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The emotional purge of beating Collingwood

“Enjoy the aches.”

Just like a roast lamb, beating Collingwood is a perfect way to spend a Sunday evening. When the final siren went last weekend, the feeling was more than relief, it was a physical and emotional purge. The groan that left my body at the exact moment of victory was part celebration, part howling at the moon. I suspect it was the same for many others in the red, white and blue, too.

This game does funny things to us all. In the moment of victory I turned to find my heroic teammate Tom Liberatore close by. As we shared a hug I thought to myself, this is what footy’s all about. The 10 minutes after a win is a precious time for the lucky ones who take the field each week. These are some of my recollections from last Sunday, the moments that left a mark.

‘With our supporters bathing us in spring sunshine, we left the ground as one and descended into the rooms for our tribal hymn cranked up to 10.’

With the Bulldog faithful in full voice all around the ground, the players were finding each other out in the middle and gathering as one. At one point I had Marcus Bontempelli and Nathan Hrovat in a double headlock, much like the one Dipper put on Garry Hocking and Neville Bruns in the 1989 grand final, except this headlock was one of pure affection.

“Remember what this feels like, how hard it was to get here, but how good it feels when we do,” is what I remember saying to them. Like a lot of advice we inflict on others, it was as much for myself as it was for the two young guns. The smiles on their faces made me feel a joy that I hadn’t known for a little while. Again I thought to myself, this is what footy’s all about.

After a win, the club gives us players a football each that we sign and give away to someone in the crowd, usually a child. I try and remember to write something on the footy before I sign it. This week I wrote on my footy “cede nullis”, which translates from the Latin “yield to none”. It’s our club motto, and as mottos go, I haven’t heard a better one. I found a young lad waiting quietly by the fence in his Dogs colours, gave him the ball, tousled his hair, and another piece of the puzzle slotted into place. That’s what footy is all about.

I wandered towards the race where my teammates were gathering and saw Marcus Bontempelli embrace his proud dad. The moment dwarfed the stadium. The love shared between father and son took us outside the game. That’s what life is all about.

With our supporters bathing us in spring sunshine, we left the ground as one and descended into the rooms for our tribal hymn cranked up to 10. I love that part of footy. Soon after, things settled down and a sense of calm descended on our clan as we entered a smaller meeting room. Our coach spoke of the path we are on and the challenges ahead, but also of how proud he and the club were of their soldiers’ efforts. Sometimes words are empty. Other times, they are like food to an empty belly.

Only 10 or so minutes had passed since the final siren, and already there was mention of the next mountain to climb – Port Adelaide on the road. That’s what footy’s all about too – there’s always mountains to climb. By the time my comrades and I hit the showers the elation had simmered somewhat and the aches and pains bumped and swayed in our bodies. As I bent down to take my ankle tape off I feared I may never get upright again. This is definitely what footy’s about at 32 years of age.

There’s still a part of my footy soul chained to another time, where a win like Sunday’s would be best marked by a two-day bender, but footy is about six-day breaks these days. As I drove home from the ground in the dark and on my own I wondered how to best enjoy it? By the time I arrived home I had a message on my phone from one of my football angels that simply read, “Enjoy the aches”. I was reminded of the Paul Kelly song Little Aches and Pains, which has the closing line, “I don’t count my losses now, just my gains.” At that moment, that’s what footy was all about to me.

This article was originally published in The Age and can be accessed here.