Shaun Dockery only ever gave one truly great three-quarter time address, but that’s not bad for someone who’s never actually coached. The match was Hawthorn versus North Melbourne at Arden Street, and if the year had have been 1976, this story might have been coloured with screaming fans, traditional rivalry and searching Mick Nolan runs. As it was, the year was 1990, and about 300 people had come along to watch Denis Pagan’s Kangaroos teach Russell Greene’s Hawks what under 19 football was all about.
What the clubs believed under 19 football to be all about was producing senior footballers, but from the look of Russell Greene’s jugular vein as we trudged into the three quarter time huddle, it was clear he also had a passing interest in winning. He’d indicated as much at half time when he’d said, ‘If you’re going to keep playing like that, don’t bother coming in at three quarter time.’ It was supposed to be the game where we secured the double chance, but now we’d fallen 55 points behind. If Greeney was true to his word, he didn’t particularly want to see us.
‘I don’t really have anything much to say.’ Greene began. ‘Any of you blokes got anything to say?’
He was quiet, he was angry and it was absolutely, definitely nobody’s cue. A glance at my teammates revealed that staring at the Arden Street grass was the preferred way of weathering this storm, followed closely by picking at strapping. The most important thing was not to make eye contact and not to speak. On the opposite flank, Pagan was screaming at his players, which given they were nine goals up, only made things feel all the more ominous in our huddle.
‘We can fucken win this Greeney.’
I’d like to say that I looked up and saw Shaun Dockery ringed by halos of sunlight or as a mystical silhouette against the Arden Street gasometers, but at the moment Doc started speaking, there was no indication that he was embarking upon one of the great football addresses. It was just a standard Shaun Dockery sentence. Expletive, check. Volume of low flying jet, check. Black mouthguard impeding some to the more difficult vowel sounds, check. Nonetheless, there was an intensity in his tone that made you think that Doc might actually believe we could win. Greeney seemed to pick up on it too.
‘Doc reckons we can win it, so Doc can bloody well talk to you blokes.’
With that Greene picked up his clipboard and exited the huddle, leaving us in the hands of an oiled up 17-year-old in a helmet. These were the first things you noticed about Shaun Dockery on a football field. He had enormous muscles for his age, which he accentuated firstly by walking around with clenched fists and then by oiling his arms several times a quarter. He also wore one of those black, padded, buckle-up helmets; something his opponents might also have chosen to wear if they, like Doc, knew how much of their afternoon would be spent punching on. Not that Doc was deliberately dirty. It’s just that accidents happen more frequently when you run around with clenched fists.
Doc moved to the middle of the huddle, undid the strap on his helmet, and went to remove his mouth-guard before deciding against it. His teeth were gritted, his eyes wide and furious. Shit. Maybe he was going to deck a couple of us? Finally, he extended as far as his six-foot frame would allow, turned his face an alarming shade of red, and started screaming.
‘We’re going to fucken win this! ANYONE RECKON WE’RE NOT GUNNA FUCKEN WIN THIS!’
Nobody spoke, but Doc must have sensed that at least some of us were concerned about our prospects of kicking ten goals to nothing in the last quarter. Throw in the fact that we’d so far sneaked just three goals for the game, and we were at least justified in asking Doc to explain his case. As it was, Doc didn’t need any prompting.
‘TEN GOALS IN THIRTY MINUTES! ONE FUCKEN GOAL EVERY THREE MINUTES! CAN WE KICK A GOAL IN THE FIRST THREE MINUTES?’
At this point, the huddle collectively squeezed out a ‘yes’.
‘SO WHAT REASON IS THERE THAT WE CAN’T KICK ANOTHER FUCKEN GOAL IN THE NEXT THREE MINUTES?’
We murmured. The consensus seemed to be that there was no reason. Doc’s torso was shaking like a jackhammer as he gathered momentum.
‘THERE’S NO FUCKEN REASON. WE’RE GOING TO KICK A GOAL EVERY THREE MINUTES! AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE DO?
‘We’ll win!’ shouted a few of the blokes with growing enthusiasm.
‘OF COURSE WE’LL FUCKEN WIN!’ screamed Doc. ‘AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE WILL HAPPEN!’
There was some scratching of heads as we wondered where Doc was taking us. We didn’t have to wait long.
‘THERE’LL BE SO MUCH FUCKEN TIME ON, THAT BY THE END WE’LL HAVE HAD MORE THAN THREE MINUTES TO SCORE EACH GOAL!’
And that was basically it. Russell Greene’s approach had tended to focus on the so called ‘one-percenters’. Tackling, chasing, smothering, unrewarded running. ‘Goals,’ Greeney said, ‘Would look after themselves.’ But that hadn’t worked and now the game plan was in the hands of a back pocket from Doveton. And from what Doc had just said, that game plan seemed to be; we kick the first ten at approximately three minute intervals, then if we miss out on the last couple, we rely on additional time-on generated from our opening burst to mop them up later. No mention of unrewarded running. No mention of the opposition. Still, the mood in the trench had improved considerably, and we were all now looking to Doc for inspiration.
His next move was to jump forward and grab Azza by the top of his jumper. Azza had died blonde hair, played in the forward pocket, and hadn’t handballed for two seasons. Even today, Azza remains one of the most smackable people I’ve met in my life. For a moment, I thought that Doc was going to sacrifice Azza to demonstrate his commitment to the cause. But then he revealed his grand plan. We were all to be grabbed violently around the collar and shaken.
‘Everyone’s gotta look into my eyes and say we can fucken win it.’ Doc spat. ‘Azza, can we fucken win it?’
‘Yes Doc, we can fucken win it.’
‘LOUDER AZZA, SAY IT AT THE TOP OF YOUR VOICE,’ Doc shrieked.
‘YES DOCCA, WE CAN FUCKEN WIN IT!’ shouted Azza.
Doc moved on to Macca and after Macca another bloke we called Macca. Both were loud, both full of resolve. ‘YES DOCCA, WE’RE GOING TO DO IT!’ Rowdy had only said about thirty words since he’d come down from the bush, but now Doc’s black mouthguard was only centimetres from his face. ‘We’ll do it Doc,’ he said at a volume that was a revelation for everyone. Bickers fell quickly into line, and it wasn’t like Crazy Dave wanted any trouble. One by one Shaun Dockery took his turn with each of us, and one by one we committed to the cause. Finally, he came to me.
‘Willo, can we fucken do it?’
Before I looked into Doc’s eyes, I honestly didn’t believe we could fucken do it. But at the moment I looked up and saw the face of the man who was holding both of my ears and spitting over the front of my jumper, I was a convert.
‘YES WE CAN DO IT DOCCA!’ I yelled.
‘GOAL EVERY THREE MINUTES WILLO!’
‘GOAL EVERY THREE MINUTES DOCCA!’
The team was electrified. There probably wasn’t a player amongst us that had touched the ball more than ten times all day, but a rant, a rave and a bit of Shaun Dockery inspired whiplash, and suddenly we felt like world beaters. Spontaneously, we all ran as hard as we could into the centre of the huddle so we could smash into one another and scream some more. We were going to make football history, insofar as football history can be made in the under 19s.
To say that Doc completely outcoached Denis Pagan over the course of the next six minutes would be somewhat of an overstatement, but we did kick the first two goals of the quarter. On balance though, the points probably went to Pagan as his boys slammed through the next eight, bringing the final margin to 85 points.
Doc was right when he predicted the length of that quarter. It went for ages.