Kick a scintillating goal, salute the crowd with a roar of exultation, slow to a trot soaking up the adulation, puff the chest out, strut, elbow bent at the side, forefinger raised, head jiggling ever so slightly as if on a coiled spring with that deity look of ‘I know I’m good’.
I’m talking about ‘The Package’, Jake Stringer. But I could just as easily be talking about Dermie Brereton or Wayne Carey. I love the Entertainers in footy; some for their showmanship, some for their pure genius.
Here are a few of the players over the past 30 years who I’ve most enjoyed watching.
Dermie, Dermie. I’ll never forget the chant from 90,000 patriotic Victorians as he warmed-up on the boundary to come on for the Big V, golden dreadlocks flowing, barrel chest puffed-out, shiny bleached white mouthguard protruding and wearing his lairy, fluorescent green footy boots (in an era when they didn’t exist).
I’ll never forget him running through the three-quarter time huddle of his arch-rival Essendon team like a Pamplona bull, or planting a kiss on the pesky Billy Duckworth.
And who can forget the pre-emptive crunching shirtfront from Mark Yates at the start of the 1989 grand final, then seeing Dermie regather himself, refuse to come off, and moments later take an inspiring mark in front of goals.
No other player has loved the big stage more than Dermie. He was a brilliant key forward – second only to Carey in my mind – in a brilliant team and loved openly being the intimidator and enforcer.
Wayne Carey won more games off his own boot than anybody I’ve seen. He thrived when the heat was on, in big games.
He loved taking responsibility for leading his team to victory and like Dermie, he loved to sledge and intimidate, puff his chest out like a peacock and he was openly very, very full of himself.
But you can only watch in admiration as time-and-again he thrives when the game is at its hottest, when two teams are throwing everything at each other and the game is crying out for somebody to rise above the deadlock. His contested marking in clutch moments and ability to then convert were as good as anyone’s.
Stevie Johnson is the man who can do the mercurial. He loves to tell his direct opponents they’ve got front row seats to the Norm Smith show.
He can turn on a dime, flick a look-away handball over his head and he loves to challenge opponents with the rough stuff, before darting off unexpectedly for another possession.
Peter Daicos used to dribble goals regularly from the boundary but in a manner which nobody expected to replicate.
Stevie J made it such a habit and look so regulation that it bore a whole generation of disciples (Eddie Betts the leading proponent nowadays). When opposition mugs pester him (here’s looking at you Steve Baker) he can be relied upon to lose his cool and respond vigorously. Here’s hoping he plays another year.
Everyone loves Richo. A lone star in an underwhelming team for much of his career, Richo would alternate between a beaming, goofy smile when something amused him and a demonstrative hissy-fit when his teammates ignored his leads or kicked over his head.
He was the modern day Nick Riewoldt with the endurance of a midfielder but the torso and height of The Mountain in GoT. He would regularly miss goals from 20 metres out dead in front with anxiety written all over his face, yet confidently kick them through from 60 metres on an angle.
Opposition supporters loved him because he could be relied upon to stuff up the unstuffable, then moments later display unthinkable brilliance.
Either way, he would entertain you because you either laughed or clapped in awe. 800 career goals is an unbelievable effort for a bloke who played CHF in an average team.
The lesser brother departed Essendon to pave his own career at Carlton, finishing with 300+ games.
Harry could seriously play, but at times he looked like a guffawing, drunk giraffe. He often saw the funny side of things and had a grin that seemed to hang diagonally to avoid his dimple chin.
He loved to outsmart his opponents and umpires, and have a giggle if he got away with it. He then transferred into politics post career and had to act serious.
If you could cross a librarian, Harry Potter, Torville and Dean and a seriously good, skinny footballer, you’d get Robbie Flower. He looked like the type of moddle-coddled kid whose mum doesn’t want to let him play outdoors. Yet he was a class above everyone else with his guile, agility and perfect touch.
When he represented the Big V he was automatic captain. Not because he was an obvious leader, but because he was obviously better than all his peers.
A hum of excitement and anticipation would overtake the whole crowd (fans from both sides) whenever he went near the footy. He was brilliant.
The Krakeour brothers
Like twins with telepathic skills, Jimmy and Phil Krakeour demonstrated unseen wizardry and clairvoyance on the field. They always knew where each other was, even when nobody else did.
Both were exquisitely gifted footballers who were quick, agile, tough and highly skilfull. They seem to wriggle free of every tackle and then from the middle of a pack release a handball at 45 degree angles thirty metres away to their brother who was in the clear.
‘The Krakeour Brothers’ dropped the ball to their feet with two hands instead of the customary one, yet were still unerringly accurate and creative. The pioneers inspired brothers and indigenous footballers across Australia.
Tony Lockett took intimidation to another level. He was a nasty, surly, menacing, uncompromising presence at full forward who happens to be the greatest ever goal kicker (just a lazy 1,360).
Pity the man who had to play on him, but pity even more the man instructed to cut off his leads.
Whack! Plugger was like the dad who plays in an Under 9’s father-son game on tram tracks (weighing 115 kilograms, which is possibly more than a tram) trampling anybody who gets in his path.
He never showed remorse or pleasure, just steely, obdurate intent. Like all champions, he was extremely consistent, resilient and able to carry his side on his shoulders under immense pressure.
Gary Ablett senior
It was a long way from the North Eastern suburbs in Melbourne where I grew-up, to the Whitten Oval. But whenever the Doggies played Geelong, I made sure I made the effort.
Ablett was the most spectacular player I’ve ever seen, by a long margin. Nobody comes close for sheer entertainment. He took speckies every quarter, soaring over packs majestically.
If you succeeded in blocking his run and flight, then he just buffeted you out the way and reeled the ball in one-handed. Or he would spring above you and perch on your shoulders regardless.
If the ball hit the deck, he would swoop it up, give a Dustin Martin ‘don’t argue’ while accelerating, baulk around the next player and then snap the ball over his shoulder through for a goal, goal-post high.
He could kick goals from 55 metres out on either foot with ease, on any angle, at any stage of the game, whether it be a set shot or on the run.
He was so fast and such a ball of muscle that he bumped like a James Bond vehicle through a road blockade at top speed. No player has ever possessed a greater combination of speed, power, physical force, athleticism and creative genius than Ablett senior.
The man kicked 1,021 goals despite spending more than half his career on the Half Forward Flank. Teammates were just decoys – he nearly won the 1989 premiership for Geelong by himself. Forget comparisons to his brilliant Brownlow Medallist son – the younger Ablett doesn’t come close.
This bloke was less popular with his own teammates than Jason Akermanis. He was reportedly kicked out of South Fremantle, Richmond, Melbourne and St Kilda at the behest of his teammates, before finishing his career with Geelong under the man-management skills of the affable Tom Hafey.
He was by all accounts a selfish player and self-serving, eccentric bloke. But he was the ultimate showman, who twirled the ball on his finger like a Harlem Globetrotter after taking a mark, or did handstands after a goal.
These were two of his more orthodox exhibits. He also climbed the goal post, interacted provocatively with the crowd and generally strutted around the goal square like a WWE Wrestler.
He kicked 302 goals in just 82 games. When the Ablett-Jacko show was in town, the entry price was worth every cent.
And to finish off with a bit of bias towards my beloved Doggies, from the great EJ to the modern Package, here’s four of my favourite Bulldogs.
The irrepressible, cheeky, skilful, Pumping Dougie Hawkins was a delight to watch and one of the best exponents of wet weather football I’ve ever seen.
His ability to slip his whole hand under the ball while it skidded along the turf in the rain while running at full speed (well … full Dougie speed), then do a little shimmy around an opponent, sell a bit of candy and deliver a lace-out pace to a teammate (with either foot) was a sight to behold for the Footscray faithful at the Western Oval.
His genial, loveable, larrikin personality on-and-off the field made every fan love him regardless of which side you barracked for.
Who can forget Lake – the best full back since SOS – pestily slapping the water bottle out of Brendan Fevola’s hand, as Fevola sulked and Lake smirked? Lake thought the game was in the bag and poor Brendan was getting frustrated at the poor supply from his Carlton teammates.
Then Fevola and Carlton flipped the game on its head, came storming home with a ten goal turnaround and won. Fev went on a rampage and Lake was a sight to behold as his grin turned to sustained embarrassment, as Rocket Eade refused to move him.
Bob Murphy has an endearing personality but he doesn’t look like a footballer. He looks like an unkempt uni student who has dropped out of his Arts degree and is making his way in life as a musician in the pub scene.
I’ve never seen such a scrawny, unlikely person look so majestic on a football field (other than Robbie Flower, see above).
The Irish blood in him seems to make him Riverdance with a jig down the ground as he speeds through and away from chaos on the field, before delivering a beautiful pass.
People forget he was an unlikely, unorthodox gun CHF in the Doggies 2008 preliminary final team before shifting to the backline after doing his knee. Can’t wait to see him back in 2017.
Matt Suckling talks about how The Bont talks up in team meetings with the wisdom of veteran Sam Mitchell. Everything he does smacks of a seasoned campaigner.
He harnesses the best traits of Pendlebury, Fyfe and Hird into one and has that champion knack of delivering magic when a game is in the balance.
He glides through traffic, sees options that others can’t and executes precision disposal. He’s extremely skilful and consistent, and he seems to excel at every facet of the game. Stringer cheekily says the Bont calls himself The Future.
Remarkably, the humble but steely young champ still drives into Whitten Oval wearing P plates, which means we get to enjoy watching him shine for the next decade.
Honourable mentions to Superboot, Swannie, KB, The Whizz, Blight, Kenny Hunter, Billy Brownless, Aker (three premierships and a Brownlow but no mates), Archer, Jonathan Brown and Buddy. Who have I missed?