2015 season

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.

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Tres disappointment.

port loss

There’s two different ways to lose: the first is when you have one of those nothing seasons where wins are few and far between and losses become the norm. You’ll be disappointed to get done but hey, you’re used to it by now. The second way is when you’re carrying the weight of immensely high expectations and are completely crushed by them when your team comes undone.

Let me assure you, it’s the latter that really hurts.

It’s an exquisite kind of torture when all your family support the one AFL club and you are the only one who doesn’t, then their team beats yours. Being born and bred in NSW I have a lot of love for the Syney Swans except for one or two days a year when I find them (and my family) utterly intolerable. It’s been especially difficult given Sydney have proven themselves to be something of a bogey team for Port Adelaide and regardless of our respective fortunes, they always seem to beat us. I’ve gotten used to copping a hammering from my brothers in particular but let me promise you that it never stops hurting. Or being really fucking annoying.

Tonight’s 48-point loss was bitterly disappointing for a few reasons. The first is those expectations I mentioned and the fact Port have been considered almost THE premiership contender for this season. To start the year 0-2 isn’t what we wanted or expected. I kinda thought we’d have two wins under our belt by now and be the talk of the town. The second is that tonight was our first game at home at Adelaide Oval and clearly we hoped our vocal supporters would play the role of the 19th man and cheer us through to a win.

It’s also hard to watch your team lose by making the exact same mistakes they made during the last loss. Against Fremantle Port kept repeatedly kicking to opposition players alone and making some really poor decisions with the ball that resulted in turnovers. We keep trying to consistently play that awesome running game we can do so well, but it’s almost like the players don’t know how to get the ball up the ground if it’s not a running handball under pressure. I’d like Port to be a bit calmer and consider their options a little more.

Tonight again highlighted to me that Ryder isn’t the great saviour we probably expected him to be and that we really really really miss Lobbe. If we could have a team full of Robbie Grays and then Boaky as captain, we’d be laughing. Gray is just such a class act and ye olde cliché “silky skills” really applies. Trengove and Carlisle stood up at the back, while Monfries looked dangerous up front. Pittard had a solid game and made up for his ridiculous mistake last week. I thought all round there’s a lot of room for improvement so hopefully the players will take note and start refining.

I don’t want to say much re the Swans except it was satisfying to see Hanneberry get belted and Gary Rohan’s red hair really shits me.

In the end, the only thing that kept me watching was that tiny pilot light of hope that we’d get our act together and start kicking a few goals, enough to pull together a gutsy come-from-behind win. That and the fact the camera kept focusing on a hot and sweaty Travis Boak (that man is my everything). Watching our beloved captain hurl his mouthguard on the ground in disgust after the final siren was a good sign I think and hopefully he can lift us for round three.

Next week is the Kangaroos in Melbourne and I’ll be heading along to Etihad Stadium on Saturday night. I fucking hate North and their “Shinboner Spirit” bullshit with the power of a thousand suns so fingers crossed we can notch up win one. Otherwise the weight of that unlived up to expectation is going to keep crushing me.

Season 2015.

IMG_3563

I just don’t think I can do this again.

When I was younger I was an absolute footy tragic. I would live, breathe and bleed for my team each week without fail. I kept scrapbooks of meticulously cut out newspaper articles and I recorded games on copious amounts of VHS tapes so I could watch them over and over (and over) again.

Then I grew up and calmed down – slightly. I was still as heavily invested in my team but the format changed. I bought club memberships and I travelled around the country watching games. When I resigned from my job at The Canberra Times my colleagues got me a Port Adelaide jumper as a farewell gift. DVDs replaced the tapes.

Between about 2009 and mid 2013 I lost my way. Port Adelaide were generally doing terribly and I’m ashamed to say I barely maintained any interest in their fortunes. I went to a token few rugby union games here in Melbourne. The only rugby league news I ever got was from my brother’s Facebook statuses. I’ve never given a shit about soccer. Instead I just filled up my life with other stuff, only engaging with sport on the rarest of occasions. For someone whose life had been utterly filled by it for so long this was something new.

And now I’m back. Totally, utterly and completely back. To AFL anyway.

It started at the end of 2013 when Port made the finals and I went to see both of them at the MCG. I remember at the start of that season when the Power won a heap of games and were sitting close to first, screenshotting the ladder and circling Port and Hawthorn’s positions then sending it to my Hawks mad mate. “Me. You. Suck it”, I scrawled on there. I could never quite believe it though – it felt surreal to be anything close to successful again. So when those finals rolled around I went and it felt like a novelty in some ways, especially when we won the one against Collingwood. At that point I reckon it was the first Port game I’d been to in nearly four years. The second one I went to with my best friend, a Cats fan, and we nearly did them – our last quarter we ran out of steam and Geelong went into a prelim.

Last year felt good but there was still some distance between me and footy. I was scared that 2013 was going to be a blip, that I’d be lured into false hopes and cruelly let down again. Only it didn’t quite pan out that way and despite my reticence I found myself sitting at the MCG again in September. I hadn’t been to any games through the year but I’d kept a much closer eye on things and I could sense my blood starting to fizz again with the love of football. A friend took me as her plus one to a corporate event and I reckon I drank four nervous glasses of champagne in quick succession when we arrived. As a Bombers fan she had a soft spot for Wanganeen so was prepared to back us in against the Hawks and even wore a Port scarf for me (I repaid the favour by giving her my vintage one from when Gav actually still played).

Three points that day. Three fucking points. That’s what kept us out of a grand final. But I knew, I just knew, that footy and I were back together so the long wait until the 2015 season started began.

It’s a cruel thing to have to wait until the second last game of the first round to see your team play. I’ve monitored the club countdowns on social media and felt the excitement starting to build. Everyone has such high expectations for Port Adelaide this year, it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in the excitement and romance of it all. I am a club member again, something I felt they deserved from me.

All day today I have felt the nerves and excitement starting to build. Because I don’t have Foxtel I went to a local hotel to watch it and as I sat down with my beer and chicken parma, I remembered: “this is what it’s like.” That feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Wanting to vomit. Your heart beating at triple time. Hands shaking when they lift the glass for every sip.

“I just can’t do this again,” I thought.

I’d forgotten what a complete emotional investment football is so much of the time. How you have to learn to live with that churning in your gut for hours on game day. My right hand fingernails digging into my left hand knuckles for two-and-a-half hours every weekend until they are red raw. The exhilaration and the pain and the disappointment and the jubilation and the satisfaction. I’d forgotten all of it until I was actually back there in that moment again.

Fremantle had us by seven points tonight but I maintain it was a game we lost rather than one they won. Our decision making was poor and our kicking was terrible at times, which took the pressure off and let them into the game. (Jasper’s fucking play on bounce. Jesus.) Paddy didn’t look as good as I expected and we missed Lobbe in the ruck I thought. On the plus side, I reckon Polec, Trengove and Gray really stood out and our tackling overall was ferocious. It’s always disappointing to lead at every change and then get done in the end however I know that losing the first game of the season doesn’t mean it’s all over. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and get ready to take on Sydney next week.

Which means it looks like I am doing this again after all. Wish me luck.