We were in control of the game at the start of the last quarter, all that was needed was a strong five or ten minutes and it was ours. Healesville had entered the competition aiming to win it, and their intentions after three quarter time had evidently not changed, as they slotted the first goal of the quarter.
A mighty roar went up from the our opponent’s supporters, and a player on the ground bellowed, ”They’re shittin’ themselves. Another one here, boys. They’re shittin’ themselves!”
Within a minute we had slotted the next goal and, I can’t speak for my teammates, but reality dawned on me. We were going to win the premiership. Except, inexplicably, it didn’t seem real. I think my brain was battling two certainties. I’ve played and watched a lot of footy, and I knew without any doubt that the game was done. The result was in. Alternatively, I was also aware of the concrete reality that I, Greg Gibson, was destined to never win a flag.
If writing about it hurt, the moment of the loss and the week following was a nightmare. I understand it’s only vets footy, and some of the youngsters at my work have seemed, at times perplexed by the mixed messages I’ve provided about the experience. On one hand I am quick to discuss how great the fortnightly fixturing is, and how enjoyable I find the lack of training and the somewhat lackadaisical approach by all involved. How can you not get behind a coach that calls off training because he ate $30 worth of Chinese food for lunch?
On the other hand, I’ve been vocal about the games I’ve played in and who played well and how we won. I’ve hobbled around after games acting like I’ve just played a game in the big league. I’ve talked up how important winning the flag would be for the blokes, and then I’ve crapped on endlessly about how awesome it would be to finally win one myself. To men in their early twenties who are playing “real” footy, I must seem like a silly old bugger. Maybe I am.
Regardless, the loss in last year’s grand final cut me deep. I was already holding a somewhat pessimistic view of my place in the world of sport; a bad luck story perhaps. We had lost the game against Wandin, but, in my view, we were the much better side. I couldn’t work out how we’d played so badly in the first half. I reckon any other day of the year we’d win that game. With blokes like Bucko, JD, Jockey and Whitey in our side we just had them covered for top end talent, and we had such a good spread of players under those.
What had gone wrong? It had to be mental, I surmised. So what would go differently this year? Why would things suddenly work out when they’d failed in the past. Wandin were going around again, and they’d won four in a row. Healesville entered the comp and they immediately made an impression on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, our preparation for the season consisted of sausages, beer and watching the seniors train. I was worried that we had too many demons to be able to go back to the well.
We knew they were taking it way more seriously than we were, and yet we won the game. Only just. I was worried, as I felt they really pushed us and we’d had to delve deep to win it. I could see them continuing to train and improve and us meandering along through the winter getting together every couple of weeks to play a game of footy.
What I didn’t really consider, and what our coach Fathead obviously did, was that it only matters what you do in the finals that counts. We were always going to make the finals, what was important was that we won them. When the home and away season ended and the real stuff kicked in, so did we. We started training on the off weeks, and the pregame and during game comedy routines performed by Fathead and Mick were not present.
Fathead said he’d run out of material, but I reckon the tone changed. There was a determination that was present, and the feeling that we had to be ready had kicked in. We finished on top, and took care of North Croydon in the semi. They gave it a bloody good crack in the first half, but we were always going to shake them.
We trained the next two weeks and I’ll have to admit I unwittingly ended the last session by kicking a drop kick in a drill. “Righto, that’s it, training’s over. Gibbo’s fucking around,” Fathead said, before leading us into a circle and telling the story of Tiger paying $6k for a non-existent car on gumtree. Despite the antics the vibe was good, and by the time we got to the rooms there was a very steely feel to the team.
It wasn’t fun. We couldn’t let it end that way and so, after some debate settled on Mount Evelyn as the side. I live a very short distance from the ground and Bucko’s dad Ray and I share a fence. From that decision footy has been fun again, with one obvious exception. We didn’t win.
Franka and I have spent many a lunchtime at work walking and talking rubbish about footy. One of the things we’d decided was that Fathead had to start in the guts. He’s big and strong, he can’t really run anymore but he finds the footy around the packs. Of course, we have no say in who plays where, and so were delighted to see that that was exactly what was going to happen.
Under lights, huge crowd, rain, nerves, adrenalin. I’ve got a job to do on a crafty old half forward who wants me to commit to the ball and the contest so he can get out the back. The first ruck contest sees Bucko tap it to Fathead who bangs it forward. All is in accordance with the plan, but it’s slippery and congested. It’s hard to pick up the ball and our forwards can’t find space.
We were only up by 2 points at quarter time, but that was enough. No bad start, we’d had the play, and we felt better than them. The lead extended over the next two quarters with Holly playing out of his skin. I think that’s the first time I’ve played with Holly where he hadn’t already played a reserves game on the weekend. On a wet night he was amazingly clean with his hands and just kept running off his less athletic opponent.
My guy had me a bit worried as my instinct is to crash in, and I can be prone to losing my feet a bit in those pack situations. He was waiting for exactly that to occur, so I had to just keep holding myself back. It was more mentally taxing than physically, but mine was a very small part in how the game was going. As I walked back out after three quarter time one of the opposition supporters looked at me and said, “We need five more goals to pinch this from you.”
I looked at the scoreboard; he was right. Such a strong position, but still I had doubt. Two goals later and my conflict of certainties had kicked in. We were going to win, but was I allowed to? Could those two situations co-exist? No they couldn’t. The logical extension of that answer highlighted that one of those certainties was based on a flawed premise. I wasn’t cursed. I could win a premiership.
In the rooms after the game we sand the song. I wrote in an article last year that the song is “long and rambling and I’ll never remember it”, but I had remembered it. I was very proud of this fact. When we sang that song I bellowed out, with total confidence, every single word. And as we went to celebrate with a mighty roar, about a dozen of the blokes in the circle kept singing.
Two more secret verses!!! What a total stitch up! It was pretty funny though, I’m sure they didn’t know I’d had this solemn vow to myself to know all the words to the song when we won the flag, and they’d totally buggered me up.
It was a great game, an awesome night and an indescribable feeling. I feel free now. Free to keep playing (unlike Franka who literally hung up his boots - see image below) without the weight of unfulfilled expectation hanging over me. I’ve always enjoyed playing footy, and now think I can enjoy it even more.
Follow Greg Gibson on Twitter: @GregGibbo28