You know, I don’t believe in omens, but it’s just after 11am, Grand Final day 2008. My wife and I are already at the ground, waiting for a coffee. We notice some commotion just outside Gate 3. Security men are frantically making a path for someone. It’s Glenn Archer. Although I’m not sure Arch needs much protection, so perhaps it’s what he’s holding that’s the focus.
It’s then that I experience a surreal grand final moment. Archer walks through the doors, not more than 10 metres from where I am standing. In clear view is what this day is all about, the Premiership Cup. I notice that there are ribbons carefully attached to each of the handles. I’m sure there are some blue and white ones there somewhere, but I can only see the brown and gold ones. My wife yells out “hey Arch”. She wouldn't normally do that. Arch looks across to the coffee stand, raises the Cup and gives my wife a wave and a wink as she takes a photo with her mobile phone. Both time and I seem frozen, as I stare at the Cup, still only able to see those brown and gold ribbons. Eventually Archer moves on and we grab our coffees. I turn to my wife, “How good was that?”.
We make our way up the Olympic Stand via the escalators. A makeshift function room has been created at the back of Level 2. The first person I notice is Barry Stoneham waiting by the door. The ex-Geelong big man played in four losing grand finals for the Cats, including that ’89 loss to the Hawks. He looks toey. We stop to sneak a look inside and Barry gets called up to the stage. He stumbles on his first line. We move on.
We settle into our seats up on Level 4 in the Olympic Stand, near the Punt Road scoreboard. I flick through the paper while my wife reads the Record. We’re both pretty calm. As the seats begin to fill, we hear the odd complaint. Seems that most of those near us are Gold Members and all seem displeased with the seat allocation. The guy in front of me is one of the unhappy and he turns to me for support. I tell him that at least we’ll be in the shade all day and that when we win the game, we’ll say they were the best seats we’ve ever had. I meant to say if, but I said when.
The prematch seems to fly by. The usual suspects have said that it lacked punch but personally, I thought it was understated and engaging enough. We get to watch some footy (the National Under 16s finals), see the two sides warm up (we look sharp, the Cats a little casual) acknowledge the recently retired as well as past legends of the game and have the obligatory rock band, playing suitably loud. The most memorable part is basically an ad, as the Qantas airbus sits above the stands, it’s wing span seemingly stretching from one side of the ground to the other. Wings? Hawks have wings…
Despite being at the ground for nearly four hours, 2.30 seems to come around in a flash. I’m not as calm as a few hours previously but I’m hardly a bundle of nerves either. From the opening it’s clear this one is going to be a beauty. Both sides are throwing themselves into every contest and look as if they are ready to run themselves into the ground. Five goals each at quarter time and we finally get a chance to take a breath. Noone around us is complaining about their seats now. We’re all just glad that we are inside the stadium.
The second quarter is just as frantic as the first, although the Cats start to take control. A string of uncharacteristic misses from them keeps us in the game. Trent Croad limps off. Normally this would concern me, but as he leaves the ground, he stops to dish off a bump to Joel Selwood. This reassures me. It’s clear the boys are ‘on’. Luke Hodge continues to repel Geelong forward thrusts and eventually we get some momentum. We take our chances and take the lead. On the half time siren Cam Mooney has a shot for goal from about ten metres out and misses, at the other end, Cats’ captain, Tom Harley is being helped from the ground by trainers. The signs are good. We go into the main break with a three point lead. My wife and I agree. That was the best half of footy we have seen all year.
Auskick and the half time sprint fill in the 22 minutes between quarters. You know, I don’t believe in omens, but in the sprint, Geelong’s Nathan Djerrkura was hot favourite and was beaten.
The third quarter starts ominously. Clinton Young is carried off and shortly afterwards Gary Ablett goals to put the Cats in front. For the first time I am worried. We are down to two on the bench. Both sides are starting to feel the pinch but we played our prelim 24 hours after the Cats. Would we have the legs?
The players keep pressing, Bateman finds Franklin who goals from outside 50 to put us back in front. The next ten minutes are tight and tense. As the pressure increases so do the errors. I’m slipping to the edge of my seat, trying to get as close to the action as I can, even if it is only by a few centimetres. A couple of points to the Cats and scores are level. Then Hodge goals and we’re back in front. The goal was typical Hodgey, on the run from outside fifty, but it was from a Michael Osborne handball after a free kick. Not one Geelong player moved to cover Hodge. Maybe the Cats are tiring.
An arm wrestle follows before another symbolic moment. Stuart Dew kicks the ball to the wing. Cyril Rioli is outnumbered three to one but scrambles to keep the ball in his area, eventually laying a tackle on Max Rooke and earning a (rare) free kick. We’d been loud all day, but the scream of “ball” when Rioli laid that tackle was clearly the loudest of them all. From there we start to take control. Stuart Dew plays an inspired six minutes setting up two goals and kicking two of his own and all of a sudden we’re out to a five goal lead. When Willo and Dew beat three opponents with Willo eventually dribbling through a goal, I slap a metal guard next to me, nearly breaking my hand.
The Cats manage a couple of late goals (one from a bewildering down field free kick) but we still have a 17 point lead with a quarter to play. The previous week we were 11 goals up and I refused to declare that we’d won. This week, less than three goals up against a side that had lost just one game all year and I couldn’t see how we’d lose.
The last quarter plays out beautifully, as we take the pace out of the game and deny the Cats the ball. About half way through Buddy kicks the first of the quarter and then Mitch follows up with another. 27 points up and that Cup was ours. For the last ten minutes of the game the fans start singing the song. I don’t join in, plenty of time to sing the song after the game. As the players start running the clock down, chipping the ball around, I sit back in my chair and just take it all in. Seventeen years since we last won a grand final. I was just 21 then. The same age as Buddy Franklin now… in fact the exact same age as we happen to share the same birthday.
The word goes round, just 17 seconds to go. We count down and then, as the siren sounds, go into a mild state of delirium. We sing the song, over and over and over again. Hodge deservedly wins the Norm Smith Medal. We cheer each of our heroes onto the podium, beaming as if it were our own kids up there. We sing the song a few more times and then, well after 6pm, decide that perhaps it was time to head off.
At the start of September we received a ticketing information brochure from the club. The front cover was a picture of Buddy, with the words, “History is coming” emblazoned across the top. Every time I looked at it, I got a bit of a buzz so I popped it on our kitchen bench and left it there for the whole month. Before we left on grand final morning my wife went to move it but I intervened. You know, I don’t believe in omens, but…