|Issue No 29||03 September 1999|
Terry O'Brien's Winter Heartache
It's the season of heartaches. It's the time of year where you look back at what might have been. You rue those close losses. You pick out an umpiring decision that might have influenced that game, or a missed shot at goal. For some their season was over almost before it started. For others, the hopes and dreams dissipated as September drew near. Their interest in the finals is, for the most part academic. For them it comes down to which of the remaining teams they prefer to win the flag. Or, more likely, not to win.
Each following week sees another two sides slip by the wayside. The efforts of the twenty-two home and away games effectively mean nothing. "Well, there's always next year." The philosophy of the eternal optimist, which is what you have to be to support your side week in, week out.
For weeks I've been telling anyone who would listen that the Swans are good enough to win the flag. Very few gave me the time of day. I pointed out that the Australians won the World Cup against all odds. I tried to tell people the Aussies could win and nobody listened. I only wish I had money on it. Still the smug sense of satisfaction was enough reward.
Conventional wisdom says that the winner of the Grand Final will come from the top four. Last year Adelaide proved the conventionalists wrong. Sure, a few things needed to fall our way. And they did. Except for one vital factor. All the Swans needed to do was win their last game of the preliminary season. And they went down. In a big way. I don't know how a team can come back from a "complete shellacking" but as a supporter it is hard enough.
As the season draws to a close there are the inevitable departures from the scene. This year is somewhat unusual in that two of those departures are venues. The last of the typical suburban grounds, Victoria Park, has seen its final game of top level footy. And a white elephant, Waverley Park, was farewelled.
It was the final act of an era. The bean counters and market researchers have won the day. The new venue, Docklands, will be a state of the art stadium with a closeable roof. And the powers that be have decided that the roof will be closed. Now this is sacrilegious: part of the game is battling the elements along with the opposition. Some of my best memories are of games played in deplorable conditions. These games were so absorbing that the discomfort was incidental. But they have the technology and they are going to use it.
The impending retirement of Tony Lockett will herald a new era for footy in Sydney. It will be interesting to see how the attendances fluctuate with the loss of the drawing power of "Plugger." The electricity that is generated in the crowds when the ball goes near him is a major factor of the atmosphere in a game at the SCG.
It is something of a paradox that the emotion surrounding Lockett's farewell is the contrast with that of his arrival in the Harbour City. When he arrived, the majority of Sydneysiders didn't know who he was. If they, did they didn't care. The Swans and the code were struggling. Just how close the club was to extinction was only revealed later. But those who did know who he was were horrified. "We don't want that thug" was the most common response. I've never been able to work out whether the city tamed the man, or the man tamed the city. Whichever way it was the Swans current success coincided with the arrival of the man.
The debt that Rules in Sydney owes Tony Lockett is immeasurable. He has, to a large extent, firmly planted the game in the minds - if not the hearts - of Sydney. This is not to belittle the huge efforts others have put in. The likes of Ron Barassi, who probably did more than anyone else to save the Swans from going down the gurgler, Craig Davis, CEO of the (NSW) AFL, or anybody associated with Aussie Rules in this town. It just that everyone knows of Lockett and knows what he's achieved. He has become, at the very least, the face of Rules in Sydney.
One thing he hasn't done, and would dearly love to do, is be in a premiership winning side. This is his last chance to do it. As I try and shake off the gloom of last week's result, I am beginning to wonder if this could be enough of an inspiration to the side to lift and "do it for Tony." Logic says no, but the eternal optimist refuses to die. Anyway, as they say "footy's a funny game."
Whatever the outcome, when the time comes I will gladly say "Thanks Big Fella. For everything."
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