The week in footy began, as these things do, with a Texan in protective goggles tearing the Queens Birthday game to shreds. It proved that people are still willing to attend football in large numbers. It revealed all sorts of cracks in the reigning premiers. It saw a rollicking finish from Collingwood. It compressed the ladder and threw the premiership race wide open. It raised millions more for Motor Neurone Disease research.
It then quickly moved to the negative, as the week in footy always does. It zeroed in on an 18-year-old No 1 draft pick. It emphasized the industry’s obsession with bringing these young men to heel, ensuring they don’t get ahead of themselves and sucking every morsel of individuality out of them. It prompted Nathan Buckley to ask: “what are we doing to this kid?”
It reignited the debate around drugs. It embarrassed a footballer who is more brand than a man. It elicited yet another idiotic Jeff Kennett take – this time droning on about zero tolerance and two-year bans. It exposed the fragile compromise of the illicit drugs policy – part punitive, part harm minimization, part rehabilitative, and part brand management. It landed on a two-week suspension.
It showcased the best of football at the Hall of Fame dinner. It afforded long overdue recognition to Nicky Winmar. It bestowed Legend status on one of the great South Australian footballers. It saw a speech from a Rhodes Scholar and an even better one from a man raised in a mission home.
It encapsulated, in a single photograph of Winmar, Mike Fitzpatrick, Brent Harvey, Bill Dempsey, and Matthew Pavlich – that champions of this sport come in all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds and all cultures. It introduced us to many men we may not have been familiar with – stars from the Depression, West Australia, and Tasmania. It reminded us that the history of this sport extends well beyond the AFL era.
It was then side-tracked by yet another of Eddie McGuire’s stray ideas. He said it was a ‘reshaping’, not a relocation on Footy Classified. It was, by any measure, an insult to North Melbourne supporters, the state of Tasmania, and the viewing public. It begged the question – has a television show ever blown more hot air, and taken itself more seriously?
It drummed home how resistant Tasmanians are to having a rented team and being told what is good for them. “It would be the biggest act of bastardy in the game’s history for the Presidents to vote this down,” Gerard Whateley said.
It shifted back, mercifully, to actual games of football. It gave a second chance for a mid-season draftee who learned the Carlton game plan from his MacBook. It then sidelined him for a month when his knee blew out. It drew over 50,000 diehards, in the pissing rain, on a school night. It escalated into a scuffle between a former Xavier Collegian whose mum was a Sale of the Century model and a Noongar man who spent three years in prison.
It threw up exquisite wet weather skills, the controversial rescission of a goal, and a lot of tedious tut-tutting about goal celebrations. It put the fear of God into any team that draws Richmond in a final at the MCG. Upsets followed it up at the Docklands and the Adelaide Oval and an almighty fright for Geelong in Perth.
It bid bon voyage to a man arrested in his bathrobe last year who broke up his 2022 campaign with some padel tennis, massage therapy, bottomless margaritas, and tequila throwbacks. It inspired a typically restrained Herald Sun headline – “De Goey might be the dumbest player of his generation.” It saw the player in question hit back via social media, calling out “the relentless persecution of athletes”. He said it would end in tragedy if this sort of harassment persisted.
For this columnist, his frostbitten partner, his bewildered dog, and thousands of other Melburnians, it ended at the Reclink Community game at Victoria Park. Its genesis was a lunchtime kick-to-kick at the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. It has since raised millions for Australians experiencing mental illness, addiction, homelessness, family violence, and social isolation. It was free of structure, role players, and Instagram statements but rich in spirit.
It was just another week of football, argues, blowhards, and champions, another week of everything pointless, pitiless, and wondrous about the sport.