2012 Grand Final: Handball From God

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Every once in a while the sporting Gods go shopping for human emotions, end up buying out the whole store, and then throw the entire purchase into one unsuspecting moment.

 

What you end up with is Jesse Owens debunking the Aryan myth. You might even get the Springboks doing it for Nelson in ’95. Or, closer to home, Scarlett toe-poking it to Ablett for the winner in ’09. In short, you get something made for Hollywood.

 

The latest concoction is their finest work yet. Tailor made for the silver screen.

 

Here’s the spoiler; a blow by blow of the final 3 minutes:

 

With the Goannas 3-points ahead, a desperate Dingo midfield manages to somehow get an open play and bang the ball forward about 35 meters from goal.

 

A contest ensues and Huddo (Craig Huddleston) who had been close to best on ground all day gives away an innocuous free kick to Patterson. It would take a mammoth kick from there to score against a blustery breeze.

 

However, not happy with the umpire’s decision Huddo blows a fuse and throws the ball away angrily. Whistle. 25 meter penalty. 

 

That brings the Dingo forward to the goal line and he duly converts. Goannas suddenly behind with 2 minutes left.

 

On the boundary line the interchange bench and supporters are in despair. Hands on heads. Hoping, praying, this can’t be how it ends.

 

“EVERYONE FORWARD!!”, player rotation manager John Avent screams. Others join in to help get the message across.

 

Play restarts at the centre. Luke Eyes jumps on the ball first but is instantly besieged. A pack quickly ensues. The Dingoes are looking to close the game down. There is no space.

 

A re-bounce. This time Milts (Michael Milton) has had enough. If there isn’t any space then he’ll damn well make some.

 

On last legs, he soars over the other ruckman and thumps the ball forward clearing the pack. Luke Eyes wins the chase and scrambles a pressured kick into the forward line which bounces over the boundary. Less than a minute remains.

 

The resulting boundary throw-in favors nobody and Dan Last with his biceps already torn off the bone gives one final supreme effort and manages to keep the ball in play after being tackled. It causes a mad scramble 20 meters from goal right on the boundary line with the ball being hounded like it promised 72 virgins. 

 

30 seconds on the clock. There isn’t a spectator sitting.

 

Then, somehow, incredibly, Travis ‘Arms’ Wilson extracts a clean ball from inside the pressure cooker and loops a heavenly, rainbow-infused handball over the top of the Dingo defense to a waiting Dan McGrath on the goal line.

 

You could hear a soft choir singing while the ball was in the air. Hail Mary.

 

As McGrath assuredly latches onto the precious ball and thumps it through the goal posts the stands erupt in unison. 

 

Born thence a new legend for the bards.

 

If Bashar Assad, Kim-Jong-Il, and Vlad III the Impaler were there it would have mattered naught. They’d have been hugged and kissed nonetheless, engulfed in the euphoria that was.

 

With 10 seconds left the result was all but cast in stone. The final siren rang soon after the restart and some players collapsed, others embraced.

 

The Dingoes lay shattered, knowing they didn’t lose because of skill or endeavor. They lost because time stopped at an inconvenient moment. Yet, there was high consolation if they ever sought it. Won was an eternal admiration for their fight. A fight that only the hands of time could end.

 

‘Remember The Titans’, eat your heart out.

 

As is usually the case with legends, you may find different accounts of the final moments depending on who you speak with but the one aspect that remains unchanged are the names of the heroes involved.

 

Such high drama was the culmination of much smaller deeds starting a while back. Coach Rob Scarlett made sure he didn’t let anybody forget that either.

 

“The Goannas have come a long way since a very tough year in 2011”, he said, alluding to a second-last placing in 2011.

 

“The premiership is the result of a huge amount of work put in by the committee to turn things around and get the Goannas back to the top of the JAFL.”

 

Indeed. From the Fabrici family organizing wine night, Loz (Lorien Parker) baking lamingtons and cutting oranges for the players, Peter Apps conjuring up player videos at a moment’s notice, the groundwork for success were laid well before the first bounce.

  

And with so many people putting in the hard yards comes emotions more than just basking in premiership glory. Evidently, there were more than just triumphant responses out there after the game.

 

“Personally I am feeling relief mostly. I knew we were good enough to win it so I am just glad we were able to deliver”, an emotionally drained Scarlett told the media throng afterwards. 

 

The first half however, threatened to derail that very delivery. 

 

Missed shots from close range, passes nowhere near targets, first options not taken. It was an uncharacteristically error-riddled Goanna outfit that drew the ire of its supporters and coaching staff. Thankfully, the scoreboard didn’t reflect general play. In fact, it was all tied up 2.7 apiece.

 

If you ask Scarlett who to thank for that there would be no hesitation in his answer.

 

“Huddo and Jimmy Morvell standing tall in the backline in the first quarter”.

 

They along with the support of iron man Dan Atkins were absolutely immense. Confronting a barrage of forward thrusts and one-out contests, Morvell and Huddo channeled their obvious Spartan heritage to literally save the scales of their fellow lizards. 

 

Time after time they repelled concerted Dingo efforts to breach the red and white stronghold. Their golden fists proving a shield too great to penetrate. 

 

Asked why the rest of his team seemed uninspired before half time compared to the back line though, Scarlett would instead give praise to the opposition.

 

“I am not sure it was that we were uninspired but rather that the Dingoes’ intensity was much higher than ours. They beat us to the ball, tackled harder and basically turned the game into a scrap which didn’t suit us. 

 

“In the third we brought on some fresh legs and matched their intensity and were able to break it open a little”, he answered, no doubt pointing to the depth this team now possesses. 

 

“The boys who came on for short bursts gave us a real lift especially Mitch (Ainsworth), Mikey (Liddell) and Richard (Binnie) the Brave”.

 

He didn’t miss Luke Eyes for special mention either. “(He) just keeps getting better. His game in the middle was a highlight”.

 

It had to be as well. Especially after Scarlett, the team’s prime midfielder, went down in the very first contest of the day with two cracked ribs. 

 

His absence was a daunting void filled by the determination of a few. Lukey, Arms Wilson, Dan Last, Alex ‘Tex’ Niebruegge, and the ferocious Milts combined to break even in the middle.

 

“It is fair to say Osaka dominated the ruck contests, but I think we were able to pick off a few of their taps and win a few clearances”, Scarlett explained. 

 

“The windy conditions and scrappy game didn’t suit the Goannas… but we got the job done”. Just.

 

The third quarter was pivotal for both sides. With the Dingoes trying in earnest to gain an advantage with the wind, the Goannas on the other hand threw flesh and bone at them to make sure it didn’t happen.

 

It was a bruising encounter with more than a few niggles breaking out. Bash (James Dennier) himself felt the brunt snapping his back in half after a pack fell on top of him. His much awaited rematch with Jon Cooper lasting all of 90 seconds.

 

After all the gun smoke and dust settled, Osaka could only manage to squeak out a 2-point advantage.

 

It was a spine tingling taste of what was to come.

 

Those moments leading up to the final minutes saw the Goannas experiment with the forward line desperate for a winning score. The Behemoth (Alex Wyatt) was isolated deep to start. Rob Scarlett was thrown down there for the first time all season. In the end, the stage was perfectly set for a hero to steal the show.

 

How apt it was then that it was the old stalwarts of the club who combined for the winning goal.

 

Yes, that handball from Trav to McGrath. Was it a handball from God?

 

It certainly was what the Goannas were praying for.

 

 

6 Grand Final Mentions

 

1. Whoever it was that showed Rob Scarlett an old 1989 tape of Dermott Brereton being run over by Yeates is a genius. 

 

Breaking two ribs early, Scarlett gutted out the game and ended up scoring a high-pressure goal in the final moments of the match.

 

“Jono (Osaka coach) got me with a solid but fair bump in the first 30 seconds of the game. It wasn’t until quarter time when I cooled down a little that I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t play much of the second or third quarters but got back on in the last”. 

 

Just as Brereton inspired the Hawks by marking strongly and scoring after that incident, Scarlett found himself in a position to give the Goannas a 9-point lead with 7 minutes to go in the final quarter. 

 

“When lining up for goal I was mainly thinking of how much my ribs were hurting… but it seemed to straighten up my goal kicking”.  

 

Which was a good thing after coming into the game having missed his past 6 shots on goal. What a way to break the streak.

 

 

2. Not having to worry about inaccuracy is the man that dragged this team to victory by the scruff of the neck. 6 goals from a team total of 7 will win you ‘Best On Ground’ honors any day of the week. 

 

And who else could it be but Dan McGrath? 

 

Danno capped off a fairy tale comeback by doing it all this year. His 2012 consists of a premiership medal, Golden boot award, Norm Smith (best player in a Grand Final) medal, coached a Boat Race win in Osaka, won an abs-off with a salary man at a ramen stand, awarded Life Membership, and may yet include the competitions Brownlow equivalent. 

 

A feat Tony Lockett could only dream of.

 

 

3. An improbable starter only a few weeks ago, Mikey Liddell got himself up in time for the big one. Word was the nuggety forward flanker duped the coaching staff by hiding his crutches every time he walked by their office. He was seen cheerfully jogging by whilst greeting John Avent only to limp off after the rotation manager looked away.

 

The ploy worked as he was given the go ahead and he made sure he wasn’t there only for the drinks. Mikey gave the forward half a much needed spark coming on after half time. “(Liddell’s) impact in the third quarter was a highlight”, Scarlett said after the game.

 

 

4. The entire Goanna contingent put the Barmy Army to shame. As one player put it after the game, “I thought Ann-Marie was actually out there playing at one stage. It sounded like she was but a meter away”.

 

They say lamingtons are earned, not merely given away. So it was that those tasty Aussie treats (courtesy of Loz) were finally made known when the trophy returned home. A homely award for a hard years work.

 

The members and supporters have done an absolutely amazing job this year.

 

 

5. Boy, Milts was angry at half time. Livid. Whilst warming up before the restart the aggressive midfielder turned to face his troops and delivered a spray not oft heard around these parts.

 

“What are we (expletive) doing boys? We’re not going in hard enough. We’re (expletive) just waiting for somebody else to do the work for us. Just (expletive) standing around. Get in there! This is a (expletive) Grand Final!”

 

He certainly didn’t mince words and tried to inspire the troops by taking responsibility upon himself.

 

“I’m to blame as well”, he continued. “So I’m going to play on Snowy (Dingo star Snowden) and make sure he (expletive) doesn’t get another touch! What are you going to do? (Expletive). Come on boys!”

 

It was an ‘Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday’ moment.

 

 

6. In other news, the Dingoes may have won the Boat Race. I’m not sure. Did anyone notice?

 

All jest aside, the Osaka boys have been partner to what has evidently grown to be the fiercest rivalry in the JAFL. Both battles this year have been bruising and fairly fought out – in a way that Aussie rules should be played.

 

It bodes for some exciting matches in 2013 and beyond. Best of luck to the Dingoes.

 

Congratulations Tokyo Goannas. 2012 Premiers!

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