Seasons and Grand Finals aren’t the same anymore. Now, they are inescapable reminders of the passing of time.
It’s not the players, with 20 of those glorious Hawks who received medals on Saturday being the same as last year, hardly appearing a day let alone a year older than they were when they destroyed the Swans 12 months ago. But rather, it’s my company in the form of a now 3.5 year-old who had slept through the first half of last year’s Grand Final, but who this year was so excited for the day and the game that he couldn’t get to sleep the night before despite the fact that his beloved Tigers weren’t to be involved.
His sister is here now too, a tiny 7 month-old bundle of energy and smiles with giggles just desperate to burst out any day now. She slept for a while, right up until Bradley Hill kicked the Hawks’ 5th goal as the first quarter approached its conclusion. She’d slept that morning too, though decided she needed my shoulder to assist in the morning nap while her brother and Mum could be heard in other corners of the house, playing, reading, chatting and occasionally sharing fits of uncontrollable laughter.
I recently noted to a friend that we’re currently experiencing the period of our lives that would feature as the flashback in our respective biopics. Towards the end of the film, there we’d be in our twilight years, sitting next to our wives while looking out upon an overtly symbolic sunset. Slowly, the shot would dissolve into a clichéd montage of our wistful memories of days spent with our young nuclear families: playing under doonas and in backyards, visiting with grandparents and cousins, taking family holidays and visiting favourite locations.
It feels pathetic to speak in such nostalgic ways when in one’s 30s, and yet Saturday could only but remind me of how vastly different he is now, and how unimaginably different he and she will be when the next Grand Final comes around.
For the boy is not the same boy who he was last year.
12 months ago, we thought he liked footy and then we thought he really liked cricket. But suddenly, the 2015 footy season hit and the obsession – his first true passion – was born. His most memorable weekend of the year involved meeting a bunch of the Tigers after their Saturday training at Punt Road before watching them defeat the Magpies at the MCG the next day, allowing him to be one of the smallest punters belting out ‘Tigerland’ at game’s end. And now, he’s the kind of child who was recently found at the breakfast table laughing at the absurdity of his parents’ revelation that Buddy once played for the Hawks, demanding that images be quickly sourced so that such hilarious nonsense could be enjoyed in all its visual splendour.
All of which was why he couldn’t sleep on Friday night, and why – the best part of two hours after the evening’s bedtime stories ‘Why I Love Footy’ and ‘I Barrack for Richmond’ had been replaced on the shelf – I was called back into his room to answer an all-important request: “Dad, can you tell me again what’s going to happen on Grand Final Day?”
And it’s why he was up well before 6am, being cajoled into some quiet reading until the newsagent finally opened so that we could grab our Saturday Age and the Grand Final Footy Record. It’s why his aunt showed up in sneakers for our Grand Final afternoon so that she could join in the inevitable games of backyard footy during the breaks in play just as soon as she was called off the interchange.
It’s why you can’t call him by name during these backyard games, but rather need to refer to him as whichever Tiger he’s pretending to be at any given moment. It’s also why you need to come prepared with your own persona – though throughout Grand Final Day, we were provided with our own. His Tigers-supporting grandfather was informed he was Jack Riewoldt for the day, while I started the day as Breust, becoming Cyril by half-time, Jordan Lewis by three-quarter time and Gunston after the Cup had been won, often reflecting the impact that various Hawks had been having as the Grand Final played out.
It’s why his father dragged him in from outside prior to the start of the match to make sure he saw the parade of retirees around the MCG, as he’d been waiting for weeks to farewell Chappy and Chris Newman.
It’s why late in the second-quarter, during the only moment when he wasn’t actively watching the game, his mother caught him sitting in front of his new Tigers poster, serenading them with a song on his ukulele that seemed to be entitled “We’ve got the Footy Record”.
It’s why he considered himself to be in the safest, happiest place possible on Saturday: surrounded by family, eating his chipolatas, salad and giant handfuls of smarties, and joining in the general, endless commentary of the game.
Since Saturday, the Hawks aren’t just the premiers, but they’re all-time greats. Their three-peat is an achievement that only one other club has managed since the 1950s and is surely something they won’t repeat in my fanhood. This is beyond any fan’s wildest dreams; it’s truly as good as it gets. I’ve loved this team since I was as young as the little fella, and yet now when I’m older than all of the players, they have provided me with joyful wonder, everlasting pride, and sheer delight in that daft way that successful sporting teams enliven their fans.
I’ll watch the dvd time and again in the future. It will serve as my own flashback to 2015, when Hodge kicked that goal from the pocket, when Cyril seemed to be all alone in the forward 50, and when many of my most memorable moments of the day on which the Hawks achieved their greatest feat were generated at home rather than at the MCG. I’ll be watching again in order to remember them all.
On Sunday night, I received an email from an old mate and fellow Hawks fan who’d shared Grand Final week in Victoria with his own young family. He said that he didn’t want the week to finish. I couldn’t have agreed more, and continued to marvel at the great paradox which I seem to have inhabited since the dawn of my parenthood: the understanding that this indescribable, endless delight in life’s tiny moments comes with a desperate wish that no day, week, or weekend – Grand Final or otherwise – would finish.
When it was finally time to leave the backyard late on Saturday night, the kid turned to his Dad as we strolled towards bathtime. “Dad, we need to put a cricket pitch in our backyard now for cricket season.”
So we beat on.