”I firmly believe any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle … victorious.” Vince Lombardi
MY ALMOST three-year-old daughter is only interested in one thing at the moment – whether you are a ”goodie” or a ”baddie”.
People and life are a little more complex, as we know, but if we reduced this week’s grand final to this basic theory (as a neutral supporter anyway) I would have to lean towards the Swans as the goodies and the ”unsociable” Hawks as the baddies. It’s a theory that works far better when you’re watching Disney than when you’re watching footy teams, though.
It’s the same reason why it is just too simple to reduce Saturday’s game to a battle pitting Hawthorn’s forwards against the Swans’ defence. Games of football – grand finals especially – are far more complex than that.
It’s easy for my daughter to use the broad brush strokes to call the Hawks the ”baddies”, but I’m sure that as she grows older and looks a little closer at a player like Cyril Rioli, Frankie will find that broad brush strokes of judgment on football are fraught.
Cyril is a harmony of speed, skill and thoughtfulness. He’s no baddie – in fact, he should wear a cape.
I stood in the lounge room of a friend’s house on Saturday night to watch the closing stages of the preliminary final between the Hawks and the Crows, when Rioli took over and left all of us in a kind of purgatory of thought. It was, ”How did he do that?” and ”I knew he’d do that” all in the one breath.
Having played both of these sides this year, it is interesting to ponder what your lasting impression is. It is true, the Swans have a miserly defence that is not just confined to their back six. They are the hardest side to get a kick against, and if you asked most players they’d say the same thing.
All the Swans players to a man fight for the most valuable space on the outside of their opponent when the ball leaves that hellfire oven of a stoppage.
Miserly defence is one thing, but the attacking flair of the modern-day Swans has caught plenty of teams off guard. The Hawk defenders will prepare as best as they can to stop their Swans opponents getting high up the ground and slingshotting back towards goal.
Not since David knocked Goliath down has a slingshot been quite as devastating as Lewis Jetta was last week. The problem that can haunt a defender is that you get a week to prepare for negating Jetta, and he’s been slingshotting past defenders his whole life. He’ll do it without thinking, while you’ll think of nothing else. Until it happens.
The Hawks move the ball as well as any side, a side blessed with beautiful kicking skills, familiar targets up forward and a plethora of left-footers. When they found their rhythm against the Dogs, my teammates and I would feel like we were an opening batsman facing a top-class fast bowler, not sure whether to come forward or back to defend. They can make you look foolish, lazy or a combination of both.
But like the Swans, they are not merely one-trick ponies. They defend with aggression and there is dedication to making life difficult for their opponents around the ball and away from it. They don’t just like it physical, they crave it to be so. Physical contact for guys such as Jordan Lewis, Brad Sewell and Grant Birchall is like fuel in the tank and air in the tyres.
I can’t wait to see both teams do battle. It will be a game with layer upon layer of defence, attack, one-on-one contests and the cruel bounce of the ball.
In general we shouldn’t reduce our game to tiny parts. Rather, we should explode it to include all the game’s madness. When the final siren sounds, that’s when it will be reduced down to one – one winner, one loser.
Unless it’s a draw … Oh dear, imagine that.
This article originally appeared in The Age. To view the original article please click here.