TelstraAFL Live Pass
Main content
Proudly Sydney

SwansTV

2016 Preliminary Final

10:00am  Sep 23, 2018

2018 Review: Lance Franklin

11:00am  Sep 22, 2018

1996 Preliminary Final

10:00am  Sep 22, 2018

From the Outer: Playing host

Mathilde de Hauteclocque  July 9, 2018 9:35 AM

20180709_fromouter_hero.jpg

At least it was warm! Warm up in the stands on a Thursday night. So warm that my visiting Cat buddy had shorts on!

My Cat buddy, Peter, is one of a clowder of Cats I’ve visited in Geelong for the past three years. It’s the only ‘away’ ground I visit regularly. I met Peter in 2015 when Adam Goodes returned to football at Kardinia Park but the Cats won the match for Selwood’s 200th. I was on the Terrace a year later when we won for Kieran Jack’s 250th. And I was there last year for a second bite at the winner’s cherry, when we beat them by 46. The Cats haven’t played in Sydney since I’ve been going down there. In fact the last time they played on a Thursday night at the SCG was in Round 11, 2014 when the home side thumped them by 110 points! So when I looked at the fixture at the beginning of this season and saw that we were playing each other twice, once in Sydney on a Thursday night, I swiftly sent the clowder a message: ‘Looking forward to hosting you up here this year!’

There’s some pretty well trodden etiquette involved in being a good host: be welcoming and attentive to your guests, show them the essentials, be gracious and generous.

Of the three core Cat buddies, only Peter could make it up to Sydney. I suggested to him that we meet at ‘The Horse’ in Surry Hills for a pre-game welcome and refreshment.

‘Great choice. The Longmire it is,’ came the reply.

My Cob and I arranged a 25 degree mid-winter day for him, a window bar position with boutique Brookvale ale, bi-folds drawn wide, a still mid-20s breeze blushing our cheeks at 5pm. A Noongar buddy joined us, Fremantle supporter but attending to cheer for his long-reach relative Quinton Narkle – another vote for Geelong! We blitzed the warm-up together and diffused any underlying tension with side focuses on the round ball proceedings in Russia, nostalgia for the original jerseys and grandstands of the west, a lesson on the statue of high-flying John Gerovich outside Fremantle Oval and a question mark over the name of his stepladder – Ray French.

We walked Cat Peter to the ground, showing him the essential sites of Surry Hills and the Moore Park Precinct - two tiered bespoke gelato, best dressed (Ray) Frenchie Bulldogs. We wanted to walk him over that most Sydney of monuments - the Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter Walkway, finest example of loopy development that surpasses all human need. We aimed for it but missed to the left.

I forwarded Cat Peter the barcode I had acquired for him and we swarmed in together. Just inside Gate E, the Cob and I looked for him among the clappers and red face paint. He was still trying to scan his way in. Turns out I’d sent him a barcode from the West Coast game a fortnight ago! Reminder. Don’t make your guests feel like intruders!

The Swans seemed to be operating on similar hospitality principles early on. They welcomed the Cats with a hush, showed them their room at the Paddington end and stuck around in there for a good portion of the first quarter, fluffing their cushions and folding their towels. Ronke attempted a Gerovich over …

‘Who’s the 29?’ asked the Cob.  

‘Guthrie,’ I piped.

‘Woody, not Arlo,’ nodded Cat Peter. To which he added an Apollo 440 style riff – ‘Stop the Ronke, can’t stop the Ronke.’

The introductions and ice breakers seemed to be going well. It seemed ok then when forward entries turned the other way and Harry Cunningham delivered Lance an arc special from his pocket. Robinson had a polished goal but Tim Kelly matched it. At least Aliir Aliir’s attentiveness to Harry Taylor wasn’t singly polite.

Tom Hawkins lined up for an early goal in the second.

‘Left to right,’ advised our Cat. ‘Depends how much left and how much right.’

Hawkins kicked it just the right amount of left for a goal. ‘Prescient,’ giggled the Cat.

Narkle exploded six points out of congestion and Fogarty followed suit. Leading name holder of the AFL Jamaine Jones was tackling at will. I suppose it’s appropriate to amuse the guests’ children should they decide to bring them along.

Bewilderment was building among the red and white as we coughed up the ball with errors and the Cats pounced on clearances. There were light-hearted calls from around to ‘sack Zac’ and ‘ban Dan’. It was like a Dr Seuss book up in the O’Reilly. Until Lance trotted and shuffled on a mark outside 50, flipped it to Towers who returned him a fumbled crumb which was scooped at the line and slotted. It was a goal made from the will of one man.

Things tightened in the third. The hooped shots at goal continued to land like errant quoits while Lance put his cleanly through. We were missing the marking might of Heeney and Mills and the opportunism of Papley. But our kids started claiming their own toys and tricks with McCartin marking and goaling. Menegola missed a shot before the break that squared us up for the final quarter. ‘Meneposta,’ muttered Cat Peter. He was calling for ice vests. The Cob was calling for Nick Davis.

When you watch a game from the stands, you don’t always know the fine details. You can’t account numerically for every turnover or time spent in forward half or the relationship between defensive half intercepts and points scored. But you do feel the intangibles, the things that data doesn’t know how to measure. You feel the closing of a gap, the energy it brings. And the spark that dies a little as it is lengthened again. You feel your team’s gaping forward 50 that no one quite knows how to fill, the collective indecision around pathways. You feel the attrition of bodies breaking under all kinds of strain. You dwell for as long as you can on the threshold of the door a wild surplus of opposition behinds leaves open – two or three quick replies of your own will have you level or on top. Cat Peter would have felt them too as the ever improving Florent took us within two points half way through the last. 

But Geelong brought out their party tricks and Kelly made himself right at home on Lance’s arc, kicking the perfect sealer. In the end, it was Bizet not Banjo that pumped around the ground. It was Geelong’s first win on the SCG since Round 4, 2013.

Some strange reciprocal courtesy seems to have developed between the Swans and Cats, an arrangement where the guests get to leave with the chocolates. I couldn’t help but be a little bit glad for the travelling Cat Peter. There’s enormous warmth in those friendships, ignited on an external source like football and stoked into fulsomeness by repeated nurturing. Win or lose, that warmth sates.

But the team might need to leave such cordiality to us in the stands! After a fourth loss in Sydney, it might be time to start acting more like the hosts who present their home as a castle of wealth, taste and superiority, the hosts who make you feel you mightn’t like to come back for a while. Leaving the ground, we aimed to get Cat Peter onto the Tibby Cotter for the return. But somehow we were funnelled to the left of it by the crowd. It’s the walkway you just can’t get on. It might be the perfect inspiration for the remaining home matches, the perfect mascot for inferior hospitality. 

Mathilde has been a Swans member since 2000. Her love of football is part physical, part geometrical and part philosophical. She lives in Sydney with her partner and their son and wiles away her winters in the O’Reilly stand. Mathilde writes regularly for footyalmanc.com.au.