The week in footy began, as these things do, with a Texan in protective goggles tearing the Queens Birthday game to shreds. It proved that people are still willing to go to the football in large numbers. It revealed all sorts of cracks in the reigning premiers. It saw a rollicking finish from Collingwood. It compressed the ladder, and threw the premiership race wide open. It raised millions more for Motor Neurone Disease research.
It then quickly moved, as the week in footy always does, to the negative. It zeroed in on an 18-year-old No 1 draft pick. It emphasised the industry’s obsession with bringing these young men to heel, with making sure they don’t get ahead of themselves, with sucking every morsel of individuality out of them. It prompted Nathan Buckley to ask: “what are we doing to this kid?”
It reignited the debate around drugs. It embarrassed a footballer who is more brand than man. It elicited yet another idiotic Jeff Kennett take – this time droning on about zero tolerance and two-year bans. It exposed the fragile compromise that is the illicit drugs policy – part punitive, part harm minimisation, part rehabilitative, part brand management. It landed on a two-week suspension.
It showcased the best of football at the Hall of Fame dinner. It afforded long overdue recognition to Nicky Winmar. It bestowed Legend status on one of the great South Australian footballers. It saw a speech from a Rhodes Scholar, and an even better one from a man raised in a mission home.
It encapsulated, in a single photograph of Winmar, Mike Fitzpatrick, Brent Harvey, Bill Dempsey and Matthew Pavlich – that champions of this sport come in all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds, and all cultures. It introduced us to many men we may not have been familiar with – stars from the Depression, from West Australia and Tasmania. It reminded us that the history of this sport extends well beyond the AFL era.
It was then side-tracked by yet another of Eddie McGuire’s stray ideas. It was a ‘reshaping’, not a relocation he said on Footy Classified. It was, by any measure, an insult to North Melbourne supporters, to the state of Tasmania and to the viewing public. It begged the question – has a television show ever blown more hot air, and taken itself more seriously?
It drummed home how resistant Tasmanians are to having a rented team, and to being told what is good for them. “It would be the single biggest act of bastardry in the history of the game for the Presidents to vote this down,” Gerard Whateley said.
It shifted back, mercifully, to actual games of football. It provided a second chance for a mid-season draftee who learnt the Carlton game-plan off his MacBook. It then sidelined him for a month when his knee blew out. It drew more than 50,000 diehards, in pissing rain, on a school night. It escalated into a scuffle between a former Xavier Collegian whose mum was a Sale of the Century model, and a Noongar man who spent three years in prison.
It threw up exquisite wet weather skills, the controversial rescission of a goal, and a lot of tedious tut-tutting about goal celebrations. It put the fear of God into any team that draws Richmond in a final at the MCG. It was followed up by upsets at the Docklands and the Adelaide Oval, and an almighty fright for Geelong in Perth.
It bid bon voyage to a man who was arrested in his bathrobe last year, and who broke up his 2022 campaign with some padel tennis, massage therapy, bottomless margaritas and tequila throwbacks. It inspired a typically restrained Herald Sun headline – “De Goey might be the dumbest player of his generation.” It saw the player in question hit back via social media, calling out “the relentless persecution of athletes”. It would end in tragedy, he said, if this sort of harassment persisted.
It ended, for this columnist, his frostbitten partner, his bewildered dog, and thousands of other Melburnians, at the Reclink Community game at Victoria Park. Its genesis was a lunchtime kick-to-kick at the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. It has since raised millions for Australians experiencing mental illness, addiction, homelessness, family violence and social isolation. It was free of structure, role players and Instagram statements, but rich in spirit.
It was just another week of football, another week of rogues, blowhards and champions, another week of everything that is pointless, pitiless and wondrous about the sport.