Although I awoke early – like, 5am early – ahead of Sunday’s Adelaide home game it quickly became apparent my planned sojourn to the Oval to watch us get sliced apart by the quick-running Suns was likely to be shelved.
I was a mere 24 hours off returning to my day job after almost two months of paternity leave and everywhere I looked at home there was something that needed doing. No, I soon realised, this one was going to have to be an on-the-couch TV viewing; that at least would save me the hour each way to the ground and the likely further hour spent kicking on afterwards, commiserating (as is the way of things these days).
As it turned out, pretty much all of my allotted tasks were swiftly abandoned anyway, when our newborn’s older brother woke for the day with a burning brow, pointing to his lower tummy, insisting, “It’s very thore,” in his two-year-old’s lisp. By late morning his temperature was running 39.5, so it wasn’t until after a few earnest discussions about flying visits to the Women’s and Children’s (“You’ll never get a park there on game day,” I assured the wife) and he’d been sufficiently dosed with Children’s Nurofen and sat in front of Fireman Sam that it even occurred to me there was a game in progress.
Happily, the home side was in the process of building a pretty handy lead, playing fluent, direct football a million miles from the stuttering, hesitant scrap offered up against Carlton last week. There were still clangers, but they didn’t precipitate the sort of universal timidity that followed every turnover at the MCG.
But then, as the quarter wore on the visitors rallied. Ablett, well held by the kid Kerridge, got away to mark and kick a typically freakish goal. By the time the Suns had drawn almost level, my own feverish son played his favourite trick of wandering casually up to the TV, casting me a knowing look and then deftly turning it off using a button on the side that I never even knew was there. The ensuing standoff resulted in him happily watching Play School while I tried to pick up snippets of the Adelaide Oval action by occasionally ducking out to the spare room TV for a score update.
Just as we looked like kicking away again Ablett was gifted a mildly dubious free, resulting in him playing on and goaling from 55 out. Then, an errant handball from an otherwise industrious Matty Jaensch was intercepted by Charlie Dixon, and the Suns were snapping at our heels again.
Meanwhile, on Play School, Andrew and Abi were singing a fairly impassioned “Head and shoulders, knees and toes”. Andrew, incidentally, didn’t actually appear capable of touching his own toes, and kind of gave up halfway down the ankle.
Tex’s first goal had been what used to be his stock in trade: a strong mark 35 metres out on an angle, duly converting. I caught his second — a free kick in tight from an awkward soccer out on the full — on the radio while ducking to the Pharmacy to replenish our supply of Children’s Panadol. His third (by which time I’d usually be punching the living room air and screaming “Come On” in a sort of faux-Lleyton Hewitt way that my son finds endlessly amusing) barely registered, as by this time another temperature test showed the fever was still up around 39.
I spent the rest of the third quarter waiting on hold to summon a locum; I didn’t see a lot of football, but fortunately I didn’t see a lot of Play School either.
I caught snippets of the last quarter, fairly miraculously managing to catch Tex’s fourth and fifth goal, as he played himself back into considerable form and back into the hearts of Adelaide supporters. If I’d made it to the Oval as planned, I’d have been out of my seat, beer aloft, with the Statler and Waldorf clones that regularly occupy the seats behind me scolding me to “Siddown!” Instead, I sat on the living room floor and watched my kid quietly play his Lego.
The Crows were by now running away with the game, which was a small, good thing on a dour day. But the details didn’t bother me overmuch.
We’re now five and five; few rate us a finals chance, even though if we’d won those bloody games against the supposedly lesser teams in Melbourne and Carlton we’d be top four or just outside. But I suppose Carlton can say the same about its losses to Richmond and Brisbane. If you keep losing the games against lesser sides, it probably makes you a lesser side. That’s why when Port Adelaide and Hawthorn have off days against the likes of Melbourne and GWS they still find a way to win; that’s what good teams do. (Although, I’m not sure why no-one’s thought to take Polec out of the game before, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing it happen a bit from now.)
Three points reinforced to me by our fifth win of the season:
1) It’s very hard to write about football without actually watching much football.
2) Spectator sport has a unique and wonderful capacity to take us away from our everyday lives when we want and need it to. But,
3) …at the end of the day, it’s only a game.
Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.
On Mondays during the AFL season he can be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell.
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