the score line but due to the fact we didn’t bother to show up to play. For a proud club whose motto is “we never ever give up” it cut pretty deep.

We gave up. No two ways about it.

I watched the game from high on the third level with my friend, berating him for clapping the Bulldogs goals. Traitor. As it wore on I realised that as much as I might want to leave I would need to stay and suffer through all of this or I would never hear the end of it. I think I’ll file it away for the next time we’re successful – I will be able to sit there and say I was there the day we gave up against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad. I can talk about how much it hurt and how good it feels now those days are behind us.

Later on in the night we had a discussion about whether it’s worse to have a fantastic season and just miss out at finals or whether losing all year is harder. Having lived through both Port Adelaide eras now I’d say the latter is harder, by far. So I’m going to fold this season up and put it in my back pocket and pull it out occasionally during those good times for some perspective. Because I know those good times are coming, they have to be.

There’s been a lot to think about today. Do I really hate people? In an exceptionally broad sense I find them frustrating and disappointing and awful at times but perhaps I can concede I’m overstating things when I say “hate”. Am I hard to get to know? I’m very good at banter and humour but I struggle with talking about personal things. I feel like if I tell someone something then I give away a little piece of myself that I can’t get back. It’s easier not to be exposed.

This afternoon I got a message from a mate asking if I as thirsty because they were heading to a pub in Fitzroy. I replied, saying I was hungover as fuck but I could do with a Coke and the company. So I went and it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. We had a brilliant time, telling stories and laughing until I could barely breathe. They had a girl there with them that he grew up with and we hit it off superbly immediately – it was like we should have been friends for years and years. I thought again about the concept of being “hard to get to know” and how you can feel an immediate kinship with someone you have only just met. Imagine missing out on all these good people for no good reason. I’ve always considered myself to be an optimist but perhaps it was time to get back to walking the talk.

I asked him last night how we had known each other for so long but had only recently become friends. Then I told him that our friendship made me think it was nice to know there are still good people out in the world, even if you haven’t met them yet.

Maybe people aren’t all bad. And maybe some things are worth the risk and the effort. “We never ever give up” as they say.

Something for Port Adelaide to think about too.

Everything shines just like a postcard.

matt white

Some weeks are just the worst. Nothing goes right, from the second they start until the moment you shove them out the door on a Sunday night. This week has been one of those for me.

It actually started on a Saturday, with the news my brother had been involved in a serious collision. The horror and shock of it all took a few days to settle in; it just didn’t feel quite real on that cold Saturday night. Sunday went past in a blur given I had a series of existing commitments to keep me occupied and by the time Monday afternoon arrived, I was feeling it. I begged off work and used some flex time on Tuesday to have a day off, a day where I drove to the beach in Torquay and did nothing but think, walk and eat caramel slice. It was the best kind of day to have when you’re worried and I thought it would see me through.

Wrong.

The end of the week bought an incredibly emotionally trying job at work and involved me making some decisions I still haven’t reconciled myself to. It’s funny, the rational side of my brain knows I had no other option and placed in the same position again I would make exactly the same choice. But it doesn’t mean I feel comfortable about it, no matter how much I turn it over and over and over in my mind. I wish it would have been different.

It was a full moon this week and what they say is absolutely true – it always brings out the worst in human nature.

Friday brought an awkward series of moments with a friend. Things could barely get any worse and honestly, the only thing that was holding me together was running it off every night. Music playing through my headphones as I cut laps on dark deserted streets, past mansions lit up to illustrate lives I would never have.

“Feel it coming in the air / Hear the screams from everywhere / I’m addicted to the thrill / It’s a dangerous love affair / Can’t be scared when it goes down / Got a problem tell me now / Only thing that’s on my mind / Is who’s gonna run this town tonight…”

Football was something to both look forward to and dread this week. It would be something of a distraction of course, but the way Port Adelaide’s season was going meant this could end very, very badly. The Tigers got up over Hawthorn on Friday night in something of an upset. Melbourne beat Collingwood. The Gold Coast drew with West Coast. Jesus. This could go either way.

On Saturday my brother was discharged from hospital and suddenly everyone knew what had happened after he posted details on Facebook. I’d been very quiet, telling only three people, because despite everyone’s best intentions I knew I wouldn’t want to talk about it over and over. I’ll deal with it in my own way, thanks.

And yet it was a couple of small moments of kindness from a few people that got me through mostly. A message or a call or a hug when I least expected it and most needed it.

I worked all weekend and made plans to watch the Port Adelaide v St Kilda game from the comfort of my desk. What a treat that would be for my colleagues. I turned it on at 1.10pm and prepared for the worst. I cannot say that I expected a 63-point win but it was grubby and sloppy. At times we showed flashes of the real Power but then we’d stuff it up by overcooking handballs or some incredibly poor kicking. The skills level across both sides was mediocre for much of the game and despite that hefty scoreline, it felt painful to watch at times.

Ollie Wines dislocated a shoulder. Chad kicked a couple. Robbie Gray turned on an absolute belter. Boaky had another brilliant captain’s game. I loved seeing Matty White back in the side.

It’s nice to still be on the winner’s list, though this season has been hopeless and hope less at times.

Of course, my perfect week had to end with a stand up row on Sunday afternoon. Voices were raised. It was an argument where I knew I was right but I wouldn’t win, and yet I had it anyway knowing how futile it would be. Excellent. It was really all I needed to finish up.

As I was getting ready to leave he said to me, “You’ve really worked on your tact.” My eyebrows shot up. “Really?”, I questioned. “No,” he replied and shook his head with a half smile.

I walked out, ready to run the week behind me and make a fresh start. Thank God I’ll never have to live this one again.

Get lucky.

ryder

I am the only Port Adelaide supporter I know. I’ve met other fans over the years but I’ve never had a Port friend that I could go to games with or sit with for hours over a beer discussing the fortunes of our team. I’ve always been a bit of a novelty (in more ways than one, I’m sure). As the bio says, I’m a New South Wales girl who lives in Victoria and barracks for a South Australian team. The “makes sense” I write at the end is clearly sarcasm of the highest order.

Usually I’m happy to go to games alone and will just sit restlessly somewhere near my people. This time though I managed to rope in a couple of friends to come along and I was seriously looking forward to the night, even though a Port Adelaide v Essendon game held all the promise of being as interesting and skill laden as the Benalla v Violet Town reserves. Both mates were Bombers fans, country boys, decent people with a good sense of humour who like a beer. The only difference was one I’ve been friends with for nearly 15 years while the other has been a mate for only really about six weeks. This should be fun.

Of course because this was the only time I’ve managed to drag friends along to a game this lovely lady called me up and offered me corporate box tickets. Which I had to decline because, well, it just wouldn’t be the done thing to ditch your mates.

We started off the night at a pub across the road from Etihad Stadium, my old mate and I catching up and keeping one eye on the Richmond v Fremantle game as we sipped our beers. Despite being friends for so long it was the first time we’d actually ventured to the football together. He’s naturally a bit of an introvert but I was cautious that a few beers in he might unleash. I also warned him about my new mate and said I had no idea which way he was going to go so if it got embarrassing then we’d just go to the toilet at quarter of half time and never come back. New mate is a bit of a smart arse, possibly more so than me. When I’d asked him what sort of person he was at the footy he replied, “Mature, modest, witty etc. I’ll let you fill in the blanks”. I tell you what, I could fill in the blanks and I was worried they weren’t going to be complimentary.

Eventually the three of us united and after exchanging the appropriate introductions and pleasantries headed off to buy our tickets. Etihad confuses me, I always end up somewhere I think I’m not supposed to be and Saturday night was no different. We were in a carpeted bar, drinking more beers and talking shit. I reckon I spilt about a third of mine but not to worry. Before we knew it the siren had sounded and the quarter had started so we made our escape to find seats.

For a game between two teams languishing at the bottom of the ladder it did its best to stay entertaining. Wingard almost took mark of the year and the goals were flowing fairly freely in both directions. Even the three of us managed to behave ourselves. I’m a nervous football fan and my natural exuberance tends to go out the door a bit when I’m at the game. The pair of them were pretty quiet too, though later I found out it was more likely because they’d been bordering on hypothermia for most of the night. (On the other hand I am from Goulburn where it is, to use a particular turn of phrase, “fucking cold and windy” all through winter. Also I’m tough.) It was the four middle aged Port Adelaide supporting women in the row in front of us that provided the most entertainment and probably the least insight on the game.

I have a bit of a thing about mobile phones when I’m doing things with people. Real people = real conversations and I always put the phone away. After going to get beers, coffee and food at half time – and running my trusty “do I have anything on my face?” joke with a giant smear of mustard across my cheek – I checked my mobile mid-way through the third quarter. Three missed calls and two messages asking me to call dad urgently. A message from my brother in Canada asking me to call my parents urgently. Shit. This is not likely to be good. You don’t leave messages like that for anyone who’s part of a police family. I bolted down the stairs and started calling, my dad answering with the news my brother had been involved in a serious collision. He was riding his scooter and the car opposite was indicating a right turn before the driver changed their mind and went straight. My brother had begun the turn and was collected, left sprawled on the road with the bike in disrepair. Mum and dad were at the hospital with him now. He’d been wearing his full face helmet so a CT scan was only a precaution, but turns out he’d broken his foot and his upper arm. His back hurt and they were worried about the potential for him having cracked vertebrae, though it turned out to but three broken ribs instead.  He could still move everything, which was the best part.

They don’t call motorcyclists ‘temporary citizens’ for nothing. He’s so bloody lucky.

I walked back to my seat in shock and I’m not really sure I processed it very well. I started watching the game again. I stopped drinking. We were all fairly silent. To be honest it didn’t seem quite real.

Port got ahead in the final quarter and Bomber-turned-Power player Paddy Ryder kicked a couple of match winning goals for us while the crowd booed him like he was Adam Goodes at a Hawthorn match. I remember reading something years ago that Aaron Hamill said after he left St Kilda to play at Carlton. “Why wouldn’t you want to be booed?” he said. “Why would you want to leave a place with everyone’s best wishes?” I think in context that’s so right – you want people to be disappointed that you’re not part of their club any more. Travis Boak had the ultimate captain’s game, leading by example and finishing with a couple of his own. We weren’t pretty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but we got there by 13 points. Essendon coach James Hird later said that Ryder had had a “lucky night” and had really no impact on the game until the end. Maybe, but he had an impact when it counted. You’re officially one of us now, Paddy.

After the final siren sounded and me and the two (by now) very cold boys stood up, we listened to the Port Adelaide song boom around the ground. Both of them agreed it was a terrible song but I don’t care, I’ve never tired of hearing it. We left, slowly and quietly descending the stairs with the other fans and then getting lost in the spill of people across the bridge to Southern Cross Railway Station. “What are you guys doing now?” my new mate asked and I told him I just wanted to go home and call my parents. Understood. We said good bye and he left to catch a train back to his hipster suburb and probably a few extra pieces of warm clothing or a heater. My old mate tried to convince me to have one more beer while the human traffic wanting to ride the trams dispersed but I just wasn’t up for it.

I sat on the 109 tram home, my head propped against the glass as I watched the suburbs of my adopted city flash by. Football and family and friends and just… life. It never turns out quite how you think, never goes how you expect. I still end up being surprised after 36 years.

And a “lucky night” in more ways than one, for more than a few people.

A tradition so strong.

walsh and hinkley

In 2009 I had the opportunity to spend time in the Port Adelaide rooms just before the Showdown against Adelaide. It was a fantastic experience and one I’ll never forget. However this week’s Showdown will be something else altogether. Following the recent death of Crows’ coach and former Power assistant coach Phil Walsh it is likely to be an incredibly emotionally charged game as both clubs pay tribute to a man who was so loved by these two teams. Watching the Port and Adelaide players leave the field in tears last week was simply heartbreaking and no doubt this game will prove difficult to get through as well. I wrote the below after that Showdown in 2009 and it seems fitting to publish it here now. As Walshy would have said, I hope we “get it done.”

Someone dropped the ‘c’ word and the half a dozen or so women the room either went wide eyed and giggled behind their palms or pretended that nothing had happened. (And by ‘c’ word, I don’t mean ‘Crows’.) As someone who grew up around footy clubs and is used to what goes on behind closed doors, I fell into the latter category.

On the weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Port Adelaide rooms before their AFL showdown with hometown rivals the Adelaide Crows. It was a rare opportunity and one I was incredibly excited about – this was the chance to feel the buzz in the room as my team headed out for what is traditionally one of the biggest games of their season.

As I walked through the maze of corridors to a room that looks surprisingly exactly as it does on TV just smaller, the first thing that hit me was the sweet, overpowering scent of liniment. The second thing that hit me was the sight of bare backsides in a changing room with an open door as players from the warm up game finished showering off and got changed.

There was a distinct buzz in the air. I could hear the talk, the warm up, the sound of fit, hardened bodies battering against each other, testing out shoulders and torsos. The players ran through an obviously well known series of exercises whiles a trainer barked commands from the centre of the room.

And all the while the constant talk, talk, talk.

Spectators fixated on the players, as did the coach, pacing the room the whole while and chewing away methodically on gum. Spare players and club officials stood with arms folded on the sides of the room making sparse commentary and adding to the tension in the room. Footballs bounced everywhere.

It’s hard not to get excited when your heroes are so close you could reach out and touch them. Cornes. Ebert. Lade. Pettigrew. You see how big, how small, how different, how so very much the same they actually are after years of reputations and TV highlights warping the perception.

From the small group of onlookers a young boy cried out in support but former captain Warren Tredrea came over and put a finger on his lips. This was not a place for cheering or autographs or photos. This was a temple of football, a place to prepare and gain focus. A place to start to win.

As the players head into a small closed room for a final, private discussion with the coach and each other it is hard not to get excited. That hushed, tension riddled feeling descended upon the room.

This is Showdown!

Next minute the boys – and some of them are just that, mere boys – run past and out on to the ground. They urge each other on, demanding excellence and commitment. The pride of South Australia is on the line tonight.

I head back to my seat, nodding in solidarity to the two old timers guarding the door. People around me are buzzing and the cheering sounds throughout the stadium and people raise their voice to support their team.

And yet, while this is the big stage it is so very much the same in so very many ways as the hundreds of games being played at suburban football grounds each weekend. The sounds, the smells, the anticipation, the bloke who always yells out “he’s been doing it all day” the first time the umpire blows their whistle. The feeling in the rooms.

It’s the same as it has been for years. Sometimes it’s comforting to know that no matter how much some things change, the more others simply stay the same. The excitement of football will always be there.

Lanterns.

Adelaide Oval Walsh tribute

What a tough week it’s been in football.

At some point I had to make the decision to begin to disengage from all the Walsh tributes or else face the prospect of remaining in a downward spiral of sadness. Nothing I read or watched was going to change the situation and so many wonderful things had already been said about the man who was such a huge part of the Port Adelaide Football Club for so many years. It was time to take a step back. Otherwise I feel like it just becomes ‘tragedy porn’ and the meaningfulness starts to wane.

Of course, there’s been a separate sort of heartache when it comes to Port Adelaide this year and that’s been their repeated on field poor performance. Week after week after week I’ve gotten my hopes up only to have them dashed, usually in the worst possible way. A Thursday night game against Collingwood at home at Adelaide Oval – with the teams sitting 12th and 5th respectively – didn’t fill me with any great sense of anticipation. Even though this was going to be the club’s first match since Walsh’s death, I honestly just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. This game was going to mean a lot to us and it would just hurt too much to lose.

So I didn’t. I accepted an invitation from a friend to have dinner at one of our favourite places in the western suburbs and caught up on all the things happening in each other’s lives. Football barely rated a mention until around 8pm when I asked if she minded if I checked my phone to see what the score was. She said that was fine so I pulled it out and noted we were 26 points up in the first quarter. Not that that filled me with any great sense of hope or satisfaction, not this year. Though a small part of me wondered if the ‘good’ Port Adelaide had shown up to play.

We finished dinner, said our goodbyes and I got in the car to drive home along the Tullamarine Freeway. I listened to music the whole way, resisting the urge to turn the radio on and listen to the game. I stopped at the supermarket and checked my phone again; surprisingly we were still up. I put the phone away and did my shopping. Drove home and pulled into my drive way. Checked again. By that stage there were encouraging messages from my family and friends about how well Port were doing.

I walked upstairs and my phone pinged with a message from my brother that there was just two minutes to go. Port were four points up. I paced the room and made the executive decision that no matter how much this might end up hurting me, I was going to watch until the end. Collingwood scored a point to bring it back to within three. Kicks went repeatedly into their 50 and Broadbent stood up with some calming marks. The clock continued to count down and time never felt so slow… Three points.

I stood there, just a metre in front of the television, willing the unthinkable to happen. Bracing myself for the worst.

Then the final siren went, the rain came down again and I burst into tears.

That one’s for you Walshy.

Watching Ollie Wines sob on the field only to be comforted by captain Travis Boak nearly broke my heart. You forget he’s just a kid. Even Kenny struggled through his post match interview and I could hear the emotion in his voice. Life just doesn’t seem fair at times; it isn’t fair. Not by a long shot.

As good as that win was, we saved the best until last. The lights of Adelaide Oval went down and the most beautiful tribute went up. And as it played on the screen people shone their own lights in a mark of respect and remembrance for someone who still had so much to offer our game.

We never carried days on our own…” Last night we all carried our grief together. And at that moment I knew that it wasn’t alright, but we were going to be OK.

wines and boak