FOOTBALL FINALS FEVER
Last year at this time I waxed on lyrical about what a wonderfully spectacular game Australian Football is (not Rugby or Soccer, but Australia’s unique, home-grown version of football). I deliriously described the drama, the speed, the beauty, the athleticism, the skill, the strength, and the toughness of our game, with its high flying marks, long kicks, crushing tackles and its electric pace.
I encouraged my blog readers around the world last year to tune into the internationally televised Grand Final and, in particular, watch out for the indigenous players in both sides. The players of aboriginal descent, with their uncanny skills and unpredictability. So the stage was set for a thrilling Grand Final between Melbourne-based, Hawthorn (the Hawks), and Perth-based, Fremantle (the Dockers) – or so I thought.
It turned out to be a dour, drab, unspectacular arm-wrestle with the aboriginal players deprived of the opportunity to display their wares, as both sides focused on defence, more so than on attack. In a war of attrition, Hawthorn crawled over the line to win the premiership.
Next Saturday, once again Hawthorn is a grand finalist having hung on to defeat a fast-finishing Port Adelaide (or Port Power from Adelaide, South Australia) in the second Preliminary Final today. Their opponents are the Sydney Swans, the glamour team of the competition and red-hot favourites to knock the Hawks off their perch.
The Swans poached multi-million dollar man, Buddy Franklin, from the Hawks last year. Controversially the Swans offered him ten million dollars over nine years to lure him away from Hawthorn (this is big money for an AFL player). This means they expect Buddy to play until he’s 38 years old, which is significantly defying the odds, as most AFL footballers hang up their boots by the time they’re in their early 30s.
So what’s so good about Buddy that induced Sydney to empty their coffers and take such a financial risk?
Well, in yesterday’s first Preliminary Final, he was unstoppable against my team, North Melbourne (the Kangaroos). In a totally dominating performance he ripped the defence apart, kicked five goals and set up several others as the Swans flew into the Grand Final with a 71 point victory.
Buddy’s the leading goal-kicker in the AFL this season and, when on-song, like yesterday, he is capable of anything. He’s 198 cms tall (six feet five inches), weighs in at 102 kgs (225 pounds), can kick a ball accurately over prodigious distances, is exceedingly fast for his size, is very strong physically and has all the exquisite and uncanny skills of his aboriginal brothers.
Apart from Buddy, the Swans have two other super-talented aboriginal players – indefatigable veteran Adam Goodes and speedster extraordinaire, Lewis Jetta (appropriate surname).
However, the Hawks have their share of indigenous talent as well. Silky-skilled Shaun Burgoyne, lightning fast Brad Hill and elusive, brilliant Cyril Rioli.
So the stage is set for a potentially thrilling climax to the AFL season with next Saturday’s Grand Final. Oh, didn’t I say something like this last year?
The venue, as usual, is the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the MCG, or the “G”) and about 100,000 spectators are expected to be there. Look for the Swans fans in red and white (the Hawks in brown and gold) and in particular for a couple of members of the Swans’ cheer squad behind the goal posts holding a banner aloft when Buddy Franklin kicks a goal. The banner reads YOU BUDDY BEWDY! , which translated into Australian means, YOU BLOODY BEAUTY! (pardon my French).
Now, if this game doesn’t live up to my big wrap, and it turns out to be a dud – I promise I’ll try to resist the temptation to over-hype it this time next year. Except, of course, if my beloved Kangaroos make the Grand Final!