Tag Archives: AFL

Footy, it’s a family thing

“Bugger! So close but not quite close enough”

So reads the last text message I ever received from my Mum, Merryl. She sent it to me in the minutes after Essendon’s Men’s VFL team that I had some involvement with lost a close run Preliminary final to the Casey Demons by about a goal, thus ending our 2018 season one hurdle short of a Grand Final appearance in September last year.
I’d secretly hoped the boys might get up and give Mum the chance to see one last Bombers flag – this time with one of her kids directly involved – but sadly as it turned out she wouldn’t have made it to Grand Final day even if the Bombers had, passing away peacefully with my Dad Kevin by her side on the Thursday morning of the following week, September 20th 2018.
By the time she sent me that message Mum was already struggling with drowsiness and concentration as a result of the morphine she was being given to manage the pain caused by the cancer that had taken over her body, but she wanted me to know that she was watching and thinking of me, and of course of her beloved Bombers.

Mum’s love affair with the Essendon Football Club really began at the age of 4 or 5 during the era of John Coleman taking speccies on opposition heads at Windy Hill. She was born in 1944 into an Essendon family, where both her Dad and her Grandmother (his Mother) were wildly passionate about footy and the club, and she started attending games with them during those halcyon days. As I got older she loved telling me the story of being dragged through the crowd at Windy Hill as a toddler by her elderly Grandma, petticoat hiked up in one hand Mum in the other, hoping to find the best vantage point. Her Dad preferred to stand on his own as his Mum was so passionate about the club that she would at times embarrass him with her vocal contributions at games – so it was left to the very young Merryl to stand with her Grandma while her Dad found his own space. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mum later that clearly the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, she often struggled to contain her own emotions at games and would yell out her support of the club and occasional derision of an umpiring decision, much to my Dad’s (a long time umpire himself) chagrin.

Mum and Dad after a game

Mum was passionate in life, as in football, and loved 3 things above all else; her family, her friends, and the Bombers. She loved to talk about the club, whether excited about a young recruit or reminiscing on her favourite players of the past, Tim Watson and James Hird at about the top of her historical list, fellow South Gippslander Dyson Heppell a favourite of the current crop. It wasn’t unusual for her to raise a passionate defence of the club or its players at a dinner party or social event; my Dad’s Collingwood supporting brothers particularly enjoyed stirring her up at annual family gatherings.
Mum’s brother and sister are also staunch Bomber fans, as are their kids and all my siblings. Despite her family never having any official involvement with the club before I joined the board in late 2014 my entire immediate and much of my extended family, particularly on Mum’s side, have been passionate Bomber fans going back generations, with Mum very much the matriarch over the past several years.

Dad was a teacher for 35 years which saw he and Mum move around a little early in their marriage, finally settling in the small South Gippsland town of Korumburra in the late 60’s, a town which in spite of its modest 5,000 or so population had two football/netball clubs (since merged) – Korumburra and Bena. When it came time for my oldest brother Steve to start playing footy he’d been training with Korumburra – seemingly the obvious choice in the town it was named after – but a few of his mates from school were playing with Bena and much more importantly to Mum Bena wore Essendon jumpers with the red sash on black, so in her mind the decision was easy – we were to be a Bena Football Club family. My sister had a long and distinguished netball career for the club and both of my brothers and myself played junior and senior footy for them, with Mum holding down various volunteer roles over that period including being team manager of the thirds for a number of years before becoming a qualified trainer. Mum must have volunteered for the club for near enough to 20 years as we all went through the junior grades and onto seniors; when a player would get injured she’d run onto the ground full gusto in her red and white trainer’s uniform, complete with gumboots in the peak winter periods. If it was one of her sons injured the run had just a little more urgency – provided she hadn’t taken leave to go and watch my sister play netball of course.
Occasionally when I was playing juniors and thus had the early start, the planets would align and the Bombers would be playing at VFL Park (the closest VFL/AFL ground to us) on a Saturday afternoon. So Mum and I, along with whichever mate(s) was lucky enough to jump in that day, would take off and head for ‘Arctic’ Park to try to catch as much as we could of the reserves, before the big game. Complete with thermos and home made food – in a family with 4 kids we wouldn’t be buying food at the ground – we’d huddle on the old wooden plank seats with high expectations of a Bomber victory, the drive home either featuring scarves out the window and the footy wrap on the radio or virtual silence depending on the result. It was the 80’s and early 90’s, Essendon fans got used to winning.
If Sheedy’s men were playing elsewhere, as they usually did, we’d be in the car with the radio on at our local footy, and if Mum was in her trainer role standing on the boundary I’d update her with the Essendon match scores at the quarter breaks.

Once all of her kids had grown up and our sporting careers were over it became easier for all of us to get to AFL games, including Mum who no longer had to drive us to our own games or come and watch us. Over more recent years my wife Kellie and I would often meet Mum and Dad at the stadium now known as Marvel a few hours before the game to have a meal together before watching the Bombers play, the mood when we’d meet afterwards determined by the success or otherwise of the red and black on the field that day just as it had been all those years earlier on the drive home from Waverley.
Mum and Dad retired to Queensland about 8 years ago, and whilst they loved the lifestyle that provided Mum couldn’t have done it without a subscription to Pay TV to keep up with the footy news in a state where the AFL isn’t filling the back pages or news headlines like it does in Victoria.

I’ll never forget making the phone call to tell her and Dad that I’d been elected to the board of the Essendon Football Club in late 2014. She didn’t play favourites and was equally proud of all of her kids and grandkids, but this was the Bombers! That one of her kids would be directly involved with the leadership of the club was a great thrill for her, and I relished seeing how much she loved it. I could almost hear her telling the neighbours and friends all about it, in fact pretty much anyone within ear shot. With the Bombers now based out at Tullamarine and Mum & Dad flying in and out often from the airport to visit the grandkids she’d always insist on stopping at the club for lunch or a coffee – often while there introducing herself to club and cafe staff as my Mum. When I recently spoke to a long time Essendon staff member about Mum’s passing he recalled meeting her in the cafe several times over the past few years, he only knew who she was because of course she’d proudly tell him I was her son. When she’d get to our place a few hours later she’d tell me with a broad smile that she was “talking to such and such today”, like they were old friends. Mum’s can be embarrassing like that, in the best way.
On one of her trips down a year or two ago she brought me a 1971 VFL Park members medallion and an Essendon Members “Programme” from the club’s centenary year of 1972, I’m not sure if they were hers or her Dad’s. She often brought me down trinkets and keepsakes from the history of the footy club, and specifically her history with the footy club. I wish I’d asked her more about them.

For coaches, staff and players of AFL Clubs the focus tends to be pretty narrow by necessity, the result of the coming week’s game can understandably take precedence over almost everything else, so it’s easy not to think too much about the fact that for every young player wanting to get a game or every superstar signing a big contract there’s a supporter out there whose mood has for most of their lives been determined by whether the club won or lost the previous weekend. It’s important for those in leadership positions driving the direction and culture of footy clubs to remember those people, particularly as membership of clubs these days climb to huge numbers making it difficult to think of supporters as individuals. People who support their chosen club for no reason other than their love of it and the game, who dip their hands into their pockets when the club asks even when they often can’t really afford it, who show up in droves even if they know their club is a longshot to win. People whose earliest memories are of supporting a footy club, and who are still watching them even as the end draws near.

People like my Mum, and so many thousands of others.

In Round 1 Essendon will play their first official match that Mum hasn’t either watched or been hanging on the score of since the Coleman era. I’ve noticed her passing more lately, because by March we would in previous years have had at least half a dozen detailed conversations about the coming season, about the club’s chances of winning the long awaited next Premiership, about the new crop of draftees, about which of the young players were a chance to go to the next level, and about how my VFL team is shaping up. Instead I’ve got my 7 year old daughter asking when the footy starts again every few days and wanting me to setup a ‘tipping’ competition at home for us, while my 2 year old loves pulling out her Bombers beanie and wearing it around the house even when it’s 30+ degrees outside. And so the circle continues.

When the club run out for their annual ‘Clash for Cancer’ game against North Melbourne in July, somewhere in the background of the club jumper among a thousand or so others in very small print will be my Mum’s name, an innovation the club have introduced this year for a relatively moderate fee to help raise funds for Challenge Cancer Support. I think she’d like that, but in truth she’s been running out with them for 70 years.

Changing Clubs? The AFL Needs To Grow Up

With the AFL’s Trade and Free Agency period now well under way one thing has become patently clear, the system is a mess.  I say it has ‘become’ clear but that isn’t really accurate, it’s been clear it was a mess from the moment Free Agency was first implemented in Australia’s indigenous game a couple of years ago.  The issues were largely passed off then as ‘teething’ problems that would be ironed out over time, but they haven’t been and in fact are getting worse as clubs look to exploit the gaping loopholes available.

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Fairytales and Finals for the Tigers

Sydney 9.11 (65) defeated by Richmond 10.8 (68)

It seems sometimes fairytales do come true, even for the formerly finals cursed Richmond Footy Club.  The Tigers, incredibly, won their 9th game in a row by defeating minor premier Sydney in Sydney on Saturday evening, and after starting the season with 3 wins from their first 13 games are officially finals bound.  It got off on the right foot for the Tigers before the game even began, the Swans doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t in pulling out another of their stars in Buddy Franklin to rest him before the finals next week.  Already without Josh Kennedy, Ben McGlynn and ruckman Mike Pike it made the Swans seem considerably less scary and no doubt put the scent of blood into the Tigers nostrils who would have sensed their opponent were much more worried about next week than the contest in front of them, and predictably that’s exactly how it began.

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AFL Match Preview – Round 23 Sydney v Richmond #AFLSwansTigers

Photo : Getty Images

Sydney v Richmond

SCG, Saturday 30 August, 4:40pm AEST

When it comes to the Richmond Football Club in the past 30 years most of their stories at this time of year haven’t had happy endings.

Continue reading AFL Match Preview – Round 23 Sydney v Richmond #AFLSwansTigers

Tale of two halves as Hawks down Cats

Hawthorn 14.10 (94) defeated Geelong 11.5 (71)

It was a tale of two halves in a battle between two premiership fancies at the MCG last night, the Cats got out to the hot start and led by 31 points at halftime before being completely overwhelmed by the Hawks in the second half.  The Hawks would eventually run out 23 point winners after at one stage kicking 10 goals in a row in a stunning turnaround, Geelong seemingly had no answers once the Hawks got going in a result that will provide some concerns for Geelong coach Chris Scott as the two sides are likely to meet again in the first week of the finals.

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AFL Round 20 Preview – Richmond v Essendon

Richmond V Essendon – Round 20 – 7:50 PM August 08, 2014, MCG

Round 20 sees the return of the good old fashioned Friday Night Blockbuster, with traditional rivals Richmond and Essendon meeting in a game that could barely be more important for either side.  The Tigers improbably – or not depending on how you view their history in recent seasons – are making a late season surge and remarkably despite earlier this season having a 3-10 record are still a remote chance of making the finals.  They’ve won 5 in a row the Tiges, and while they haven’t all been stellar performances winning form is good form – including last week when they shot away from GWS early before having to grind out a 27 point win.

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Cats too good for disappointing Roos

North Melbourne 10.19 (79) defeated by Geelong 16.15 (111)

Geelong has moved ahead of Fremantle and at least temporarily Hawthorn into second place on the AFL ladder following a convincing 32 point victory over the Kangaroos in front of 32,564 fans at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night.  After a tight opening the Cats blew the contest open with a 6 goal to 1 second quarter, and although the Roos would challenge in the 3rd quarter the gap proved to be too great.

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AFL ROUND 18 PREVIEW – Western Bulldogs V Essendon – #AFLDogsDons

Photo : APP: Joe Castro

 

Etihad Stadium, Sunday July 20, 4:40pm AEST

Sunday afternoon at Etihad this week features possibly the most intriguing game of the round, with the surging Bombers taking on a Bulldogs outfit playing with renewed confidence.

The game shapes as season defining for the Bombers, who despite showing great form to win 5 of their last 7 games including strong wins over finals contenders Adelaide, Port Adelaide away and last week Collingwood, have a nasty habit of dropping games they should win.  Those wins over strong teams have been somewhat cancelled out by poor losses to Melbourne and St Kilda, and far from convincing wins over Brisbane and these Bulldogs.  
A win this week would cement the Bombers place in the top 8 and could move them above North Melbourne into 6th on the ladder, while a loss could drop them straight back out of the 8.  For that reason alone it should be a highly motivated Essendon outfit on Sunday. They smashed the Pies last week, but getting motivated to play Collingwood has always been easy for Essendon teams, it’s the games they enter as strong favorites that are the problem.

Continue reading AFL ROUND 18 PREVIEW – Western Bulldogs V Essendon – #AFLDogsDons

Kangas Bounce Back to Stun Hawks – AFL Round 16 Review

North Melbourne 16.12 (108) defeated Hawthorn 13.10 (88)

 

We should have known.

Defeated by cellar dweller Brisbane last week, it was just like North Melbourne to come up and beat the top placed Hawks on Friday Night Footy.  And beat them they did, on the back of 5 goals from Drew Petrie and a dominant aerial performance from Lachie Hansen the Kangaroos ran out 20 point winners over the reigning premiers.  Both Kangaroo key forwards found some form, with Aaron Black kicking 3 goals in a display that must have pleased coach Brad Scott.

Continue reading Kangas Bounce Back to Stun Hawks – AFL Round 16 Review