Last Friday night's preliminary final between St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs was so gripping, I fell asleep. Seriously, the two sides just had each other in a death grip like a couple of soldier crabs, and for minute after minute nothing happened. I had to keep shaking myself awake. St Kilda finally prevailed by seven points.
The Grand Final yesterday was a similar story, but I was wide awake for every bit of it. I was backing St Kilda. They had such a fantastic season that I thought they deserved to take the flag at the end of it. Geelong missed one they should have got last year, and were in danger of being labelled "under-performers" if they lost again. Ed came over to watch. Marcus and Michael were invited next door and left us to it for the first half.
The Saints had most of it from the start but didn't take their chances. Adam Schneider was right in front 15m out and tried to launch the ball out of the ground, rather than just do the natural thing. Raph Clarke looked out of his league - he conceded the first goal of the game, lumbering like a stegosaurus and caught with the ball on the edge of his own 50m. Geelong had few opportunities but converted each one. St Kilda finished the quarter strongly, and were tackling like ravenous beasts. Riewoldt was doing suicidal leaps in conditions that didn't suit him. Landed on his head once but was up and running in no time.
The second quarter was really Geelong's - they were 2 goals up with a minute left to half time. St Kilda goaled, then goaled again from the restart. Milburn made a big fuss about having touched the 2nd goal off the boot - so much so that before the ball was bounced St Kilda were awarded a free kick in the goal square.
Milburn: Fuggin muggin touched it mugging fug.
Ump McBurney: Free kick against Milburn for remonstrating with a goal umpire.
Milburn: I just bloody asked him...
Ump McBurney: You were demonstrative.
So, three goals in a minute to the Saints. At half time they were up 7.7 to 7.1. Not much of a lead but surely they just needed to start kicking straight. The boys came back at half time and brought Adrian and Cameron from next door with them. I can't abide pointless chatter during an important footy game, and Michael and Adrian did the right thing and stayed outside for most of the second half. Marcus and Cameron were pretty good, I didn't have to gag anyone.
In the third quarter things slowed down a bit. Jimmy Bartel started to come into the game for the Cats. He blanketed Lenny Hayes, and laid 16 tackles for the game, an amazing stat. One of Geelong's main sparks, Steve Johnson, was being suffocated by Steven Baker, and hardly saw the ball all day. The Saints players that most caught my eye during the game were Baker, Riewoldt, Hayes, Gram and Goddard. Baker and Goddard clashed heads, and Goddard went off to return later with the full curse-of-the-mummy look. For Geelong, I thought Taylor and Scarlett were brilliant down back, curbing Riewoldt and Kosi. Ablett gradually came into it after Clinton Jones had limited him early. My favourite player Joel Selwood was inspirational. He's only 21 but he had the confidence to make a speech at half time, and his teammates had the respect for him to listen. Paul Chapman shrugged off a hamstring strain to keep bobbing up, kicking a goal each time one was really needed.
And so it was in the last quarter. It started with Geelong still seven points down. Goal to Hawkins, one point the difference. A few behinds at either end. Rooke kicked what looked like the winner - Baker chased and just got there to touch it through, before crashing his shoulder into the base of the post. Selwood kicked another point, scores level.
The defining moment was a Dawson spoil on Ablett right in the centre. The ball bobbled loose, Scarlett toe-poked it to Ablett, he hoisted it to the goalsquare, Varcoe got his one good touch for the day and handpassed to Chapman who bent it around the corner for a goal. A minute later Rooke soccered a point. Still not over as under pressure Scarlett conceded a behind to make it an even goal the difference. Milburn took the kickout, Taylor took a towering mark and the Cats were home.
Immediately after I thought the Cats had been lucky to pinch it, and St Kilda unlucky. But luck only applies to things outside your control, and only if they had kicked straight would it be fair to say the Saints deserved this one. Its still the one skill in football that most affects the result, and they just didn't bring it with them to the MCG yesterday.