On some days footy can come at you from many directions. Like Mum’s roast it can be expected, but occasionally it’s a happy combination of the old and the new.
My wife had gone to Sam Jacobs’ territory, the Yorke Peninsula, for a friend’s birthday so on a whim the boys and I drove up to the Adelaide Hills for an early lunch. Heading to the Aldgate Pump Hotel we passed a footy ground with the reserves fixture underway, and there were sparse knots of blokes along the fence, the red beer cans contrasting with their navy rain jackets. Up here footy is often beneath a Yorkshire fog. Not far down the road as the hills become the plains is Chad Wingard’s home territory at Murray Bridge. Chad was about to wow them for Port in Alice Springs.
Between my Laksa and not plonking some coin on Music Magnate in the Doomben 10,000 I looked at my phone to check the Alice Springs score especially as my old school mate Chris is related to the Hoff from the Power. No signal. But, I reminded myself this English village sleepiness is the attraction of the Adelaide Hills. It’s why we visit.
Descending through the mist and back into the sunshine we listened to In The Superbox With The Coodabeen Champions and because it’s a family standard, sang along with Greg Champion, “You’re the player, you’re the player, Gary Ablett! Gary Ablett!” I told our eight and six year-old boys that the tune was originally about the Gold Coast star’s dad. They ignore me and keep singing. One day, it could be about a third generation Ablett too. Footy ditties, like Paul Kelly songs, are also timeless.
The car was warm with nostalgia when I found myself turning left down Belair Road and parking outside a handsome villa in Kingswood. I’d decided the boys might like to see where their Dad had a kick and a catch with the Unley Jets before his career finished one August afternoon (split eyebrow; hours waiting in Flinders Medical Centre). As the pale sunlight bent onto the forward flank, we saw the reserves get up against Port District. To celebrate we each had a Freddo Frog (caramel).
How wonderful is local footy? I love the unpredictability. There’s the moments when grace rises above danger as the gangly kid blind turns and jags one from the pocket, and the roar makes the BBQ veterans look up from their hotplate of snags. Later danger reaffirmed itself when a Jets defender surged thrillingly across the wing, but didn’t steady, and his kick squirted across the boundary, like a drive shanked onto a neighbouring fairway.
Our evening was the Crows and the Giants. As had been our day’s theme, the past and the present would again meet. Entering the competition in 2012, Greater Western Sydney has only been discussed in future tense, as a club to whom success would surely come. That day is now speeding towards us, like a growling Monaro.
For Crows fans, ’97 and ’98 have transmuted from glorious history to nostalgic, troubling distance. Is it nearly twenty years? But, yesterday and today often connect, and Andrew McLeod is the football name Eddie Betts rates above all others. Who better to mentor him than the great running half back, as beautiful a player as has strapped on footy boots? It must be like Keef teaching you guitar. With his poise and promise, Wayne Milera, Adelaide’s first selection in the 2015 draft, has been compared to McLeod by judges like Scott Thompson. It’s tantalising.
Eddie’s a senior player now; a leader. Just before the third quarter siren Eddie fabricated yet another miraculous major, one that could net him successive goals of the year. While the kick itself was impressive, it’s how he gained possession: materialising on the boundary and somehow trapping the Sherrin with the surety of a NFL holder assisting in a field goal kick, then accelerating away from a grasping Giant and curling it through at the Cathedral End.
It’s fitting that the Indigenous Round’s best moment came from a Port Lincoln Nunga, a footballer like Sir Doug Nicholls: diminutive, exquisitely skilled and shaping the game in remarkable ways.
The young Giants raced home, but once more Eddie created a goal from gossamer and his fifth in the final seconds guaranteed my Adelaide a fine victory.
It’d been a brilliant day. Yet again footy had jumped out at me in unexpected and blissful ways. Just like footy can.
This story was first published in Inside Football. For more go to http://digital.insidefootballonline.com. My thanks to co-founder and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac, John Harms for the opportunity to write this story.