The Selwood Way

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Those who waited to see who won the Peter Badcoe Medal at the conclusion of the Port Adelaide v Geelong match on Saturday 21st of April, 2018 were not happy campers.

Geelong took Port’s best shots, absorbed the blows and counter-punched effectively, rocking Port back on their heels as they walked away comfortable winners in a hostile environment. They were led from the front once again by their durable captain, Joel Selwood, who added yet another accolade to his ever growing trophy case – the Peter Badcoe VC Medal.

It was the second time Selwood claimed this honour, and importantly, it was the second time in only three tries. The medal is exclusive to Port Adelaide’s Anzac Round game, and named after the former soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in Vietnam. He died whilst attempting to prevent a Vietcong machine gunner from firing on South Vietnamese troops.

In an age where medals and awards in home and away games don’t mean much, this one does.

Those outside the Port Adelaide circle may not be too aware of the medal, or the story behind it, but if any modern day player embodies the qualities of courage and selflessness – qualities that embody the Anzac spirit, Joel Selwood’s name would have to be mentioned, and mentioned often.

As the straggling Port Adelaide fans booed Selwood’s announcement as the winner, their emotions still running high after watching their team kick just seven goals against an inexperienced Geelong backline, you had to wonder what was going through their heads? Would they have preferred the medal be awarded to an obviously outplayed Port player? Would they prefer it went to someone less deserving of the honour? On this night, there was no player more deserving of the award than Selwood. Their resentment was poison, and Joel Selwood was still standing.

It was a gross and disrespectful display from Port fans. Not only did they disrespect the spirit of the award their club instituted, they disrespected a worthy recipient. They were akin to a disgruntled helicopter parent thinking their child should be given accolades for being average.

Joel Selwood is no stranger to success at the AFL level. He is the proud owner of three premiership medals, the 2007 Rising Star award, six All-Australian berths – two as captain, three Geelong Best and Fairest awards, and importantly three AFL Players Association Most courageous player awards. He is everything you’d want in a captain of a football club. He is courageous, and has a will to win that has seen him drag his team back from the brink of a loss and will them over the line – this is something Hawthorn supporters can attest to.

“When the heat was on in the third quarter, and we really needed some individuals to step up, I don’t think we should discount Joel Selwood, who kind of reminded me of Gary Ablett when the game was on the line,” said Geelong coach Chris Scott on 2nd April 2013 as the Cats extended their win streak to ten games over Hawthorn.

He continued - “It looks to me, from the outside, that Joel just decides something needs to be done and he’s going to take the whole team with him.”

Selwood, and old mate Jimmy Bartel broke the hearts of Hawthorn supporters on multiple occasions, refusing to allow a game to slip away despite the scoreboard indicating that it was all but gone from their grasp. It is the sort of quality a player has that makes him adored by his own supporters, and despised by others.

There can be no questioning Selwood’s heart. When others would stay down, he gets up. When others would stop, he keeps going. When others give up, he keeps fighting. He knows no other way.

Images of him with tape around his melon to stem the flow of blood are as common as images of him without strapping. He is a throwback to an age when players would simply get up, brush aside the trainers and doctors and return to the field. He is a warrior in a game where players seldom go into battle, preferring to throw a hand into the contest instead of their bodies. Selwood could do that too, but it’s just not the Selwood way.

Drafted at pick seven in the 2006 draft, Selwood has made the six teams who picked before Geelong rue their decision. Imagine an Essendon midfield with Selwood in the middle? It would quickly rectify any need for a hard-bodied mid to be in an under at stoppages – the biggest criticism of the Bombers current on-ball brigade. How about if the Kangaroos had selected him at pick three instead of opting for Lachie Hansen? Would he be the sort of addition that would aid the Roos in attracting other big name players? Ask Patrick Dangerfield if playing with Selwood was an attractive option.

And how about Hawthorn, who chose Mitch Thorp with pick six? They opted to pass on Selwood due to supposed issues with his knees. Over 250 games later, those issues are yet to hamper the Geelong champion. Fittingly, Selwood brought the Hawks to their knees several times during the Kennett-Curse era.

As game 250 came and went for the Geelong Captain, he shows no signs of slowing down. In that milestone game he racked up 39 touches and was easily amongst the best players on the ground. Caught in a tackle in the third quarter, his knee seemed to buckle underneath him. His face was a mask of pain as trainers and doctors rushed to attend him.

As an outsider looking in, I thought he was done for the day as he slowly got to his feet and limped badly. He had to come off, right? Go and get an MRI and sit out the next 6-8 weeks with a knee injury? Nope, he’s Joel Selwood.

He limped to the forward pocket, refusing to even leave the ground. There he was again as the fourth quarter commenced – back in the middle, and back in the action. Geelong were gone in that game, and whilst Max Gawn’s horrid miss from 25 metres out will live in many memories as the moment that cost the game, Selwood fighting through the pain and remaining on the field was just as big. He makes his teammates walk taller simply by walking tall himself.

Injuries aside, 300 games seems a formality. 350 games is probably more likely. Still, game after game, as he puts his head over the ball and is first to get his hands on it, opposition supporters scream for blood, calling him a cheat, a ducker, and a plethora of other, less than savoury names. Selwood should wear those names like a badge of honour. They hurl the insults out of frustration – they know they are witnessing a player do what those on their own team are incapable of doing, or, worse, unwilling to do.

In a game where rules are made to be exploited, none have done it better than Joel Selwood. As would-be tacklers approach, it’s as though he senses their presence.

Picture this – it shouldn’t be too difficult given how frequently it occurs. The tackler lunges at Selwood, aiming to tackle him around the arms to prevent disposal. Joel lowers his body, shrugs the tackler and lifts and lifts an arm in the process. The tackle invariably slips around his neck, and Selwood is awarded a free kick. Opposition supporters boo, and boo loudly. Umpires are criticised, and the ball is pumped toward Geelong’s end.

People consistently argue the way Selwood draws free and avoids and slips tackles is against the spirit of the game. And what spirit would that be? The spirit that used to allow players to head hunt each other on the ground as a legitimate tactic? The spirit that saw behind the play incidents go unpunished and revered by certain segments of society? They are ridiculous arguments, borne of frustration, as the best modern exponent of using the rules to his advantage goes about his business.

Currently the Cats sit at three wins and two losses – well and truly in the hunt for a finals berth. With Harry Taylor to return to strengthen a young backline, and Ablett a few weeks away, Geelong youngsters have stepped to the fore. Tim Kelly, Esava Ratugolea and Brandan Parfitt are way ahead of where anyone expected them to be. The Cats have reloaded, and they’re taking aim at the flag.

Looking at Selwood’s trophy cabinet, there is but one place that remains unoccupied – Premiership Captain. With the recruitment of Gary Ablett back into the fold, the Cats are all-in on 2018. Their three-headed monster of Selwood, Dangerfield and Ablett has sparked conversation as to where it ranks amongst the best midfield trios of all time, and whilst Ablett’s dodgy hamstring may have stifled those conversations, they will reignite at some point during the year.

You can actually picture Selwood standing on that dais, accepting the premiership cup to a smattering of boos amongst the Geelong cheers. No player has received this kind of treatment since the waning days of Adam Goodes. This is obviously not about race – it is about a player playing so well within the rules of the game that opposition supporters, and this week, Port Adelaide supporters simply cannot handle it.

Whilst I have no doubt supporters looking for something to be upset about will inevitably find it, looking at Joel Selwood, surely there must be a modicum of respect for the man amid the bile and vitriol? He plays the game as it should be played - at home or far away. He does that with bravery, boldness and an unflinching resolve.

Port Adelaide supporters did themselves a disservice following their loss to Geelong. Not only did they boo the man who won their own award, they booed a champion of the game playing at a level none of their players could match. Yes, they weren’t happy - their team was beaten on home soil. Yes, they don’t like Joel Selwood – many don’t. Yes, they embarrassed themselves by disrespecting not just a man, not just a player, but an award that deserves better.

Joel Selwood has a way of making teams pay. Port and Geelong won’t meet again this season unless they run into each other in the finals. My guess would be that Joel Selwood would be a short-priced favourite for best on ground again when the two teams meet. There may or may not be a medal to win on that day, but there will be a game to win, and Joel Selwood will do his utmost to be as influential as possible.

Not to win an award; to win the game. Courageously. Selflessly. It’s the Selwood way.

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