Remembering the ghosts of the past
Sometimes things just don’t work out. Plans go awry. Hope comes to naught and no amount of last minute scrambling makes any difference.
Life can, despite out best efforts, get in the way of football.
We are at the business end of the season, every game is increasingly important, and perhaps none more so (at least for this Eagles fan) than West Coast versus Geelong on Friday night.
Despite the fact it was at Paterson’s stadium, fans were nervous. The Eagles have faltered in recent weeks, while Geelong have hit form at exactly the right time. Lose this and West Coast can kiss hopes of a coveted top-four finish goodbye, a spot that seemed sewn up eight weeks ago.
A lot’s riding on this one, even disregarding the rivalry these two clubs have built since the Eagles joined the competition.
So it was with heavy heart that I found myself having to miss it due to a prior engagement. Needs must, these things happen, crying… spilt milk… you get the idea. Deep breath and (try to) move on.
I did catch the last five minutes, which were pretty tense.
A couple of late goals to Geelong threatened a possible repeat of their heroics from the previous round until Nic Naitanui grabbed the last bounce and streamed towards goal as the siren sounded. I felt relief and renewal of a hope that had dimmed in recent weeks, which were quickly replaced by regret that I had missed the rest of the game. Oh well.
And that would have been my night, had not the wonderful people behind programming at Channel 7 decided to show a reply of the most glorious game for any long-term Eagles fan – the 1992 grand final. It is the 20th anniversary of that historic moment when the AFL/VFL premiership cup left Melbourne for the first time.
It was exciting, watching it again, as it brought back memories of that great Eagles team, the euphoria at the result and the affect it had on our city. There was no other news in the week leading up to that grand final, no other topic of conversation, even among those who didn’t follow football.
There was a genuine feeling that ‘we’ could do it, the upstarts from the West. We had fallen at the last hurdle the year before, humbled by Hawthorn, but we had grown and learned from that experience. We were ready.
Some of the most memorable imagery from the extensive media coverage that week was a news report that showed the ghost town that was Perth on grand final day. Empty streets, shops closed for the day, every eye glued to the television. It made a very big impression on me and the power of a game to unite a community.
The game itself, I was a bit surprised to find, held up. The pace and skill of the modern game, the level of professionalism, media coverage and resources for today’s AFL players, is unparalleled.
Every player, every official, every club talks about “moving forward” (usually “week to week” or “one game at a time”) so it is natural for us, as observers and fans, to also slip into this way of thinking.
We take it as read that our current game is at a level that has never before been seen, and will only continue to develop and grow. Comforting, then, to see the players in that game showcasing a level of skill, effort, desire and commitment that is the equal of any player currently in the game, that it really was as good as you remember it.
Success breeds desire for more success. It is not very long after the euphoria of that win that I remember myself thinking, how can we do that again? How can we keep this going?
You get a taste and you want more, the initial success is not forgotten exactly, but that moment of satisfaction is replaced by increased desire.
I remember Leigh Mathews saying in commentary once that the euphoria of a premiership doesn’t actually last that long because you have to start thinking about next season pretty much straight away. Every sports person will talk about the hunger – the hunger for success that drives the hard work needed to get there.
That hunger can be just as palpable for as fan as it is for a player.
But those players in 1992, those heroes in blue and gold, I watched them again and felt shivers up my spine. McKenna, Jakovich and Brennan, with Worsfold the general, the most complete and feared backline of the time. Kemp, Mainwairing, Heady, Sumich – these are names that mean so much to any Eagles fan.
And who can forget Peter Matera?
Five goals from the wing, the Norm Smith medal, legend. He turned that game on its head, brought us back from the brink when we felt it slipping from our grasp. Watching him belt those goals from outside 50… well, I can’t really describe it.
So as the finals draw closer and I watch my team strive for the success they, and I, crave so much, I will do so with renewed respect for those who have done it before.
And hope that this new generation can do it again.
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