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Dad, Dermie, Dipper, Donuts and Me

‘Dad, can I have some donuts?’It was a ritual that had evolved over a decade of watching football together at the MCG. Walk across the footbridge, ask for a Record, Dad buys a Record, walk down the hill, ask for some donuts, Dad doesn’t buy any donuts. On Grand Final day 1989, my chances of a donut breakthrough were not helped by the fact that it was 8.15 in the morning.

‘No.’

‘Well can Ned have some donuts then?’ I asked, nodding over to my younger brother.

But my father’s attention had turned to the newspaper stands. The Age banner screamed ‘Grand Final Edition’, whereas the Herald Sun had run with ‘Bumper Grand Final Edition’. If the Berlin Wall had come down that week (instead of five weeks later), the story would have run on about page seven. Unless of course it emerged that Vaclav Havel barracked for Hawthorn. Or that Geelong half-back Michael Schulze had a cousin who worked at Checkpoint Charlie. We ended up buying about eight kilos of newspaper, working out at around a kilogram for each hour we’d be spending together on a hard wooden bench.

The search for that bench took us initially to the undercover middle deck of the Olympic stand, as it always did, which was completely full, as it always was. And so with a wave to the families who have been squatting there with their thermoses since the mid-fifties, we made our way up to the top deck.

‘The players look pretty small,’ Ned said when we finally found some seats.‘That’s just because they’re the under 19s,’ Dad said encouragingly. ‘The senior players will be bigger.’

That was good enough for us. Of course they would. Dipper, Dermie, Dunstall, Langers – they were all impossibly huge. Even little Platts had big hair. We were sitting as close to heaven as two young Hawthorn fans could be on the biggest day of our football watching lives. ‘Go Hawks,’ I whimpered softly to myself, and gave my brown and gold flogger a quick flog. It was nine o’clock, and the first bounce was only seven and a half hours away.

***

I was just screaming nonsense, something about Yeates and being a mongrel and him having done it all his career. Now he’d just done it to Dermott’s ribcage, a ribcage which on reflection had definitely been doing it for all Yeates’ career and then some. But that wasn’t the point.

Didn’t Yeates understand about the natural order of things? Dermott’s ribcage decided what it ran into, not the other way around. The game was only forty seconds old and tears of rage were welling in my eyes.

‘Dad, did you see what they did to Dermie,’ I screamed.

But he wasn’t listening, just gritting his teeth and grinding out the words ‘get up, get up’ over and over again. He had locked Brereton in a brutal stare, and seemed to be trying to lift him up with his eyes. ‘C’mon Dermie,’ I murmured to myself, but I didn’t want to distract Dad because he looked like he might be making a difference. C’mon Dad.

Dermott rose and spewed and pushed away intelligent people looking after his own best interests. It was sensational. If ever there was an advertisement for violence as entertainment, this was it. Brereton puffed his chest out, jogged down to the forward pocket and was sick again. In years to come, someone would slow this down, add a heartbeat, and sell it for $29.95.

Three minutes later, Brereton back-pedalled into Stephen Hocking, raised his arms and took the mark that stamped him as the big occasion player of the decade. The grab itself wasn’t that difficult, a regulation overhead for any of the thirty-six players on the field. What made the moment immortal was that the Hawthorn number 23 was still one of them. A few deep breaths later, he kicked the goal and I silently committed myself to entrusting Brereton with all matters relating to my future happiness.

Dad was anything but silent in his celebration, launching what to this day remains the most repetitive piece of sustained barracking I have ever experienced at the football. ‘You champion, you champion,’ was about the gist of it, although in fairness he did throw in a few ‘you champion Dermotts’ for variation. It must have gone on for more than a minute, before finally a fat Geelong supporter in a Billy Brownless duffel coat told him to ‘sit the f*** down’.

‘It’s not like he’s f***ing Ablett or anything’ he added.

My father took his seat without even looking around, not attempting to defend Dermott against this outrage. At the time I thought it was because he was afraid to fight. After all, Dad had told me for as long as I could remember that he was afraid to fight. But it’s also possible he had obtained a moment’s insight into what was to come, particularly insofar as ‘f***ing Ablett‘ was concerned.

***

It was easy to spot Gary Ablett that day, because he was the one running three times faster than everyone else. In his previous two finals, Ablett had pretty much split his time between kicking fifty metre goals and hovering about fifteen feet above the ground, so he entered the game burdened by an unbelievable weight of public expectation. Could he kick the record number of goals in a finals series? Could he win the Cats their first flag in twenty-six years?
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By the twelve minute mark of the second quarter, Ablett had his third goal. A few seconds later, his fourth, conceiving somehow to ascend a pack, pluck the ball from the throw in, and snap high over his left shoulder. Goal to Ablett, assist to boundary umpire Sporton. Supporters from both sides stood side by side; an applause born out of love, respect or just because it seemed the right thing to do..

Despite the influence of Ablett, Hawthorn went into half time 37 points up. The Brereton goal had inspired the team, and we were dominating all over the ground. Up forward, Curran, Buckenara and Dunstall booted crucial goals. In defence, Mew was impassable and Ayres making timely assassination attempts with the point of his shoulder. The tackling and sublime ball handling of grand master Tuck dominating the mid-field. Thirty six years old, and all the more wonderful because he looked like my Year 7 science teacher.

‘Dad, do you reckon we can possibly lose this?’

Dad murmured something about Grand Finals, the unpredictable nature of footy and his general concerns about Maginness on Ablett. It was like he was auditioning for the Hawthorn match committee. But his eyes radiated confidence, and I figured he was just choosing his words carefully to try to patch things up with the bloke in the Billy Brownless duffel coat.

***

In the third quarter, Chris Langford moved onto Ablett and I was quietly relieved. My first choice for the job would probably have been Christopher Reeve, but as Reeve was unavailable, it was encouraging that Langford at least had a similarly shaped jaw. The move seemed to be paying off until six minutes into the quarter Ablett stood on Kennedy’s head and marked the ball next to his calf. Set shot from twenty metres. Goal. Lead back to 30 points. Difficult football to counter.

Three minutes later, a Bairstow free kick resulted in another goal to Geelong, followed by a couple of bad misses by Scott and Brownless. All of a sudden, the margin was 23 points. The Cats had come to life.

It was now that DiPierdomenico chose to touch up Gary Hocking’s face with his forearm, a decision I must confess to wholeheartedly endorsing at the time Dipper made it. After all, Hocking had been belting Hawthorn players off the ball all day, most notably when he knocked John Platten out at the end of the first quarter, and anyone who’s seen a Dirty Harry movie knows what has to happen next. It did, and Dipper was reported by three umpires. When you think of the Big Dipper today, all smiles and hugs and spaghetti sauce dripping from his celebrity moustache, it’s easy to forget the tremendous capacity for violence he demonstrated throughout his football career.

Dipper’s whack rocked Geelong, and Hawthorn raced away again care of two lucky, snapped goals from Anderson and Curran. Not lucky because we didn’t deserve to kick them – in my eyes our players always deserved to kick goals. Just lucky in the sense that they didn’t mean to kick them.

We went to three quarter time 36 points up. Geelong needed a miracle to win.

***

It would take a fairly ungracious supporter to blame Hawthorn’s final quarter fade-out squarely on injury, which is why I’m also going to blame the umpires. For the last thirty minutes of the 1989 season, umpires Carey and Sheehan put their whistles away, allowing for the most spectacular, exhilarating quarter of football I have ever seen, but simultaneously failing to pay some three dozen or so obvious free kicks in front of goal which would have made it a certainty for the Hawks.

But that doesn’t mean injury doesn’t rate a mention. Platten was off concussed, apparently concerned about when the Bourke Street parade was going to get under way; Ayres, benched with torn hamstring; Tuck, split webbing in his hand; Brereton internally bleeding; Pritchard and Kennedy, leg sore but battling on; Dipper, broken ribs and a punctured lung, a rampaging bull when he should have been a deflating balloon. Hawthorn was down to thirteen men, and when you consider Ablett was worth about six, Geelong was up to twenty-three.

The Cats kicked a few at the start of the quarter, but I kept comforting myself that the lead was surely just too big. The first pangs of worry struck me at about the fifteen minute mark, when Langford jumped to take a solid defensive mark . It wasn’t really the mark that concerned me, so much as the sight of Ablett being out-marked, eight feet in the air and horizontal, his legs wrapped around Greg Madigan’s head.

‘He really is a credit to himself and bald people like him’ a young, thin-haired supporter said to his wife, applauding the latest round of Ablett heroics. And then with debate still raging between the two as to whether the great man was indeed balding (the wife holding the soon to be outdated opinion that he just had a high hairline) Ablett dropped a one handed mark, gathered, and wheeled onto his left to boot his eighth goal. The stands exploded. Suddenly the difference was just 17 points.

‘Do you think he’s balding?’ the wife asked my brother, who was sitting directly to her left.

Ned, taken by the game and in the grips of that awkwardness that strikes in early adolescence, was quite frankly not up to the social interaction. ‘Quite bald, yes’ he attempted nervously. ‘But not very bald.’ Less than a minute later Hamilton goaled for Geelong. Eleven points in it, and every conversation in the ground gave way to hysterical screaming.

Over the next few minutes, Geelong and Hawthorn traded goals, but you got the feeling the exchange rate wasn’t favouring the Hawks. Goal to us through Anderson. ‘You champion, you champion.’ My father just barracking from memory. Then, the answer from Ablett, his ninth a Grand Final record. Then a bad miss from Bruns. Then a miss from Curran that would have sealed it for us. It felt like the noise being generated by the entire Southern Stand was being funnelled down a super-highway running about a metre above my head. And then, with 30.33 showing on the clock, Scott found Cameron forty metres out directly in front and I just felt like dying.

If David Cameron hadn’t have had to take one of the most important kicks in Grand Final history, I think I probably still would have remembered him for his haircut. It was hilarious, blond and boofy with little flaps that came down over the ears. Had he been eleven he may have cut out a career as an Osmond, but unfortunately for David, he was 25 and playing on a half forward flank for Geelong.

It was an enormous credit to Cameron that he kicked the goal. People said in the aftermath that he took too long over the kick, but the fact was that if he missed, his team was sunk.. I fell back into my seat as Ned released two huge fists full of ripped up newspaper into the atmosphere.

‘Ned.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Geelong kicked that one. You’re meant to be sad.’

Ned mumbled something about already having the paper ripped up, and being worried that Hawthorn might not kick another one. I sort of understood, and deep down, wouldn’t have minded throwing something myself.

The umpire bounced the Sherrin in the centre, and exhausted bodies descended from all corners of the ground. Ball up. Brilliant. Ned was chucking paper to celebrate ball ups now. Thirty two minutes on the clock and the ball bounced again. Bews collects, Curran tackles, Dipper tackles, Condon tackles. Forty-five thousand Hawthorn supporters closing their eyes and tackling too.

***

The hugging didn’t stop for a while. Tucky and Dipper on the ground. Ned and Dad in the stands. Me and some fifty-something bloke with a moustache.

We’re a happy team at Hawthorn
We’re the might fighting Hawks

Hugging now gave way to jumping up and down on the benches.

One for all and all for one, the way we play at Hawthorn
We are the mighty fighting Hawks.

We so were the mighty fighting Hawks. Back to back flags, seven consecutive grand-finals, the brown and gold elevated to heights that such a colour combination should never have aspired to climb. I asked Dad whether this was the greatest team of all time, ever, and was served up a long-winded anecdote that I didn’t really hear out, something about Leigh Mathews’ finals series in 1978 and Al Martello’s deceptive pace. It was only when I repeated the question to Ned, aged one in 1978, that I received the good, solid, ‘yes’ I was looking for.