AFL

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.

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“I like the simple things – I used to love just going to the football and watching Gary Jr kick me a magic goal.”

nat and cath 2013 second final

Someone recently described Cathy Ebert to me as “still one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet” and I couldn’t have said it any better myself. After all, you’d have to be a pretty good person to put up with being my best friend for nearly 20 years and living with me not once but twice. We’ve had years of watching football games of all codes, from Bledisloe tests through to rugby league State of Origin to that time we went to the SCG for Paul Roos’ last game in 1998 and almost drowned in a torrential downpour. Cath is one of my favourite people to watch footy with (and talk about footy with) and one of the few I can stand sitting with when our teams play each other. Plus you know someone is top shelf when one of your favourite footy memories is celebrating together after their team absolutely flogs yours in a grand final. Just don’t ever mention Nick Davis to her…

Name: Cathy Ebert

Age: 37

Recruited from: Melbourne via Canberra and Dubbo

Occupation: Sports administrator extraordinaire

AFL team followed: Geelong Cats

All time favourite footy moment: 2007 preliminary final and grand final wins

“I follow the Geelong Cats. The first game of footy that I watched was the 1989 grand final. We were actually on holidays in Ballina and the grand final was on, Hawks and Cats. I thought well, I’m 11-years-old and I like Cats and I don’t like Hawks, I like blue and white and I really don’t like the poo and wee colours, so that’s how I started going for the Cats, just for that reason. We’ve had some bad years ever since I started following them but they’ve turned things around. I like that they’re a bit of a middle of the road side where we’ve had some good success but I don’t think they’re arrogant like some of the other sides. I like that the Cats are a good, strong, hard-working team and they’re proud. They generally give most games a go. Plus you’ve gotta love Gary Jr, Selwood and Bartel.

Dad used to be a Collingwood supporter or so he says, now my parents go for Sydney. I think mum and dad are a bit disappointed that I don’t go for the Swans because growing up we only got two channels in Dubbo – it was ABC and Mid State Television or something like that, and all you ever got was Swans games. So it’s probably a bit surprising that I’m not a Sydney supporter but I definitely stick with the Cats over the Swans, that’s for sure. There’s been a few incidents with mum over the years. I think probably the most memorable one was the 2005 preliminary final between Sydney and Geelong where the Cats were winning by 24 points with five minutes to go and then Nick Davis kicked a bag of goals for the Swans. Mum decided to ring me straight after the game and I probably wasn’t in the best mood to talk. I basically told her I wasn’t going to talk to her and I think I might have hung up on her or put her on to you and she talked to you. You just said the one word that night: “yesssssssss”. I can still hear it, “yesssssss”. I wasn’t quite sure whether to go up to my room or to hit you or to kick the TV. It was good that the Swans at least made it worth it and went on to win the grand final. So at least the Cats could say they were close. That was funny that night because I never really expected to win and I think that’s the thing with Geelong: I never really expected to win that game but then I had the hope that we were going to win with five minutes to go and being four goals up. It’s just crushing and Geelong over the years have done that, they did it in a final against Hawthorn recently. I never actually thought we were going to win that game but Varcoe missed a goal in front and then Hawthorn won. Sometimes I’d rather be beaten by 100 points than just be thinking of all the what ifs.

First time… I remember seeing Geelong v Carlton in 1997. I think that might have been one of my first AFL games. I came down to Melbourne, I was at uni in Canberra at the time and I came down with my friend Jules for a weekend. We went to Geelong v Carlton and that was at Optus Oval and the Cats won. Then the next day I think we went and saw Bombers v Collingwood which was the ANZAC Day game. So I think that was maybe one of my very first games, which was a bit interesting at Optus Oval full of Carlton supporters. People were mixing up my Cats scarf for a Carlton scarf. I think after that there were a few games at the SCG throughout uni but I’m pretty sure that trip to Melbourne was the first live AFL game I saw.

I have an AFL membership with support to Geelong. Even though I actually haven’t been to a game this year. In the last few years since having Hollie I’ve been lucky to go to a handful of games. This year I haven’t gone to any but I think I’ve watched every single game the Cats have played on TV. When we first moved to Melbourne I remember we’d try to go to a game on Friday night, go on Saturday and then Sunday, sometimes we’d be going from one game to another in the same day. I just loved footy and loved going to the game and getting a doughnut afterwards if the Cats won. That was always good.

Often when I’m watching a game at home, if the Cats are losing then I wait until the end of the third quarter and if they’re still losing then I might bring out the scarf. I have to make sure that if I’m going to the game, I have to find a person from the Salvation Army and I have to give them a dollar, and if they say “God bless the Cats” then I just know we’re going to win. I think in the game against Collingwood in 2009 to get into the grand final I got there and as I was walking up to the MCG I couldn’t find any Salvation Army people so I was starting to get in a panic. I think I actually did a full lap of the MCG just to find one and just when I had nearly given up I finally found a guy. I gave him a dollar and he did say “God bless the Cats” and to this day I think that’s why we won.

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There’s been a few good memories over the years. I like the simple things – I used to love just going to the football and watching Gary Jr kick me a magic goal. I loved whenever he did something brilliant. The year of 2007 – I think the grand final was good and I sat on my own but I sat with a lot of old Geelong supporters, you know, women in their 70s where it had been a long time since they’d seen a premiership. Nobody sung the song until the siren went even though we were up by so much because they were just worried that something might happen. We had that feeling that we could still lose this. They were in tears and so happy at the end. But I think even the final against Collingwood to get into the grand final is probably the most memorable for me. We were sort of winning and then we were only up by a small margin with a few minutes to go and nobody really knew how much time there was left. There was such intensity in that game. Then when the siren went it was the realisation that shit, we’re in the grand final. That’s half of it, just getting there. So that’s probably one of my most memorable matches.

Gary Ablett Jr is easily the best I’ve ever seen. Just the excitement that he brings to a game, he can just turn around a match. He can do the things that other players can’t do and he just has so much time – very rarely does he kick poorly or make a bad pass. His decision making is perfect. He’s definitely, without a doubt, the best I’ve seen. I’m still hopeful that he’s coming back to the Cats for a swansong. I remember the Geelong footy club called me up to buy some raffle tickets or something once and I think the prize was $40,000 or something. They asked me what I’d do with the money if I won and I said, “I’ll buy Gary back”. I think I was a bit short and $40,000 might buy him back for a game, maybe. I was a bit sad about the way it all happened, just because of Bomber Thompson and him being so outspoken at the end of season dinner about Gary needing to go and find himself. I mean, it makes sense if you’re young and you’re being offered that amount of money, plus you need a life outside of Geelong. But I am still hopeful. I think he’s signed with Gold Coast again but I haven’t given up hoping he’ll come back to us one day. That hope might be fading a bit though.

These days I like watching Selwood. I think he’s tough as nails and he just gives it his absolute all. He is the heart and soul of Geelong at the moment. There are probably other great players too, in other teams, but I tend not to watch as many games or opposition players any more. I’m hopeful Dangerfield will come to the Cats. If I was taking players from other clubs then it would be him, or even we need someone like Kennedy from West Coast. We need a forward. We need somebody to help out Hawkins. Sometimes I think back to people like Nathan Ablett – he wasn’t the big star at the Cats but he just worked well into the mix. We need a forward that can work well with Hawkins because he’s such a big bloke that takes up so much space. Boak. I’d take Boak any day. We nearly had him. And I quite like Alex Rance, I think he’s just a really good player.

I don’t like Hawthorn for obvious reasons being a Cats supporter. There are certain players at Hawthorn that I particularly don’t like, such as Mitchell. I don’t like Brian Lake at all either. He should have stayed at the Dogs and kept his original surname; now he’s gone to Hawthorn and become a Hawk and changed his name I can’t stand him. But I also don’t like Adelaide and that’s because I still think back to 1997 when the Cats finished second and Adelaide finished seventh, however because we didn’t have lights for our stadium and couldn’t get a game in Melbourne, we played our home final against the Crows over in Adelaide on a Saturday night. Nigel Smart I think it was kicked a few goals and Adelaide ended up winning, so since then I’ve always hated the Crows. I don’t like the tactics of Fremantle sometimes, but there’s not one particular player I can’t stand. There’s a lot of North Melbourne players I haven’t liked over the years but it’s probably not quite as bad now.

GoBlues

I think in Melbourne it’s always going to be AFL first. Before we moved to Melbourne I was a St George-Illawarra supporter in the NRL and you do watch a bit of rugby league and also rugby union living in Canberra. One of the things I find in Melbourne though is that it’s fully about AFL. You could be at work in the kitchen for example and you can start a conversation with someone and it always ends up being “Who do you follow?”. Or when you get someone new at work, the first question they get asked is “Who do you follow?” and if they say something like Hawks, someone will say “Oh how did you get past the recruiter?” or if they say ‘Pies it’s, “You must not have disclosed that in the interview because we wouldn’t have hired you”. That’s just how it is. I remember coming to Melbourne when I worked in Canberra with Swimming Australia and we’d come down here in December for an event and there’d be eight pages of the Herald Sun dedicated to football in the off season. It just purely is an AFL town.

Sometimes I don’t like when there might be an incident and the media just focuses on it for the next six weeks so it drags out, whether it’s actually a big issue or not. I think in terms of the actual game itself, some of the rules like holding the ball – it’s just hit and miss each week, you know. It’s like those signs you see that say ‘Police are now targeting speeding’ and instead it’s ‘Umpires are now targeting holding the ball’ this week, or chopping of the arms or whatever. I think it’s just the inconsistencies of umpiring that are so frustrating.

I love the passion of fans. You know, people just get so involved and it’s amazing. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a lot of games but I love being at the ground with the atmosphere and you can just lose yourself. I remember a game, Geelong v Bulldogs back in about 2007 or 2008 and something happened, Cooney did something, and I stood up out of my chair and put on a five minute rant about something or other. You know, you just lose yourself in it. It’s that passion and excitement of following a side. I like when players celebrate when they’ve done something good – Motlop can do some magical things and he’ll get the crowd going and things like that. Just being there and being able to see it is always great.”

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.

“Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”.”

Cheyne coach 1

I suppose the alternate title of this post is ‘What my brother thinks about footy’ because that’s exactly what it is. For as long as I can remember both my brothers (and my dad) have been involved in some code of football or another, be it AFL, rugby union, rugby league or soccer. Typical country kids that had a go at everything. Now that Cheyne has managed to stay in the country for longer than five minutes he’s moved from being a player to a coach and is currently based at the Eastlake Football Club in Canberra. We had a moment the other day when he told me that he likes GWS and Richmond better than Port Adelaide but terrible taste aside, he’s still one of my favourite people to talk about footy with. Not to mention he currently rates as one of my favourite two brothers of all time (and I’m pretty happy he decided to stick around with us).

Name: Cheyne Webster

Age: 33

Recruited from: Eastlake Football Club

Occupation: High school teacher and footy coach

AFL team followed: Sydney Swans

All time favourite footy moment: 2005 and 2012 grand final wins

“I go for the Sydney Swans. Being from NSW I think it’s great that you support a local team and I guess before GWS that was our only local team, so I’ve got an affiliation with them because I’m from there. Clearly they’re successful, which always helps, but I think the players that they’ve got there are really great to watch, plus the culture and their style of play is pretty awesome.

My first game was a long time ago now. I just remember how passionate people were about the footy. I remember going to rugby league games and people just kind of sit there and watch it passively but at an AFL game it seems like it was just non-stop screaming from everyone. People were either screaming at a player or the umpire or screaming at opposition fans. So that was kind of my memory of the first time at the footy though I can’t exactly remember who was playing.

I probably go to the footy four or five times a year. Being in Canberra with GWS playing games there now is great and I try to get to a Melbourne game when I can. Nothing beats watching it at the ground, it’s a completely different experience to watching it on TV. Just nothing beats actually being at the footy. Being a coach, I feel like I’m coaching the team when I watch – I’m yelling out at players to do things or getting upset at how it’s going. I wouldn’t just sit there and watch it, I’m very vocal and I don’t mind giving it to someone who is wearing kit that isn’t from the two teams that are playing. I think that’s important too because it’s one of footy’s biggest crimes, the umpiring.

I’ve got a few good sledges. One is actually something that you said, talking about dropping wooden spoons when someone drops their hat or scarf on the ground. That’s always a good one. It’s even better when people actually take the bait and seriously look around themselves and then realise they’ve been had. The anger in their face is gold. That’s probably my favourite sledge because it’s good to watch when it comes off.

I have been a member of the Swans before but I’m not now. I think it’s probably something I should do because I feel like it’s important for people to be members in order to put something back into the club.

I’ve got a couple of favourite footy memories. The 2005 grand final was massive – I was watching it at home with my family and it was just amazing to see a team that had been nowhere for so long just come almost out of nowhere and win it. And then in 2012 I was living overseas and I watched the grand final at an ex-pat pub in Bangkok and I don’t think I’ve ever been drunker in my life. I was screaming in people’s ear that Mike Pyke was the best ruckman in the world… I think a couple of people wanted to punch me in the face. But I just remember being so unbelievably happy.

Last year’s grand final was horrible, losing that way to Hawthorn. I remember wanting to turn it off after quarter time and I’ve never been that kind of person. Then just copping it from a lot of friends who are Hawthorn fans. So that’s a game that I wouldn’t want to really ever re-live.

I’ve got two favourite players, either Adam Goodes or Jude Bolton. I just love the way they both play their footy and they’re both great Swans people and I think they play the game right. I think they’ve both been wonderful ambassadors for the game. Currently I’m a big Luke Parker fan and I think he’s destined to win a Brownlow. He’s just one of those people who kind of embodies everything Paul Roos brought to the club in terms of that Bloods culture. I think he’s a phenomenal player and I also think he’ll be a future captain.

I guess before Buddy and Tippett went to Sydney I would probably say we’d want someone like a Nick Riewoldt, a big tall forward. I’d love Luke Hodge to play for us, I think he’d be exceptional and he’s a very good leader but he’s also hard and tough. I think he’d shore up our backline beautifully.

Cheyne coach 2

I’ve kept playing footy myself for a long time because I always loved being around a place where people had a common interest. That’s why I’m still in footy now, even as a coach, is because people love the game and there’s lots of different ways that you can kind of embrace that and put something back. Obviously playing or coaching is one of them, and just supporting clubs as well. But being around people that just love the game is what keeps me going.

I’ve got plenty of good local footy memories. I think one of the best ones is our dad getting a fine for umpire abuse. That was a fantastic memory. But probably the best one is when I remember going to Sydney to watch our brother play football and dad was just absolutely giving it to the umpire all day. Eventually the umpire had to stop the game and came over and said, “Mate you shouldn’t be here” and dad turned around and said, “I’m starting to feel the same way about you”. The whole crowd did the “Ooooooohhhhhhh” and then dad had no hesitation in leaving after that. It was great. It’s probably my favourite local footy memory.

I guess I’ve always enjoyed studying the game and talking to people about why and how things happen, and how to get the best out of people. There’s a lot of things from coaching footy that translate into my normal job, which is teaching. I also enjoy helping people to get better. I think coaching has probably been more fulfilling than just playing to be honest, because you can see tangible results and there’s pressure on you to help others. It’s a selfless pursuit I think, whereas being a player can be a selfish one.

What makes a great coach is honesty, flexibility, drive, energy. I think they’re probably the four things any coach should really aspire to have. There’s a few coaches I really look up to in the AFL. I always enjoy listening to the Scott brothers and the way they analyse the game. They’re pretty refreshing in terms of their honesty and where they think the game’s at or what we need to do to get the game better. I’d really love to be a player under them because I think you’d learn an infinite amount from them.

I think I’ll stay involved in footy for as long as possible. It’s getting to a point now where it’s becoming an all-encompassing job and I’d really love to make a go of coaching to a point where it would become more than just a part-time pursuit. So yeah, I think I’ll be in it for as long as I possibly can because I just love being around footy clubs.

I’m concerned about the state of the game interstate, particularly in Queensland. I think that the product itself is still really strong but I also think the AFL’s push to equalisation hasn’t quite worked. They need to come up with some ways to strengthen footy in other areas. That’s probably something that needs to change. At the moment there’s really strong teams and really weak ones.

I love just how much people invest in the game. Like, there’s so many people who wear their heart on their sleeve and I think it’s a really great way to get people together and bring people together for a common purpose. It’s just a great thing to be a part of.”

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.

The girls.

womens afl 1

womens afl 2

womens afl 3

I absolutely love these photos from today’s AFL Women’s game at Etihad between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. And I love even more that it was shown on TV for the very first time in the game’s history. By all accounts it was a really close and exciting game, with the Dees getting up by four points 6.4 to 5.6 over the Dogs. I was also pretty happy to read a lot of positive support on social media – in a year when fans seem to be ready to tear down anything and everything, it was nice to see them come together to universally applaud this.

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.