Always remembered


Anzac Day is just about my favourite day of the year. Yesterday it was fine and mild. I headed off early to get myself a seat at the MCG for the big match. Bought a badge at the ground, one of the marinated chicken rolls I like so much, then settled in for the game. IMG_0091

As always it was very impressive, and very moving. The two teams burst through the same banner before lining up across from each other for the last post and the national anthem. Everyone stood. In the silence you could hear the flag flapping in the breeze. In the national anthem 90,000 sung along to the words everyone now knows so well.

It was a cracking game, worthy of the day. We lost, which was no great surprise, but we gave them a fright, and played with intensity and heart. I left satisfied knowing that we are the real deal, thinking that we are ahead of everyone else in the comp but Collingwood. That's a big call, but I've seen no other team this year approach the intensity and skill on show by the two teams yesterday.

Last night I watched some of the programs I had recorded earlier. I watched the pre-game show, which featured interviews and conversations with the usual experts, but unusually also featured social commentators and journalists. Anzac day is the big day in Australian culture, and yesterday was deep immersion.

I found myself greatly adffected by what I saw. Many times I found my eyes glistening with emotion. Interviews with old diggers relating their stories. Commentators putting into some kind of context. And in the background looming was the big game.

There is occasional controversy over whether a big game of football devalues the day, or commercialises it. I find the arguments specious rubbish. I'm loathe to get into discussions about what people fought and died for because it becomes trite in the expression – however, if I want to attribute any meaning to it then I would suggest these men marched off to war to preserve the lifestyle and freedoms we all so cherish. Football may seem small beer, but it is a good part of our culture and in its way representative of those hopes.

Football is not life and death (though it feels it sometimes), and it doesn't pretend to be. We fight for 4 points, and no lives are on the line. Only the very lame draw those parallels. It is who we are though, proved by a crowd yesterday of 90,000 and a TV audience of millions, including thousands of ex-servicemen. It's part of the life these great guys fought for, and a day like yesterday the perfect celebration of what they stood for.

What is also often overlooked is how a game like this has put the spotlight on the Anzac tradition. The teams, the AFL, are very respectful of the day and what it means. The hype and and aura of the game feeds into the Anzac legend, which the teams and the media pay homage to. I truly believe that this game creates awareness, and in the periphery of it educates as each year other stories are highlighted.

The other argument is whether the day should be the sole provence of Essendon and Collingwood. Not surprisingly there are many envious of the tradition and granduer of the big Anzac day clash. For me it's a no-brainer. These are the two biggest and most popular footbal clubs in Australia. Support for them is tribal and vociferous. Between them they have created this tradition around which so much has accreted. They have made Anzac day this celebration, and it is the tradition and the rivalry between these two clubs that has made it so.

To change that formula would be to diminish it. The magic is in the tradition and the clubs who have built it. It would lose the glamour and mystique if it was just another home and away match.

Footy is a good way. This is a great season so far, and the Bombers are looking good.

 

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Do it again


Collingwood FC lossImage via Wikipedia

How's that then – a draw!

Great game yesterday – Collingwood shot out to a good lead and the Saints reeled them in. Tough, tight, hard-fought, it had everything you want from a Grand Fnal in my op. There'll be a few ratbags out there decrying the relative dearth of goals, but that's crap. It's all about the contest, and this was one of the best.

In so many ways the result yesterday mirrored the result in 1966, lacking only a last minute behind to give the Saints the lead. They had opportunities for it, and in fact it was a long shot forward that bounced erratically through for a behind to level the scores a couple of minutes before.

What this means is that they do it all again next week. Yep, a re-match to decide the 2010 premiers. This is the third time in history that's happened, and while there are many who reckon extra time should be played to decide the big one I disagree.

Who in their right mind would really decline the chance to witness another blockbuster like that? Sure, it upsets some plans – including mine – but a competition like this deserves to be settled properly, and not in a few frenzied minutes of extra time.

It's interesting to see how the teams come up next week. History tells us that the re-match is generally an easy victory to one of the teams. It's not surprising really as the mental letdown of battling so long for no result can be hard to overcome. It can be a challenge to regain that edge and raise yourself to the necessary pitch to do it all again at the same intensity. It becomes a battle of minds now, and the coaching staff I think becomes crucial in the period between.

On that front I think the Saints have the edge. Moments after the game the Collingwood captain was interviewed and complained that the game should have been decided by extra time. In comparison a St Kilda rival shrugged his shoulders at it, it was not something they could control he said, get ready for next week. These opposing attitudes seemed to broadly reflect the two teams. One was bitter at the situation, the other positive and ready to go.

In large part I think these attitudes came out of the game. This is yet another premiership the Magpies let slip. They were well in front and in control halfway through. They might have been further in front and might have been but for some poor finishing. Then, in characteristic St Kilda fashion, they ground themselves back into the contest.

Early in the 3rd quarter I said to my companions that I thought St Kilda would win. They seemed more lively, inventive, they were playing with more intent. They outscored Collingwood 6 goals to 2 in the second half and held the lead late in the game. Had the game continued I think they would have won it, but in any case they had the momentum when the siren sounded that Collingwood had lost.

The other thing counting against Collingwood is confidence. They didn't countenance defeat last week. Their captain when questioned thought about it and then answered that he was certain they would win. They didn't, and into their minds their must now be that seed of doubt, particularly as they had the game in their keeping almost.

For St Kilda Hayes and Goddard were epic. In a way that counts against them. They may play as well next week, but it's hard to see them playing better, while there were a number of Collingwood players short of their best and sure to improve. Balancing that out was Riewoldt, good without being dominant, and set to break-out; and the thumping St Kilda endured on the inside 5o count which will surely be more even next week.

I feel very confident that St Kilda will win well next week. It feels as if they took everything Collingwood had and went back at them. They know they've got it in them, and you can be sure that Lyon, their coach, will be looking to patch up any gaps. They'll learn more than Collingwood will, and for Collingwood the pressure of history and the weight of expectation looms.

Yesterdays game reminded of the last drawn Grand Final. On that day in 1977 Collingwood went into the last quarter with a 4 goal lead, only to see North Melbourne storm back and take the lead before a late Twiggy Dunn mark and goal levelled the scores. Yesterday St Kilda came back from a similiar deficit half time, took the lead before the modern day equivalent of Dunn in Cloke kicked the goal that virtually levelled it.

I'm hoping that's an omen because in the replay North Melbourne were comfortable victors. Do it again Saints.

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