So there I was again, wandering the darkened streets of Footscray with the shadows of the Western Oval looming large. Again I decided to hit the footpaths, unable to cope with that orange team being victorious. The same dark thoughts were circling in my brain, of how football is simply unfair and unenjoyable.
In the midst of red-white-blue fever last September, I roamed these streets as the Giants took what I thought was an unbeatable lead against Footscray in the preliminary final. It stunk. I was in the foulest of moods, believing nothing in football to be right, the Bulldog-laden charcoal team with a billion first round picks smothering the once in a life-time opportunity that was to be a Footscray grand final birth.
I couldn’t hack it, and solemnly took to the streets. I could easily have been mistaken for Droop Street’s very own Danny. As legend has it, the Dogs fought back, and as I heard the shouts and cheers bursting from the houses around me, I ran back home to witness an achingly tense last few minutes. I just had the hair stand up on the back of my neck and arms as I typed that.
Well the romance of last September and the inaugural AFL Women’s season had dissipated as I again took to the very same streets. My two youngest kids and I had moments earlier been jumping maniacally around the living room as first gamer Shai Bolton’s snap went through the two uprights. Our poor dog sought the refuge of my partner Ash’s lap. As I was in the middle of telling Molly that we still weren’t safe with 1 minute 18 seconds left on the clock, we caught wind of a goal review. It was touched, absolutely no doubt. But the Giants had the ball and also had the Tigers where they wanted them; defending a narrow lead with a minute to play.
The ball skewed off the pack where Toby Nankervis had the unenviable task of holding up hundreds of orange players running towards him. Goal.
I know the Dockers needed just 21 seconds to kick a goal the previous week, and we had three times that amount at our disposal to scramble a goal, but I also knew there was no way that it would happen. I left the house, making sure I was safely out of the kid’s view before I took out my anger on an unsuspecting tree (not for the first time) and hit the footpath.
There would be no cheering from neighbouring lounge rooms this time to signal a win. I kept hoping to turn and see Molly streaming out from our house, shrieking excitedly to inform me that we’d somehow kicked a goal and won! No shrieks, and after a few quiet minutes I knew. I walked, hands to my head in disbelief, much the way you’re supposed to walk around after a long run to get as much oxygen back into you as possible. I saw no one, no cars or people. I trudged up to the round about where apartments now occupy an old pub, the same pub that Simon Atkins partner dumped all of his belongings one Mad Monday many moons ago, and then headed homeward.
Two weeks in a row. I’ve known plenty of terrible times as a Richmond supporter. Losing an elimination final after leading by five goals to the team that finished 9th! I sat through an 157 point loss. I was there when Brock McLean led what was basically a Carlton reserves side to victory. I had to endure the Karmichael Hunt balls up, not forgetting our reprise of the Beatles ‘Revolution number 9’….number 9…..number 9…. number 9. But these last two weeks have cut even deeper if that’s possible, whilst adding to the legend.
To think that you have won the game with a minute or less to go, twice, and then to surrender that lead in the dying seconds not through the oppositions brilliance, but with our poor structure and thinking, is, I can’t believe I’m say this, a new low. I could cop acts of brilliance that you just can’t stop, but we’ve only got ourselves to blame.
Now I’ve seen Richmond teams give no effort and I can’t fault this team of that. But there is so much on the line after three putrid finals campaigns and a slide down the ladder last year. We are three lousy kicks off top spot, yet clearly so far from deserving that spot due to our poor mental and strategic efforts when the game is in the balance.
Not all is lost, but we simply must beat the teams we should beat from now on. We had a huge chance this past month to set up our season, but all we’ve offered is heartbreak and questions. Will the last three weeks, which we’ve lost by a total of 10 points, make us, break us, or leave us just the same? It could go either way. We need to prove, not just to the footy world but to ourselves, that we are capable of performing in the big moments. Until then, we are pretenders.