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My Love Of Finals Footy - A Journey Through September With The Cats

Ah, September. The time of year for every footy fan where the grass is greener, the weather is a little warmer and the days are just a little brighter. Everything is better when your team is playing in September.

As Dennis Commetti said “You know it’s September when you start hearing the word girt” and boy I can’t wait. I am a completely biased Victorian - next Friday night is going to be huge!

Legends are made in September. Legacies are cemented. Players and/or clubs found wanting, rarely escape the ridicule. You only have to ask Geelong fans who still cop the old “hand-baggers” or Collingwood fans still getting the “wobbles”. What about Leon Davis going missing in Grand Finals? Or the fabled Adelaide “Power Stance”?

One of my favourite Rex Hunt Quotes was “This is finals football. It’s not life and death, it’s much more important than that”.  Obviously, a bit of an exaggeration, but I love how much everything lifts in finals. It’s bigger and more important, it means more, hurts more and is analysed to the nth degree. Every contest, every effort and every statement.

This month of football not only caps off the current season, but usually sets the agenda for the next one. The storylines of individuals and clubs are written into fairy tales, or nightmares, depending on their results. Boilovers, comebacks and thrashings, the only thing most people can agree on is that strange things happen in September. I can’t remember an October where I’ve sat down and said “what a waste of footy, that month was”.

I have had the opportunity to ride the ups and downs of September campaigns over my short time, as a Geelong supporter (yes, full disclosure). This article is a look back at some of the games that have stuck in my mind over the years and the moments that defined those games. There are good times and bad times, so feel free to read the ones you like (whichever team you support).

A quick note to some. The 2008 grand final is NOT on this list. I have watched all of these finals at least twice (even I wondered why I bothered with a couple of them) however I have never watched that game since that fateful day. It may seem hard to understand, but I get a certain level of joy from each final on this list, but never from that game. I only get pure misery, which I am certain is the exact opposite of some reading this.

So, let’s start from the beginning…

 

2004 Preliminary Final vs Brisbane Lions – My First Experience

This is my earliest memory of a final involving the Cats. I remember the lead up more than the actual game. The game was sensationally played at the MCG, despite it being a Brisbane Home game (the irony of this situation is not lost on me, as a Cats supporter in the current climate), due to the AFL’s deal with the MCG. I still remember the debates about the fairness of it all and the stupidity of the situation, by the adults I knew. I remember that I wanted to go more than anything, but unfortunately my sister was born in September and her 21st birthday party was scheduled on the same night. Bloody parents and their poor timing. Even now I can still picture my family, (all except my sister and one brother) sitting in the kitchen of the community hall watching a TV about the size of an iPad, as the footy played out and the party raged in the other room. I remember the despair that ran through us as the Lions eventually won the night and Geelong faltered at the final hurdle. I remember my dad consoling me saying that the Cats were a young team during that year, and that there would be more opportunities for finals in the future.

 

2005 Semi Final vs Sydney Swans – Heartbreak Kid

This game broke my heart. The same way it seems to have broken every Geelong supporters’ heart that was unfortunate enough to see the now infamous last quarter capitulation of our beloved Cats. Leading comfortably early in the last quarter, the Cats would allow Nick “Bloody” Davis to kick the final four goals to steal this game for the Swans.

That last stoppage in Sydney’s forward 50 where Davis collects the ball and just throws it onto his boot still haunts me. That close up shot with Davis on the ground and Joel Corey’s despairing face as he realises the ball has gone through is seared into my brain. This still remains the only game I saw my Dad cry because we lost. That moment really drove home how much this game meant to everyone else and not just me. It doesn’t help that they play that damn call by Anthony Hudson every single time we play the Swans. Its now a running joke in my family. The fact my name is Nick got me blamed for the loss for a little while (only sportingly).

Now, I know it was only a semi final and that there is no guarantee of anything, but the fact the Swans went on to win that premiership really drives home the hurt for Cats fans. It scorned us. It made us demand more from our team, even I could sense it in my adolescence. The team was better than what they were showing. I regularly say that the start of Geelong’s successful run was born of the disappointment felt by the whole city after this game.

“Nick Davis… Nick Davis… Nick Davis!”

Still hurts.

 

2007 Preliminary Final vs Collingwood – We Believe

This game… I can still remember exactly where I sat. I was so confident. I was certain we would win (and win well). Geelong had been on an incredible run and we had smashed North Melbourne by 100pts in the first final. Surely, we would sail past Collingwood and onto premiership glory.

We arrived at the game early, as we always have with my family. One of the things I enjoy about going to the footy is getting there early and reading the football record and then marking it along with the scores (I still do it today). The thing that sticks out most in my mind is how many bloody people there were. I’d never been to a game like it. The MCC members were shouting abuse because they had been locked out. The MCC was actually full! I didn’t even know what the bloody MCC was at that stage (only 18 years left on the waiting list... Let me in already!). In the stadium, I couldn’t see an empty seat anywhere. I would’ve sworn there were 100,000 people there. This game cemented my love for the footy on the biggest stage of all, the MCG. As much as I love Kardinia Park as the Cats home ground and with many great memories there, nothing can beat a 95,000+ crowd at the ‘G. It’s like a symphony, being conducted to the movements on the ground. But anyway, back to the game.

The Cats started the game well and got an early lead on the Pies. I remember throwing out snide and funny (at least in my opinion) comments to the Collingwood supporters around us. This is my real favourite part of going to the football. The banter - I love the back-and-forth between opposition supporters about the game. Celebrating your players’ courage and ability. Enjoying the opposition’s mistakes and shortcomings. Calling for retirements, new pairs of shorts and a set of glasses for the umpires for every decision that doesn’t go your team’s way. I will clarify that I don’t enjoy personal abuse between fans. Acknowledge each other and respond to each other and have a laugh and a dig, but keep your comments focused on the actions on the field. AND if your team should lose, just smile and enjoy the fun you’ve had, while your opposition gets to enjoy the win.

But back to the game. My main memory is of the last ten minutes. Back in those days you had no idea how long was left. The only indication was the security guards coming out with five minutes to go in the last quarter. If you were behind at that stage, things started to get serious, fast. I remember the stress. The knots in my stomach as Collingwood continued to press wand push us. I remember one of the loudest cheers I have heard ring out when Paul Medhurst kicked that goal after Anthony Rocca couldn’t take his kick. It had come a long time after Ablett has given us some breathing room, but suddenly, when we all knew there wasn’t much time left, Collingwood were a kick away from the lead and had the momentum. I’m not saying I’m superhuman, but I don’t remember breathing between the moment that roar went up and when the siren sounded. That moment was pure ecstasy. Jumping around, screaming, hugging every Geelong supporter near us. It was surreal. We didn’t leave the ground for at least 40 minutes after the game finished. We were in total shock. We actually made the Grand Final! Of course, we all know what happened the next week. I’ll spare Port Adelaide fans the recap.

2010 Preliminary Final vs Collingwood – Devastation. It’s Over.

Oh god. Here we go. The real hurt starts to begin. I am happy to admit I openly wept during this game. It is by far, not my proudest memory. I was at another birthday party (seriously, what is with these inconsiderate people and having their birthdays in September?), so I wasn’t able to go to the game. Instead, I spent the night sitting on a couch watching the game and drinking myself into a stupor. When the siren finally sounded, I couldn’t hold it in. We had lost, and not just lost, we had been decimated. Collingwood had completely reversed the previous year’s preliminary final and absolutely blown us off the park.

Now, let’s be clear, I wasn’t upset just because we lost. It was what I thought this loss signified (and the fact I couldn’t hold a beer to save my life at that age), which was that Geelong’s run of success was over. The worst part was, I hadn’t got to attend any of the Grand Finals to that point. In my mind I had missed my chance to see my Cats on the big stage. I’d heard my family speak about their experiences during the three previous GF’s we’d been in. My Dad was the only one who had been to a Geelong Grand Final before 2007 (and had never seen a win). I knew that a club could go 30 years without making a Grand Final and even longer without winning a flag. The emotion hit me. Collingwood was better than us, St. Kilda was just as good and probably hungrier and Hawthorn was probably coming back to the top. We wouldn’t win another one anytime soon.

This part of my life that I treasured; this team I supported so whole heartedly - I would never be able to see them win a Grand Final live. I just couldn’t bare the thought.

 

2011 Grand Final vs Collingwood – Pure Ecstasy

The second-best day of my life (it was the first, at the time). My brother and I found out we had tickets on the Sunday afternoon the week before. The week was a whirlwind. Before we knew it, it was suddenly the big day.

I woke up very early on the day. I was far too excited. We had gone all out for attire. Standard stuff like a Guernsey over our hoodies, with a scarf and our favourite players badge was accompanied by pez beanies, a few extra badges each and some blue and white face paint.

The footy record was $20; God that was steep. And it was packed to the brim with cool stats, stories and recaps for the year. The experts were all having their say and all the tips were in. The stage was set for a classic. Well, not the stage Meatloaf performed on. We had pretty decent seats, low on level four in the Ponsford stand, and we couldn’t even tell how he sounded, due the poor acoustics. All we could hear was the instruments.

Going to a Grand Final is a nerve-racking experience (unless your team kicks clear early). It’s the ultimate high if your team wins, but I imagine it would be just as disparaging if your team loses. Thankfully I experienced the former.

At three-quarter-time it was still tight (only 7pts in it) but we were in front and thanks to my reading of the footy record, I knew the only team in the last 30 years to win a Grand Final after being down at three quarter time was Geelong in 2009.

That last quarter… Tom Hawkins. It was so good. I imagine the early part of the last quarter was what it was like watching the dominant forwards of yesteryear. He just couldn’t be stopped. The Cats couldn’t be stopped. Names like Bartel, Chapman, Kelly, Johnson, Enright, Scarlett and Corey stood tall and cemented their legacies as champions of the game.

When the “Gee-long” chant rang out with about 10 minutes to go, it was the ultimate insult. The Collingwood fans had tried their own version of the chant before half time, right before the Cats slammed home three late goals to bring the game back to almost level pegging.

You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. This premiership meant so much more to me because I was there to experience it. And no matter what happens with the Cats in the future, I’ll always have these memories to reminisce. The feeling of staying at the ground for over two hours after the game had finished while the players did their lap around the ground (they had not started the after-game concerts at that stage), attending the team presentation at Federation Square, travelling home and going out in central Geelong. Being out to all hours of the night and running into the players in the early hours of the morning. It still brings me the ultimate joy.

 

2013 Qualifying Final vs Fremantle – The Home Loss

Another fun one (sarcasm). I laughed so hard at the whinging Docker supporters when they found out they had to play Geelong in Geelong. It was the perfect storm. Four finals in Melbourne in the first week meant that the opportunity presented itself for the Cats to host a low-drawing team like Freo at home, despite the restricted capacity.

We were a shoe in. We never lost at home; we had a ridiculous winning percentage there. I was happily defending the decision, stating I would not be disappointed to miss out on tickets if it meant we would go through to a home preliminary final. I was already carrying on, this is the year that Geelong and Hawthorn finally meet in another Grand Final and Geelong could get its revenge for 2008 and put an exclamation point on the Kennett curse.

I was a little bit ahead of myself, it seems.

It all came crashing down at the first hurdle. The Dockers ruined the day and my dream of a Grand Final rematch with the Hawks. Unfortunately, I did get tickets to the game, and we sat right next to the Fremantle supporter’s area. Boy, weren’t they up and about? They had bested the Cats in two finals in two years and done the unthinkable and defeated us on our own deck. It still hurts that our finals record at home remains 0-1, and is a key reason I want more finals played there, so we can fix that stupid statistic.

I missed the sealing goal (stupid nervous bladder). I was walking back up the stairs to my seat when I heard the roar. I wondered if it was Geelong that had scored and got back within six points. Then I was hit with a wave of Cats fans…

Leaving early.

I pushed through them and got back to my seat. I don’t leave games early (at least not when I have a choice). It probably wasn’t worth the barbs we copped form the Freo fans as we left, but I just reminded myself that they were allowed to enjoy their win. They had earnt it.

 

2013 Preliminary Finals vs Hawthorn – So Close, Yet So Far.

Yes, we have arrived at a Hawthorn final. Rejoice Hawks fans.

To quote Maxwell Smart, Geelong “missed it by that much”.

I think the last wayward shot at goal by Travis Varcoe has haunted many Geelong fans over the years. We probably wouldn’t have beaten Fremantle the following week, but it still hurts to have thrown a game away so spectacularly. Especially against the team that (based on all the Cats supporters I know) Geelong fans hate the most.

I didn’t hold much hope going into this game. At this point in time, the teams that won the first week of finals went through to the grand final at a rate of about 94% (or something like that). This meant the odds were not in the Cats favour. But come rain or shine, we would march to the ‘G to support the blue and white against the enemy. It was a game against Hawthorn after all, we had a fair record against the Hawks, including a rampant string of wins since the ’08 Grand Final - anything could happen.

In my opinion (obviously biased) this game was far better than the Grand Final the following week. The level of output from the star players and the style of football that was played was enthralling to all who watched it. On a personal note, I cannot recall too many better individual performances in finals, than Steve Johnson’s on this night. The man was possessed. From the first bounce, to the Cats very last push forward to try and level the game, Johnson was in everything. I will always regard this game as the testament to his ability and work rate.

After the game finished, I just sat there. I didn’t think I could move. Whether I was in shock due to my disbelief in what I had just witnessed, I don’t know. I just didn’t know what to do. The Hawks fans around us celebrated hard, as if the build-up to the moment had been years in the making, which I suppose it had. I just sat there, observing the Hawks fans (I had not seen them sing their song in a while) thinking about what I’d just seen and what it meant to them.

I walked away from this game rueing the Grand Final that the world had been robbed of. Not Geelong vs Fremantle. Geelong Vs Hawthorn. It would’ve been the perfect bridge between the two eras. The Cats making their last push for one final flag, the Hawks looking to get back where they believed they belonged.

Still haunts me.

 

2016 Qualifying Final vs Hawthorn

C’mon, I had to include a final where the Cats actually beat the Hawks didn’t I?

Again, my nerves were extraordinary before this game. Another chapter to add to the epic rivalry between the Cat and the Hawks. Could I take another finals loss to the Hawks? In my time the record stood at 1-3 in the Hawks favour. If we lost again, there would be no escaping the fact they had the wood over us.

I once again, attended the game with my family. We had some ripping seats in the first couple rows of the 4th level of the Ponsford stand.

As fate would have it, our seats lined up directly in line with Isaac Smiths shot for goal after the siren of this game. My stomach was in knots. It had been such a see-sawing affair all game and we had the let the Hawks run the length of the field to get one last shot at goal. I thought to myself “how could we throw another final away against these bastards?” I could barely watch as he came into kick, with my hands over my face, peeping through my fingers. When Smith’s kicked missed… the euphoria was incredible. I remember the hugging and the screaming. “We’re going to the Grand Final!” I was saying as I embraced my loved ones.

Gee... that turned out well. Ha-ha.

I have since learned not to get so far ahead of myself when it comes to finals.

 

2017 Qualifying Final vs Richmond

I am fairly sure I didn’t want to do this game in this article, but there are a few points why I had too.

One, my brother is a massive Richmond supporter in a family full of Geelong supporters and he would never let me escape the fact I “glossed over” the Tigers triumph, after so many years of losses.

Two, the one constant I have heard from every Geelong supporter I have talked to, who attended this game, is the environment. I have never been to a more hostile game than this final against Richmond. This is probably more of a complement to Tiger fans than anything else. That’s the point of having a home final after all, isn’t it? Even though we were pummelled in the end, it didn’t stop the Tiger fans from going overboard with their celebrations. Cats fans are used to being outnumbered, it’s the same at every big game in Melbourne.

If you’ve read this far, you know I’ve been to my share of big games at the MCG. I’ve also gone interstate to watch my team in some not-so-friendly environments. However, the feeling that every Geelong supporter seems to have received form this night, is one of intimidation.

No, it wasn’t any particular incident or any one fan, or group. It was an infection that seemed to have spread across the entire Richmond fan base. Don’t ask Geelong fans to explain it, it’s just a feeling of unease you get when you know something bad could happen to you any second. I put it down to the feverish pitch the Tiger fans hit when they realised they were going to win. The anticipation of finally getting over the Cats after so long, as well as winning a final. It was like a more hardcore version of the 2013 prelim.

I don’t take any truly negative or scarring experiences from the game. The situation was somewhat mirrored the following year against the Demons when they monstered the Cats as well, so I’m really starting to become accustomed to it (Gee isn’t this a fun article). I don’t expect anything less from the Collingwood fans next Friday night.

We left the ground dejected. All of us were losers… well, except for my brother who was high as kite on that “My team just won their first final, and over your shitty team” feeling. On this night, Richmond, a team I had considered my third team (behind the Bulldogs as the second), quickly escalated to become my third most disliked team (what a rapid rise it was).

 

 

So that’s it, personal recount of some of the memorable finals my club has participated in, during my life. I know I left some key ones out, but you didn’t want to be reading this all day, did you?

There are some classic memories I will never forget form these games, and I look forward to having many more supporting my beloved team through the coming month. Speaking of which…

2019 Qualifying Final vs Collingwood

I’ve got my tickets ready, my Cats jumper and scarf packed, my pen in my pocket and $10 for the footy record. On Friday night I’ll be making my way up to my holy place of worship – the temple on Brunton Avenue - to support my team at the altar that is September football.

Go Cats!

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