The Last Chance

I'm in a flurry of nerves all week. Which is ridiculous. It's only a game of football, after all. And pointless, because there's absolutely nothing I can do to influence the outcome. But the days drag, waiting for Friday -- our last chance at the Grand Final.

Yesterday I go to get my hair cut. My hairdresser asks, "So, do you follow football?" I admit that I do. "Which team?"
"Bulldogs," I say sheepishly.
She pauses, scissors in hand. "Me, too!"
So for the rest of the haircut we earnestly discuss football (does this happen anywhere in the western world apart from Melbourne?) She thinks we need Big Bad Barry Hall; I'm not so sure. She's not impressed by Will Minson; I think he's improved a lot this year. It seems that every Doggies supporter except me had a Nana who lived round the corner from the Western Oval; my husband did, and so does my hairdresser.
We agree that we don't stand much of a chance against St Kilda tonight. They've thumped us twice this year; in fact they've comfortably thumped just about everyone and are hot favourites to win the flag. No one gives the Dogs a prayer tonight. "But there's always that little crumb of hope," groans my hairdresser. She wishes the day would last forever, to keep that hope from fading; I want it to all be over. I can't stand the agony of suspense.

The day passes; the hours count down. I'm busy with copy-editing, and school pick up, and creche pick up, and fish and chip pick up, and dinner with the next-doors. Michael's coming home late, so while the kids watch TV, I turn on the radio and pace up and down the darkened kitchen.

And the Bulldogs come out snarling. They are on fire! They have seven shots at goal and the Saints have nothing on the scoreboard but a measly point! They completely dominate the quarter; the are playing out of their skins.
I pace and I gnaw my nails. The second quarter starts; we're still way in front. My god, we're winning.

Michael comes home and I hastily switch the radio off. He eats dinner, we bundle the girls off to bed. When we switch on the TV, he shouts, "It's 15-1! Dogs in front!" I try to look surprised. The Dogs are in front, and we stay in front. It's a ridiculously low-scoring game, tight-fought and tough. Every possession is contested, nothing comes easy.
Just after half-time the Saints snatch the lead. Painfully the Dogs claw it back. I can't look; I'm playing patience on the living-room floor, muttering, "Come on Doggies, come on Dogs." We're behind, but not by much; it's goal for goal.
With six minutes to go, we're in front. I feel sick. I say to Mikey, "The boys have played so well, they've got nothing to be ashamed of," as if we're losing, not winning.
Then St Kilda kicks a goal to nose in front by a single point. All those fluffed shots in the first quarter have come back to haunt us now. I'm pacing. Come on, boys! They scrabble over the ball; all the players look exhausted. The Dogs have the ball, but it's hard work, inching it up the ground, and there's no result.
Then St Kilda grab possession and just like that, bam, they have another goal. Why don't we ever get easy goals like that? There's only a minute to go. Bob Murphy bombs it long but it's no use. The siren sounds. It's over.
Ryan Griffen covers his face with his hands. Callan Ward collapses to the ground. The Saints are ecstatic; the Dogs are gutted. They go through the motions, patting each other, mouthing congratulations. Later, in the rooms, one player covers his head with a towel. Is he weeping? Griffen blinks away tears. No one moves. They slump, motionless, against the walls. In the end, it was seven points. So close. So close.

I haven't even looked at the papers yet, I don't know what they'll say. The boys played well; they've got nothing to be ashamed of. They came closer than anyone expected.
But close is not the same as winning.
It's over.

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