Our club theme song sounded different this week. It sounded louder and came from deeper in our bellies.
You don’t get blase about winning games of footy in the AFL, at least I don’t. They’ve been all too rare. But I have to admit that when we started up our tribal hymn in Cairns with a ferocious “Dada-deda-da-DA! Sons of the WEST!” it rocked me back on my heels. This one really meant something to our group.
There were so many young faces who ran out on to Cazaly’s Stadium on Saturday night for the red, white and blue, but none of them seemed overawed. It’s one thing to play young guys, give them a chance and see if they can cut it. It’s another thing to take careful time in finding out which ones can do it and take a club forward.
‘Lenny Hayes has been the player you wanted to be, wanted to have and the player you’ll never forget.’
I see in this crop of Bulldog youngsters a strong self-belief. It’s a privileged position I have to watch them grow on the field. Sometimes the winds of change are so subtle you barely feel it. At other times, they whip you across the face like the salty sea of the Bass Strait.
From the moment the final siren sounded in Cairns, something felt different. The song roared and then we adjourned to our changerooms to spend a few minutes together, taking off strapping and patting each other on the back. The simple joy of the victors.
Every sporting team has an internal energy source. For a long time, I have been very much at the coalface of that source. On Saturday night, I felt the soft winds of change across my face. The internal source of energy within our team is changing. In the best possible sense, this is not my team any more.
I still have an important role to play, but out on the ground on the weekend I went along for the ride while the burning fires of propulsion came from a new generation of Footscray’s finest.
If this litter of pups can push themselves and each other on to bigger and better things, I think the win on Saturday night might be seen as a pivotal step on that path. There’s going to be some missteps along the way, for we aren’t in calm seas yet. But I trust what I heard in the song. Good young lads, all of them.
As is often the way in football and in life, one moment you’re pausing to look at the fresh new faces who have it all in front of them, and the next you’re tipping your hat to another who has decided that this year will be his last. Lenny Hayes has been the player you wanted to be, wanted to have and the player you’ll never forget.
I once wrote a piece on mateship in footy and the truism that, win or lose, one of the great things about the game is who you get to play alongside. Typical of the times we live in, my self-esteem rested purely on how many people retweeted it. My phone alerted me at one point that Lenny Hayes had retweeted me. It was like Elvis Presley dedicating Blue Suede Shoes to me at a Vegas show. Hmmm, the power of Lenny.
I don’t know anything about the inner workings of the St Kilda Football Club, but if I had to bet who was the energy source in the changerooms I would put my last dollar on Lenny Hayes being the man. Every time we played against the Saints, and there were a few big games, he always found a way to impose himself on the game.
The tackle on Easton Wood is something I’ve kept coming back to this week. Sometimes a single act can have a huge impact on a game, just like a single player or a cluster of players can have a huge impact on a club.
For the Bulldogs, I hope this next cluster can take the torch and run with it. For Lenny Hayes, all anyone can do is raise a glass to a footballer who’s been one of the finest of all.
This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.