The Choke Artists… The Handbaggers…

To those reading via my Substack and the Mongrel that are fans of other teams – fair warning.

I’m a Geelong fan, so this may be a little incredibly self-indulgent.

To my fellow Cats fans – they did it.


Sorry HB.

Not just because you go for the Hawks, but I’ve somewhat cheated on my original plan for an article.

Initially, I wanted to run an experiment where I gave my thoughts immediately after the game – win or lose.

What I overlooked, however, was that if we had a blowout win; I’d have cracked the beer open early and would subsequently be getting absolutely rat-faced.

So instead you’ll have to settle for my thoughts a week or two later – hangover fully subsided.

I imagine a lot of neutrals would’ve been disappointed in this game, maybe even turning it off in the third quarter. I don’t blame you – I did the same thing in 2019, watching the Tigers cruise around traffic cones.

The result may have been a foregone conclusion at quarter time for most…but it wasn’t for me, or most Cats fans for that matter.

In case you guys didn’t know, we lose a lot of finals…seriously heaps of them.

When I’m watching games I’m emotionally invested in, I kind of have two sides of my brain operating at once.

The point at which each of these two brains knew it was over can teach me a bit about myself – and what I’ve learnt over the course of my life as a Geelong supporter.

Brain 1 is my general footy brain; it’s the brain that is working when I’m watching games I’m not invested in too.

Brain 2 is the irrational one; the emotional memory bank.

It’s stacked full of things like – blown half-time leads in grand finals; bullshit umpiring decisions; miracles on grass; ‘home’ finals at the MCG; that little annoying shit in primary school that went for the Bombers; every Facebook comment I’ve read that contained the term ‘Duckwood’; Stewart Dew; Max Gawn; Dusty brushing off Dangerfield to seal the game; sitting behind the goals as Travis Varcoe missed one from 35 out straight in front to tie the game; Max Gawn again; sitting in Eddie’s Pocket with my Crows supporting Auntie – listening to pure unmitigated Dangerfield slander – as the only Cats supporter getting flogged in a prelim; getting jumped in the first quarter by the Swans when the AFL introduced the pre-finals bye in 2016; going out in straight sets to North; losing our one actual home final to the Dockers; and Nick Davis.

Let’s start when I knew it was over using Brain 1.

The first quarter was absolutely crash hot – but I was still convinced the Swans would turn it around at the contest, and make a run at some point.

Ironically the point in the game in which this side of my brain decided it was over, came during the passage of play leading to Hayden McLean’s goal.

The Swans love to launch off half-back, streaming numbers through the corridor; and they needed to get that swinging if they wanted to make a comeback.

Robbie Fox (probably Sydney’s best all day) was the man to get the overlap run for them from a turnover.

He burst away from Rohan, brushed off Selwood; and suddenly the Swans had four on one in the middle.

This was it.

This was the first play the Swans had on their terms. Playing their way….

…then along came Tom Atkins.

The little pitbull. The long time battler.

In 2015, Atkins was playing for Joeys in the GFL.

In 2017, he was passed over by Geelong in the rookie draft.

And in 2022, he was defensively gut running down Chad Warner in an AFL Grand Final.

Gary Rohan then smothered a handball, locking up the play.

He then gave away a free for a high tackle; and then Mclean took a strong contested grab in the square – but you know…still.

I was reminded of Robbo’s comment after the prelim about the Lions.

“Theyy carrnt move the baawll Gerrad”

It was proven true again. Even when Sydney got the best on offer, this weakness-free Cats side refused to let them play on their terms.

It was a glorious statement of intent. Even when you win, even when you pick the best option…we’re going to scramble back like absolute madmen and break the play up.

The balance in this team; it just doesn’t have any holes.

Do you know how absurd it is that Geelong are the best at punishing turnovers and also the best at defending from turnovers?

That just shouldn’t happen.

The tradeoff to playing a spare behind the ball should be getting beaten at the contest.

Contested Ball: One hundred and fifty one to one hundred and ten the Cats way.

The tradeoff to streaming numbers through the middle when attacking should be having it rammed back at you when you mess it up.

But it just doesn’t happen.

It’s Chris Scott’s genius on full display.

It’s unrivalled selflessness.

It’s perfect football.

Watching this made Brain 1 know there wouldn’t be an answer they could come up with; it was over.


Before I get to Brain 2, I want to share with you my grand final day; and a good omen that held me in good stead.

Normally, I don’t really believe in omens, curses, blessings; or anything of that nature.

But I thought this one was kind of nice.

Firstly, I have to start back in 2007.

I was eleven years old at the time; despite my parents not being too interested in footy – having come from overseas – it was hard not to get caught up in the celebrations, as G-Town buzzed with anticipation, forty-four years in the making.

My – still to this day – football-indifferent sisters got involved too; dressing up the living room in a bit of Blue and White, watching what has come to be the annual game of footy that they actually watch.

Anyway, I don’t have to spell out for you what happened next. Handball chains through the corridor, Nathan Ablett, One Hundred and Nineteen ect.

Fair to say, I was in a good mood for the next couple of weeks; a mood that couldn’t be brought down by anything.

This was hugely positive for my parents, because the next weekend we went to visit the extended family in Adelaide – via an eight-hour car trip.

I’m not a parent myself – but I imagine extended car trips with three kids is every couple’s worst nightmare; especially in my family, because my siblings and I used to argue…constantly.

One of the central points of disagreement on car trips came around who got to select the next CD. I always kept rigorous mental notes of whose turn it was to select the next one, but my sly younger sister would always try and trick my parents into thinking it was her go. If she got caught trying to pull one over on my parents, she’d then play it off by saying she messed up…but she knew.

Funnily enough, my sister always like to pick the Robbie Williams CD; who she hilariously pronounced “Wobbly Williams” – wasn’t a bad performance from Wobbly.

Anyhow, one of the CDs I really liked at the time was called High on the Happy Side by Wet Wet Wet. 90s Scottish Soft Rock wouldn’t really be the sort of thing I’d listen to today…but to each their own I guess; I was eleven, give me a break.

I think the reason I liked it came down largely to the album cover. It had four sparkling gold actors masks lying on a dark green satin fabric. Again – I was a child, my sense of beauty wasn’t fully evolved yet.

I would come to realise later in life, that like many people I associate songs with particular memories, events or places; hearing them brings back a nostalgia of some sort – a reminder of happier times.

So for me – for whatever reason – I associated the title track of this song with Geelong winning the flag in 07’, in all its ecstasy and joy.

Ok, fast forward to Grand Final day 2022.

As you’re all well aware by now, I’m a massive nuff when it comes to the Cats. I’d like to think I can be a bit fairer and more objective when given time to process things – but during the game? – we’re talking S tier levels of biased reaction.

For this reason, I can’t really watch big Geelong games with opposing fans or neutrals. Being at the game in a crowd has a bit of a dampening effect of this, but if not, I’ve really got to be with other Cats fans or by myself.

I had half a plan on Grand Final day to attend a friend’s party – which was with other Geelong fans – but they pulled out in the morning with a nasty throat infection.

I briefly considered going to a pub, but if it was a close game and some BS descision went against us, the risk of getting kicked out for antisocial behaviour and having to miss part of the game was too high – so I decided to watch it on the telly at home.

Considering it was the Grand Final, I couldn’t watch it on Kayo like I normally do; but being a Zoomer, I don’t watch any TV, instead just streaming everything through a Chromecast.

So, with three or four hours before the big dance, I had to make an impromptu trip to JB-Hi-Fi to buy myself an antenna cable.

As I walked out of the store, I noticed one of those antiques/trinket shops, right next door.

What do you know, there in the window was a golden sun mask, glistening beautifully on a sunny afternoon in Melbourne.

This was a good omen for the 07’ esque drubbing that was to come.

After going out to the city to celebrate the victory – I then took the train home; listening to that song on repeat…absolutely hammered…absolutely ecstatic.

 


Alright, now on to Brain 2.

This may seem a little bit late to some, but the point at which Brain 2 realized it was over came when Tyson Stengle slotted one from the boundary with five and a bit minutes left in the third.

It was the point at which I stopped doing the maths.

I said to myself – ‘mate…it’s ninety nine to twenty seven…this is over’.

Brain two had prevented me having the presence of mind to say the same thing at ninety three to twenty seven; I don’t really know why – again, it’s not very rational.

After this point, watching this game was pure euphoria.

Each goal was celebrated nerveless and freely.

Given time to reflect on this, I can’t help but think it would’ve been great being able to watch the game in this state the whole way through (which I did to some extent replaying it far too many times).

I think this brings up the issue I have with Brain 2.

Because of all the history and heartbreak I carry in my recent memory (to fans of other clubs, I understand we’re not a tortured franchise I’ll address this soon but bare with me) – winning games like this becomes less of a labour of love, and more one of revenge.

It’s a very self-indulgent operating system; that produces anger and resentment when it loses, but it also produces arrogance and gloating when it wins.

I’m not a perfect person by any means – so I definitely did my fair share of gloating post-match; but if I’m honest with myself, it’s not really a good instinct to have.

This brain is the ego. The sore loser. The bad winner.

There’s been a lot of talk about why Geelong have managed to have a sustained level of success over a long period. Whether it’s not overpaying players based on potential, veterans accepting contracts well below market value, or just a good old-fashioned brown paper bag under the table – Eddie Obeid style – I’m not really in the business of weighing up the extent of these factors.

But one thing that I think might get overlooked is the culture and ethos of the club within.

Almost every year there’s a team or two that rockets up the ladder – perhaps overperforms somewhat in finals – and then gets absolutely blown out in a prelim or a granny.

Often times this can lead to a collective dispiriting of the team in the subsequent season.

Port in 07’, Adelaide in 17’, Melbourne in 18’ and the Dogs last year are some examples of this.

The theory goes that being so close to glory, hovering delicately on the precipice – only for it to be cruelly ripped from your grasp; then leads to some level of exhaustion.

“Christ, do we have to go through that again?’“ – “A full offseason, every game, every training session; just to give ourselves another shot?”

It’s understandable; coming so close and failing would be a brutal crack to the ego.

But Geelong don’t seem to suffer from this burden.

Despite failing – again and again – the Cats are up there year-in-year-out.

Getting absolutely spanked by the Dees – four weeks after choking away the minor premiership to them on their home deck in spectacular fashion – should be crippling to the ego. It was certainly crippling to mine.

But Geelong just re-grouped, reflected, reassessed; and then won the flag.

Chris Scott often likes to deflect praise off of himself, but this may be the biggest influence he has on the team.

He often talks about living in the moment; enjoying footy as it happens.

Every win – both games and moments within games – gets celebrated by everyone in the team. Every loss is an opportunity to learn.

This is effectively a meaningless play in the context of the season. The game was over and the minor premiership was wrapped up with a week to spare.

But of course, they celebrate it. It’s a great effort – and besides…

…it’s footy…it’s meant to be fun.

It’s kind of ironic in some ways how creating a winning culture, doesn’t seem to come from placing winning premierships at the forefront.

The media and fans (myself included, I’m not above this one) often define success of a footy team along the narrow binary of win flag or lose flag.

But not only does this attitude set you up for failure – its almost a fundamentally anti-human way of living.

It saps the joy out of life – and prevents you from experiencing love as it happens.

Looking back on this year; Geelong produced one of the most dominant seasons in recent memory. But because of my failings – that stupid childish ego ticking away in the background – I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I should’ve.

Brilliant hard-fought wins like the one against Port in Adelaide; were hampered by this idiotic voice in my head, endlessly repeating “fuck I hope we don’t choke in finals”.

Looking back further, its probably ruined plenty of other games for me.

What a pointless instinct it was – why couldn’t I just enjoy the footy.

And that’s the brilliance of Scott.

To everyone else – me included – Geelong were the perennial ‘so-closers’. The good but not good enough.

The choke artists.

But internally, the barometer for success wasn’t winning flags or winning finals.

As Craig McRae might say – we may have lost the game, but we’re not losers.

Winners don’t base winning on the result – its an attitude that comes internally, and in their relationship with others.

A universal acceptance that you try and try and try, and put yourself out there, and fail miserably, then try again, and fail less miserably, and try and try, and fail even more miserably than before…

…then eventually…maybe…no guarantees whatsoever…

…you sometimes succeed.

And when you do succeed, you don’t rub it in…

…you give that success to others; you use it to uplift them.

That’s what winners do.

Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
Photo by Daniel Pockett/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
Picture by Michael Klein/via News Corp Australia

Go Cats!

 

You can find more from Josef at his Substack located here: https://josefmack.substack.com/

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