AFLPA Digital Manager Ben Guthrie will have the opportunity to watch brother Cam in Saturday’s Grand Final at the Gabba after deciding to quarantine in Darwin with his family in the hope Geelong would make it through to the decider. It proved a worthwhile risk.
I’ve watched a lot of footy over the years, but never have I watched a game with so much on the line.
I’m not talking about this week’s Grand Final between Geelong and Richmond at the Gabba.
I’m talking about the do-or-die semi-final between Collingwood and Geelong two weeks ago at the same venue.
I was sitting watching the game under the stars in 33-degree heat outside my room in a quarantine facility in Howard Springs in Darwin in the company of Joel Selwood’s parents, Bryce and Maree, Patrick Dangerfield’s parents, John and Janette, my parents, Andrew and Suzanne, and Sam Menegola’s Mum, Di.
We had all flown from Melbourne to Darwin on September 30 and already endured the disappointment of Geelong’s loss to Port Adelaide the week prior to the match-up with the Pies.
We all sat out on our verandahs with our TV sets swivelled around from our individual rooms so we could all sit and watch the game together, maintaining social distancing of course, that had so much riding on it.
We were joined by a few Cats supporters and it was high fives all round when the Cats got up and defeated the Magpies comprehensively. There was our reward.
But that seemed to be the theme of our trip – there was a lot riding on the results of games.
Pic supplied: Suzanne, Andrew and Ben Guthrie on the final day at the quarantine facility
Our decision to quarantine in Darwin for two weeks so we could make it to the Gabba in time for a Preliminary Final and – if we dared to dream, a Grand Final – was pretty simple actually.
The risk versus reward dilemma came into play. But on this occasion the reward seemed to far outweigh the risk.
Our decision was based on answering the following hypothetical questions: Which would be the greater disappointment? Not being at the Grand Final if Geelong made it through, or quarantining for nothing if Geelong bowed out of the finals race early?
Fortunately, and many thanks to the AFL Players’ Association for allowing me to do so, I was able to travel to Darwin and work remotely at Howard Springs.
The days began early with a walk or run around the facility, up and down the concrete paths between rows and rows of rooms (called ‘dongas’), full of people looking to begin their new lives in other states or those returning from overseas to Australia amidst the pandemic.
The early morning exercise was followed by breakfast and a mid-morning temperature check – a requirement of your stay at the facility. We also had COVID tests on our second day and 11th day at the facility, which we needed to present to the Queensland border officials when entering the state.
I would then begin work in my 4 x 4m air conditioned room and come out as the heat rose to check on the state of the outdoor cards game the parents would be playing.
The strict routine of lunch arriving at 11.15am, delivered on a portable trolley to guests, became commonplace, while dinner would be delivered at 5.15pm as the sun went down and day morphed into night.
The nightly ritual of lighting the Mosquito coil each evening by Bryce Selwood signalled the start of the evening entertainment kicked off by the hosts, usually Bryce and Maree Selwood, who are renowned for their love of games. And are just as competitive as their four sons – Adam, Troy, Joel and Scott.
One thing I learned from my interactions with the parents of these talented footballers was that they are all great people with fascinating stories. The players may be well known in the public eye, but to the parents and their siblings they are just normal people and it was refreshing to gain that perspective.
Like my family, football has always been an integral part of life for them as well. Football has provided them all with many highlights, as well as setbacks along the way.
Pic supplied: The Howard Springs facility in Darwin where the families stayed
My brother Cam has suffered losses in three Preliminary Finals during his 10 years at the Cats. I know how much the ultimate success would mean to him and I certainly gained an understanding of just how driven Patrick, Joel and Sam are to achieve the same goal.
The build up to this Saturday night’s decider has quite clearly been a different one. But it’s folly to suggest the winner of this year’s premiership won’t mean as much as others in what has been a wacky season.
My parents love their footy. Under normal circumstances, this week Dad would have played the game over and over again in his head. But not being in the Melbourne bubble has proven a welcome distraction. They’re relaxed and waiting for it to all unfold. They consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to see their son play in his biggest ever game.
Attending Geelong’s training session at the Southport Sharks facility on Wednesday night allowed me to see the Hub the players have stayed in for the last three months. The blue and white balloons adorning the main lounge area and the sign out the front of the complex, stating ‘The Queensland home of the Geelong Cats’ underlined how well the Sunshine State has embraced the club and the competition.
I’m so proud of Cam and everything he has achieved so far in his career.
I’ve seen the effort and work he puts into his craft, the countless running sessions while away on holidays, the gym workouts, the preparation he puts into every training session and his laser-sharp focus in his approach to every game he plays.
I’ve witnessed the joy he has experienced after big wins with his teammates and the muted feeling in the changerooms after losses.
Playing in his first Grand Final and hopefully winning his maiden premiership would be a fitting reward for his persistence, dedication and years and years of hard work.
Win or lose, I’m just glad I’ll be there to see it.