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Day 55: AFL Grand Final Replay: Running Diary

October 2, 2010

Watching in puzzlement as 100,000 fans audibly recoiled following the final siren of the Australian Football League’s Grand Final was one of the most mind-bending moments I’ve ever had watching sports.

The following is a running tab of the game’s events as they unfolded.

9:30pm: Already some fiery pushing and shoving before the opening slamdown by the referee.  And we’re underway…AGAIN.

9:33pm: Just like last week, Collingwood scores a ridiculously fast goal, just 23 seconds in…or not as the ball gets swatted away before the free kick?  It’s already getting weird…

9:35pm: …but Collingwood’s Harry Smith intercepts a short St. Kilda punt for the mark.  Gets a free kick from 30 meters out…and misses altogether.  Still scoreless about 2 and a half minutes in.  (20 minute quarters.)

9:37pm: One of the primary reasons we’re at this point is due to Collingwood’s total failure to capitalize late in last Saturday’s fourth quarter…looks like the trend will continue.  Another chance from about 20 meters in front of the middle posts straight on goal…and the first goal of the game is through.  Goal scorer and early Bond Villain Name of the Year candidate: Tyson Goldsack. COLL 6, STK 0.

9:41pm: Another chance by Collingwood, knocked wide of the middle posts but through for a behind.  St. Kilda hasn’t gotten within 50 meters of the Collingwood goal thus far.  COLL 7, STK 0.

9:44pm: Since I started really following this season, I’ve grown attached to the St. Kilda squad and their fans.  For some reason, I’m drawn to teams that have gone a ridiculously long time between pennants yet have a realistic shot at winning one every single year.  In addition to having the most reasonable club song, their only Premiership in the team’s 100+ year history came in 1966.  They deserve a bit of cheer.

9:47pm:  Collingwood with another mark at the 50-meter line…anytime these guys get anywhere near 50 meters away they’re capable of nailing it on target…as they’ve done again here.  COLL 13, STK 0.

9:50pm: ANOTHER Collingwood attempt on goal, this time set up by Steampunk Name of the Year candidate Steele Sidebottom.  Takes the funny bounce through the side posts for another Collingwood behind.  COLL 14, STK 0.

9:52pm: St. Kilda trailed by as many as 24 last week before taking a late lead prior to last week’s siren.  This game appears to be almost an exact

9:53pm: WOW, you greedy beefeater!  Nick Reiwoldt catches a long kick about 5 yards in front of the goal for St. Kilda.  He COULD have held up and lined up for a free kick, but decided to punt it through on the run.  That decision freed up a defender to sprint in from behind and knock the ball away toward the side posts.  First Kilda point of the day, though.  COLL 14, STK 1.

9:55: Collingwood responds by landing ANOTHER goal, this one via overhead backwards punt.  A St. Kilda defender knocks his own head onto the turf after the fact and stumbles to the sideline.  COLL 20 STK 1.

9:58pm: Aside from the Reiwoldt flub, St. Kilda hasn’t caught a mark inside the Collingwood 50 yet.  They’re getting called for undisciplined fouls, punting right into the opposition’s chest and can’t capitalize on any awkward bounces.  They were the squad with the most momentum when the final siren sounded last week, I wonder if they feel extra time would have been the way to go.

10:00pm: Desperate to get ANYTHING on the board, Reiwoldt boots it from the 50 and gets it to the behind line.  Got his wish.  Still a brutal quarter as the horn sounds.  End 1st quarter: COLL 20 STK 2

10:01pm: Gotta be a cultural reason here…Australia Network airs a weekly issues program called “Living Black” dealing with Aboriginal and African culture on the continent.  Awesome concept, not too sure about having the program hosted by a caucasian Anglo-Saxon woman though…

10:06pm: Start 2nd quarter and it’s the SAINTS hitting the board quickly; a lightning rush to the 50 results in a long punt…for a behind.  Can’t catch a break!  COLL 20 STK 3.

10:09pm: ANOTHER long kick by St. Kilda, this time wide to the LEFT!  Behind!  COLL 20 STK 4.

10:11pm: St. Kilda is playing one step forward, six steps back.  All these blown punts really bite them when Collingwood opens up for a long run ending 15 yards in front of the St. Kilda goal for another 6.  COLL 26 STK 4.

10:12pm: The crowd definitely sounds MUCH louder than last week; about 35,000-40,000 tickets were freed up away from corporate sponsors and back to the teams’ fanbases.  This crowd is nothing but 100,000 anxious rowdy Aussies.  This…is the happiest place on Earth.

10:15pm: Scrum about 40 meters out and Kilda’s got it…another attempt…WIDE AGAIN!  COLL 26 STK 5.

10:17pm: ANOTHER try from 50 meters out…OFF THE POLE!  NBA Jam announcer says: “Can’t BUY a bucket!”  COLL 26 STK 6.

10:20pm: Saints with yet another 50-meter mark…taking their time here.  It’s a high punt…wide left for another behind.  Just lousy.  COLL 26 STK 7.

10:21pm: Saints free kick 20 meters directly in front of the goal and FINALLY St. Kilda gets their first goal…30 minutes into the game.  St. Kilda has put it on the posts more frequently than Collingwood (8-6) but less accurately.  COLL 26 STK 13.

10:22pm: And Collingwood striking RIGHT BACK!  Not letting up…only a behind here.  COLL 27 STK 13.

10:23pm:…and again…COLL 28 STK 13

10:25pm:…and again after a long, unfortunate kick off a mark attempt that arced high and short.  No breaks for St. Kilda.  COLL 34, STK 13.

10:27pm:…and again after a 40-meter free kick head-on.  COLL 40, STK 13. This is the largest lead for either team in both of this year’s Grand Final contests.

10:28pm: Fans getting boasty…with the “COOOOOO-LINGWOOOOOOOOOOOOD” chant echoing through the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

10:29pm: When faced with 4 Collingwood forwards and defending on his own, St. Kilda did the only smart thing…punch the ball across their own goal line to turn a potential 6-point goal into a 1-point behind.  COLL 41 STK 13.

10:33pm: About 2 minutes straight of ball-wrestling and rugby tackling allowed by the field umpires.  Nobody complains about calls and seem a bit disappointed when the whistle finally blows.

10:35pm: Collingwood is successfully slowing down play a bit before halftime.  They’ve got all the momentum and confidence, a decent lead.  Kilda responds with a short mark into the 30-meter mark before the halftime siren…and, story of the half, it goes wide right for a behind.  HALFTIME: COLL 41 STK 14.

10:37pm: If you watched the game last week, you’re probably thinking the same thing as I am…

“It’s still just once a year, isn’t it?”

10:58pm: 3rd quarter begins and Kilda attacks 17 seconds in…off the post AGAIN!!!!  Charlie Brown AAAAUUURRGGHH!!!  COLL 41 STK 15.

11:01pm: Some of the angles these guys can kick from is remarkable.  Collingwood returns to the scoreboard on a 160-degree-or-so spot through the side posts. COLL 42 STK 15.

11:02pm: THAT one was straight on…COLL 48 STK 15. Getting a bit out of reach for St. Kilda now?

11:03pm: How about now?  Another Collingwood Behind.  COLL 49 STK 15.

11:04pm: Apparently this is only the 2nd time in 80 years that a team has only scored a single goal by halftime of a Grand Final.  The last team to suffer the feat only scored twice all game.

11:05pm: A scrum turns into a loose ball turns into a soccer-like kick directly in front of the St. Kilda goal.  “COOOOOOOOOOOOOO-LINGWOOOOOOOOOOOD” chants arise once more.  COLL 55, STK 15.

11:08pm: A long mark becomes a jump ball…Collingwood takes it again, off the right foot and through yet again.  Announcer: “OH MY GOD, THEY’RE KILLIN’ ‘EM!”

“That’s MY line?”  COLL 61 STK 15.

11:10pm: They can’t rush the sides, they can’t complete marks, they can’t win scrums or battles for loose balls.  One word for the St. Kilda effort right now: withdrawn.

11:11pm: This was my biggest fear with the replay.  A wonderfully memorable game last week becomes merely a footnote to a lousy runaway of a final.  St. Kilda finally back into goal territory and knocks it through, but the natives are already growing restless.  COLL 61 STK 21.

11:13pm: The other neat thing about some of the Aussie Rules punts?  They BEND.  A Collingwood kick curls in to the left for another goal.  They can do no wrong today.  COLL 67 STK 21.

11:18pm: Commentators going out of their way to compliment the “persistent efforts” of St. Kilda despite the deep deficit.  Very generous.  But deserved after they get through the goalposts for the 2nd straight attempt.  COLL 67 STK 27.

11:19pm: Story of the game…Collingwood lands another mark right away inside the St. Kilda 50.  This attempt sails right for the behind.  COLL 68 STK 27.

11:20pm: It took both teams all of regulation to get to 68 points last week; Collingwood’s done it in 53 minutes today.  St. Kilda’s barely halfway there.

11:21pm: perfect execution by Collingwood; three straight punts within 10 seconds march the distance of the field, setting up a STEELE SIDEBOTTOM attempt from 30 meters out…right through the heart of the goal.  COLL 74 STK 27.

11:25pm: St. Kilda captain Nick Reiwoldt appeared to have a clear view for a catch with an eye on an open teammate about 25 meters from goal when, honest to god, the clouds split and the sun pierced for the brightest moment of the day right into Reiwoldt’s line of sight.  Collingwood recovers.  How can you compete against THAT!?

11:27pm: The pace of the game has ground to a halt as the 3rd quarter nears a close.  Somebody check the Great Barrier Reef to make sure it gets protected by the 15 million toilets that are currently being flushed across Australia.  St. Kilda threads a goal from a free kick about 40 meters out.  COLL 74 STK 33.

11:31pm: End 3rd Quarter.  In Grand Final history, the largest deficit ever overcome to win a championship after three quarters is 23.  We’re currently at 41.  Collingwood 74 St. Kilda 33.

11:35pm: Not the first time I’ve had this exchange with someone before…

Melissa: “Are you still watching the game?”

Me: “Yeah, they’re in the 4th Quarter.”

Melissa: “How many quarters are there?”

Me: “How many quarters are there?”

Tired Melissa at end of workday: “Oh, nevermind.  It’s already over then.  Awesome!”

Me:

11:37pm: I’m glad that if this is the way the championship game is decided, then at the very least the best team in the league from beginning to end is the one who wins the title.  Collingwood set the tone for the entire season and were nearly unbeatable.  Theoretically, that’s how all championships should turn out.  And they just hit another freaking crazy angle goal from 60 FREAKING METERS.  COLL 80 STK 33.

11:40pm: If you watched this game live on the U.S. East Coast during the middle of a biblical flooding session then congratulations…you are hardcore.  Both you and I are grateful at this point that there will be no further replay or extra time.

11:43pm: Collingwood with ANOTHER goal, this one a tap from about 3 yards in front.  The club chairman is now crying.  I didn’t think Australians were allowed to do that.  With 15 minutes left.  COLL 86 STK 33.

11:44pm: St. Kilda launches from 50 meters and hits the most accurate punt of the day for a goal.  Lousy timing for it.  COLL 86 STK 39.

11:45pm: An elderly Collingwood fan is shown breaking out a gold-rhinestone “yellow jersey” a la Tour de France in celebration of the impending championship.  For the record, Collingwood hasn’t won since 1990.  The shirt looks it.  Collingwood celebrates with a behind.  COLL 87 STK 39.

11:48pm: Harry Smith catches a mark at midfield and gets pushed from behind, leading to a 50 meter penalty.  Smith nails the kick through the uprights and the celebration for Collingwood fans has just been sent into overdrive as the score becomes a palindrome. COLL 93 STK 39.

11:50pm: Kilda with a quick response goal to a round of tepid applause from their supporters.  The announcers liken this period until the final siren to “a mercy rule game.”  COLL 93 STK 45

11:52pm:  Collingwood tacks on another goal on the run.  The outcome is no longer in doubt.  This is now Australian Rules Garbage Time.  COLL 99 STK 45.

11:58pm: Three consecutive behinds for Collingwood.  St. Kilda, finalists from last year’s Grand Final, hold the rare distinction of playing in three championship games in two years…and failing to win a single one.  COLL 102 STK 45.

12:01am: The fatigue of playing an extra week has caught up to both sides now as the coaches leave their perches in the coordinators’ booths and make their way onto the field for the trophy presentation.  St. Kilda with a goal before STEELE SIDEBOTTOM catches another mark, this time at a sharp angle from the right side and NAILS it.  COLL 108 STK 51.

12:07am: Another St. Kilda behind within the game’s last minute.  Collingwood running the clock out as the title swell begins to ripple throughout the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.  FINAL SIREN Collingwood 108, St. Kilda 52.

12:08am: The club song plays over the PA.  THAT…is chilling.  When you hear it through an isolated YouTube track, it sounds cheesy.  But when 50k deeply-voices Aussies chant it in unison after a win it takes you back to all those drunken fight songs and national anthems sung in jubilation.  Maybe it’s just this one…but it really works.

12:11am: The entire club (players, coaches, staff, trainers, etc.) links arms in a circle at midfield and chants the club song as the assembled media links in on the opposite side.  Usually the players’ chant is reserved for the locker room.  But hell, it’s a championship that took an entire extra game to decide.

12:14am: The way this game unfolded really makes you question the wisdom of replaying the Grand Final after last week’s 68-68 tie.  Based on the first quarter alone, it wouldn’t have taken much extra time to establish Collingwood as the ultimate winner.  However, near the end of the first Grand Final, St. Kilda had the momentum and the conditioning to win.  You could still argue that St. Kilda was the better team that day.  What a brutal way to extend a title drought.

12:16am: Prior to the trophy presentation the captain of the losing team, Nick Reiwoldt, has to step to a microphone at midfield and congratulate the winners.  Great for sportsmanship, but that is probably the WORST public speaking situation in sports.  Steele Sidebottom NOR Tyson Goldsack win the MVP game’s award.  Schoolchildren line up to award the Collingwood players with their championship medals; the instant merchandise epidemic has spread to Australia, but the players have the good sense to swap their championship caps to the kids for their medallions.  Seems like a fair trade.

12:20am: Each player is introduced individually to honor their efforts in the game and to receive the applause worthy of a champion.  Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell is the last announced before he is joined by his head coach, Michael Malthouse on the podium.  Malthouse gets to give the fun speech about how awesome everyone is for showing up.  “I’m not gonna name all our sponsors, but thanks for your help.”  Maxwell: “What he said.”

12:28pm: The trophy is handed to Malthouse, who hoists it jointly with Maxwell before the podium is swarmed by the rest of the team.  It’s a very European-style presentation, which I definitely appreciate.

It’s late, final thoughts later today.  May have been a lousy replay, but the whole Grand Final viewing experience has been the most unique championship I’ve ever watched.  There’s certainly something to be said for that.

DR

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