PA­TRICK DANGER­FIELD

THE REVENANT

Inside Sport - - FRONT PAGE - By ROBERT DRANE

This game is unique. Its play­ers are unique sports­men, as ath­letes im­ported from other sports have dis­cov­ered. Its fans as a col­lec­tive – you won’t find any­thing like them. When a com­mu­nal noise wells up, you can’t al­ways give a name to the sen­ti­ment an­i­mat­ing it, but you’ll get what it’s about, be­cause AFL fans are so damned know­ing. This par­tic­u­lar noise was a crescendo of know­ing. But it was no less sur­real for that when the Geelong faith­ful cheered an Ade­laide player.

It was round 23, Septem­ber 2015, Si­monds Sta­dium. The fi­nal round of the home-and-away sea­son. Ade­laide was about to make a sur­prise fi­nals ap­pear­ance af­ter a tu­mul­tuous and tragic year, yet they were be­ing whipped by Geelong at the Cat­tery. Geelong was out of the fi­nals race for the first time in a decade.

It had been an emo­tional game for the Cats’ sup­port­ers and play­ers. Our con­di­tion­ing for mor­tal­ity in­cludes lit­tle life-and-death cy­cles like the ephemeral lives of our pets, or the fi­nite ca­reers of our sport­ing he­roes. This is a gift from a uni­verse that oth­er­wise of­fers mostly si­lence, and we’re sup­posed to be­come bet­ter for it. Still, fans take it hard.

Three of their favourites had been told that week their con­tracts were not to be re­newed: Steve John­son, James Kelly and Matthew Stokes. All premier­ship play­ers. In the end, the three of them – but par­tic­u­larly the mer­cu­rial Ste­vie J – were toy­ing with the Crows like Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters, tar­get­ing one-an­other with passes, build­ing each other up, mak­ing state­ments. Ste­vie J was de­fi­antly spec­tac­u­lar. Ear­lier he’d rudely

HE­WAS DE­TER­MINED

TOPLACE FAM­ILY ABOVE FOOT­BALL, ANDNEEDED TOBEHOME.

dumped Pa­trick Danger­field on his head.

An­other trio played to­gether in that game for the first time since 2011. Each had been af­flicted by in­jury but kept on the list by a club renowned for prov­ing that fi­delity is no mis­fit in a cul­ture of suc­cess. Daniel Men­zel, af­ter four years and four knee re­con­struc­tions, had made his tri­umphant and much-an­tic­i­pated come­back the week be­fore. Nathan Vardy and Josh Cowan, play­ing his fifth AFL game in his fifth sea­son, made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions. Th­ese three would be part of the next ex­cit­ing surge in Geelong’s for­tunes, be­gin­ning with 2016. To the fans it was a time of mourn­ing and cel­e­bra­tion. It was painful, pleas­ant. Dis­ori­ent­ing. Change was sweep­ing briskly through the place.

The fi­nal siren went, sig­nalling a 39-point win for the Cats. As it sounded, Danger­field, a star – the star – for the Ade­laide Crows in a team of es­tab­lished and emerg­ing stars, marked and was hav­ing a shot. What kind of prov­i­den­tial script­ing was this? Ade­laide play­ing Geelong in the last match of the sea­son; Danger­field the last man to touch the ball! Ste­vie, Jimmy and Matty had be­gun their rue­ful trudge into un­cer­tain fu­tures, en­veloped by com­mis­er­at­ing scrums of team­mates. The cheer that went up around the ground as Danger­field went back to take his point­less kick was not the sort of

gen­til­lesse dans la vic­toire a home crowd can af­ford to demon­strate to­ward a well­beaten op­po­nent.

The crowd bar­racked for Danger­field as if he were al­ready one of theirs; as though this was some sort of cer­e­mo­nial han­dover. In the week lead­ing up to the game, The Geelong Ad­ver­tiser had run a #come­home­paddy cam­paign and asked fans to sign a pe­ti­tion. The cheer said, “See you next year, Paddy.” It said, “Wel­come home.” It said, “Don’t you go in­jur­ing your­self dur­ing the fi­nals now, will you, Paddy?” It was loaded. It told a story. It was in­tended as an event of sig­nif­i­cance. Danger­field missed the big sticks.

Dur­ing that game, by the way, Danger­field at­tracted three dogged Cats ev­ery time he went near the ball like flies to a sticky lozenge, but in his char­ac­ter­is­tic way al­ways threat­ened to bust out, and oc­ca­sion­ally did. Be­cause Pa­trick Danger­field is out­stand­ing, even in an era of ex­tra­or­di­nary mid­field­ers. Once, early in the game, when he was in­un­dated by Cats de­fend­ers, the noise that went up had a kind of “Hey! Hey! Go easy, boys!” tone to it.

Two weeks later, the an­nounce­ment came. Danger­field was of­fi­cially a Cat.

It had all been done dis­creetly. The spec­u­la­tion had dom­i­nated the sea­son since well be­fore Ade­laide coach Phil Walsh’s death, but it wasn’t like the Franklin, Cloak, Boak and Ablett affairs. More like Judd, ex­cept that Judd opened the door to all suit­ors be­fore choos­ing Carl­ton, whereas Danger­field only had eyes for Geelong. There was no wran­gling. His earn­ing po­ten­tial wasn’t a con­sid­er­a­tion for him. The best of­fer was a home­com­ing.

The other rea­son he en­ter­tained no other of­fer tells us why he’s one of the more in­ter­est­ing types we’ve seen in a long time: “I couldn’t have fronted them and said, ‘I’m leav­ing but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily to go home, it’s just to go to an­other club based in Mel­bourne.’ It wouldn’t be the morally right thing to do.”

Still, a man like Danger­field doesn’t leave a team like Ade­laide in cir­cum­stances like th­ese with­out some­thing like angst, no mat­ter how care­ful, gra­cious and gal­lant his gal­lop to the fin­ish might be.

The pre­sen­ta­tion of the 2015 Mal­colm Blight Medal for the Crows’ best player was made, to Danger­field (more from the prov­i­den­tial pen!), in the week his de­par­ture was an­nounced, and the gala oc­ca­sion was shot through with am­biva­lence, irony, de­spon­dency, forced cheer – the lot. I don’t know who the co­me­dian was, but I’m sure he’d rather have been Billy Bragg play­ing a Don­ald Trump rally.

The ac­cep­tance speech was de­liv­ered by a young man who knows how to con­vey sin­cer­ity bet­ter than Ablett, cer­tainly Franklin, ever could, be­cause if mis­chief had a face, it would be Paddy Danger­field’s. It’s an un­usual face; a char­ac­ter face. A face you’d find in some ’60s sit­com, like

Be­witched or Pet­ti­coat Junc­tion. The face of a straight man who’s not so straight. Hu­mour is never far away, and his per­pet­ual half­grin makes you sus­pect a joke is on.

But the com­plete ab­sence of that half-grin

made us re­alise just how light-hearted he is in de­fault mode, and how earnest he was on the night. About to marry his fi­ancee Mardi, he was de­ter­mined to place fam­ily above foot­ball, he said, and needed to be home, around and about the Bel­lar­ine Penin­sula, where they could raise one in fa­mil­iar sur­rounds.

But he didn’t hold back on him­self. “There’s a cer­tain amount of selfish­ness you have to have when you’re mak­ing a de­ci­sion such as this,” he told the packed room. “Peo­ple at the club be­come far more than just work col­leagues and ac­quain­tances; they re­ally be­come part of your fam­ily. So to turn my back on that is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. It cer­tainly brings up a huge range of emo­tions. Stand­ing here in front of ev­ery­one, it’s very dif­fi­cult be­cause I un­der­stand it’s a de­ci­sion not too many peo­ple were too pleased about, but I’d hope that they un­der­stand it’s in the right man­ner.”

“To turn my back ... ” The can­dour of it all was im­pres­sive.

In­cor­rupt­ible as Nostromo at his best, he seemed to feel a lit­tle dirt­ied by the mat­ter, as though even dig­nity was, in a way, dis­hon­est, sim­ply be­cause this was un­de­ni­ably all about that heart­less, amoral thing called busi­ness, which dic­tated that he wasn’t to make the de­ci­sion pub­lic.

“There’s cer­tainly times when you’d like to be more truth­ful. You have to sort of dance around cer­tain ques­tions be­cause it’s sim­ply not ap­pro­pri­ate to say at that time. My de­ci­sion was made be­fore the fi­nals started so there’s ques­tions you have to dance around but to be hon­est that was done with the best in­ter­ests of the foot­ball club at heart.”

Danger­field means that. He’s as markedly in­tel­li­gent and in­tegrity-driven as Judd was. Suave and pow­er­ful a foot­baller though he is, he’s more a man of the peo­ple than his cham­pion con­tem­po­raries; never re­mote. He’s at home down here with the rest of us. It seems that’s where his most im­por­tant as­pi­ra­tions lie, not on a foot­ball field. He gen­uinely trea­sures re­la­tion­ships and loves in­ter­ac­tion. On Twit­ter, he of­fers opin­ions on pol­i­tics, pop­u­lar cul­ture and so­cial mat­ters. He cham­pi­ons causes, ei­ther be­cause he be­lieves they’re a good idea or, as in the case of “Be The In­flu­ence – Tack­ling Binge Drink­ing”, be­cause of painful per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. He doesn’t mind re­veal­ing he had an un­cle who died be­hind the wheel af­ter drink­ing heav­ily.

He’d come to Ade­laide as a kid with high rec­om­men­da­tion. Mick Turner, at the Geelong Fal­cons, said he was the best

young player he’d seen come through, and given that team boasts alumni the cal­i­bre of Hodge, Ablett, Bar­tel and Brown, that’s some en­dorse­ment.

But from the start, in 2008, when Ade­laide passed up Brad Ebert, the son of a lo­cal leg­end – in a town where to be lo­cal is to be con­se­crated – for Danger­field, there was a whiff of Ade­laide-style re­serve to all that whole­hearted praise. Some of the more pro­pri­eto­rial Crows fans were chary. Ebert would have been an im­me­di­ate starter. Danger­field im­me­di­ately made it known he’d be re­sid­ing in Mel­bourne while he stud­ied for his VCE, rather than train­ing with the side. Marine bi­ol­ogy fig­ured in his plans, as did teach­ing, and Danger­field is an as­sid­u­ous maker of plans. Ade­laide could take it or leave it. Of course they took it, know­ing they had not only an out­stand­ing foot­balling prospect, but a young man of great char­ac­ter.

He con­firmed th­ese views in 2012, when the pull from Geelong was al­ready strong on ev­ery level. By this time a mid­fielder of pile-driver im­pact, an All-Aus­tralian boast­ing killer stats in dis­pos­als, con­tested pos­ses­sions, clear­ances and hard-ball gets, he at­tracted enor­mous in­ter­est when his con­tract was up.

His fam­ily wanted him back; he was home­sick. Demon­strat­ing ad­mirable in­tegrity, Danger­field would share his plans with no-one in the fam­ily. His father, John, could only make an ed­u­cated guess at his mo­tives: “He’s a very loyal per­son. That’s a strong fam­ily trait and I know it’s some­thing Pa­trick val­ues and holds very close. We’d love to have Pa­trick back home be­cause we miss him a lot. But we un­der­stand the de­ci­sion will be Pa­trick’s and he has a lot to weigh up.”

John, the man who taught his son to be hard on the field but in­sisted he shake hands with op­po­nents be­fore a game (pro­vid­ing us a rare sight in mod­ern foot­ball), also said of his son that pres­sure “doesn’t bother him at all.”

He was right. Danger­field signed for an­other three years when many thought he wouldn’t.

He went on to give Ade­laide three daz­zling sea­sons, es­tab­lish­ing him­self not only as one of the com­pe­ti­tion’s elite mid­field­ers, but one of the most eye-catch­ing. In 2013 he played as a for­ward filler in an in­jury-hit side and shone there as well as in his more fa­mil­iar role. In 2014, nig­gled by in­jury, drag­ging tag­gers around wher­ever he went, he was undi­min­ished. Tag­gers were com­ing to see there was lit­tle an­ti­dote to speed, strength and smarts.

Then 2015. Ev­ery ad­van­tage the Crows en­joyed was just what the doc­tor or­dered at Geelong – the only place in the world

Danger­field wanted to end up. Win-win.

Un­be­liev­ably there were mis­giv­ings, too, in Vic­to­ria about his move. The ad­di­tion of a hyped and highly paid su­per­star was, some con­sid­ered, a rude break from a tra­di­tion that had led to Geelong’s re­cent suc­cess, and would lead to fu­ture tri­umph.

In re­cent years, many a mag­nif­i­cent foot­baller took a pay cut or skipped dizzy­ing pay­days for the sake of stay­ing in Geelong. Dress­ing-room dy­nam­ics, jeal­ousy, dis­rup­tion – all were men­tioned in dis­patches. Judd, Del Santo, Goddard were brought up as ex­am­ples of lead­ing play­ers who did lit­tle to im­prove the po­si­tion of their new teams. But this was Geelong, and since their win in 2011, they’d main­tained their hunger.

Re­build­ing, or rather ren­o­vat­ing, Geelong had re­tained rem­nants of its great sides thanks to a club cul­ture to ri­val Hawthorn’s, char­ac­terised by ju­di­cious­ness, loy­alty, self­less­ness and vi­sion. And ex­cel­lence. They knew they needed Danger­field be­cause he was that cul­ture em­bod­ied. But Ade­laide needed him as well. They

al­ways needed him. Dur­ing that last year he demon­strated how in­dis­pens­able he was. His ex­treme tal­ent was ar­gu­ment enough, but the way he ex­pe­ri­enced 2015 proved a com­pelling ex­am­ple for ev­ery­one. Not only did he rally his side with wis­dom, com­pas­sion and oc­ca­sional hu­mour, but he played his best sea­son.

The late Walsh might have had a bit to do with that. The foun­da­tion he set in his short time there was truly re­mark­able. We were com­ing to recog­nise him as for­mi­da­ble. There was a feel­ing at Ade­laide of brim­ming pro­fi­ciency. Danger­field be­lieves he car­ries im­por­tant life prin­ci­ples learned from Walsh. His ded­i­ca­tion in­spired ev­ery­one. While he was with the Crows, he was a Crows man to the fin­ish, and made it known. He upped the am­pli­tude af­ter Walsh’s death.

But even a month be­fore that sad event, Danger­field proved his star qual­ity in a ti­tanic en­counter with even­tual Brown­lowmedal­list Nat Fyfe, which took fans back to the good old days of one-on-one con­tests. They could have skirted round one-an­other and played stand­out games any­way, but, drawn to each other, they forged a lit­tle leg­end for those who saw it. It took us by sur­prise, be­cause no one ex­pects sus­tained one-on-one ac­tion any­more in a game that’s come to be about safe­guard­ing the col­lec­tive while pro­tect­ing the in­di­vid­ual – at the ex­pense of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. To en­grossed fans, this was Ali and Fra­zier cross­ing paths at the air­port, Pa­cino and de Niro find­ing them­selves in the same diner, Fed­erer and Nadal turn­ing up to the

HE WENT ON TO GIVE ADE­LAIDE THREE DAZ­ZLING SEA­SONS, ES­TAB­LISH­ING HIM­SELF AS ONE OF THE COM­PE­TI­TION’S ELITE MID­FIELD­ERS.

same back­woods char­ity tour­na­ment. It was fan­tas­tic; the sort of draw­card that had them on the edges of their seats the en­tire match.

Ade­laide knew long be­fore the fi­nals that Danger­field was leav­ing. And though the usual sub­terfuge was needed with a pry­ing press, he still played it ad­mirably straight. He cared about his team. When a man has re­ceived a bet­ter of­fer but can­not ac­knowl­edge it, the po­ten­tial en­ergy is re­leased here and there, caus­ing dam­age, but Danger­field res­o­lutely re­mained in­dus­tri­ous and re­spon­si­ble. He main­tained his rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing an out­spo­ken say and he in­volved him­self in or­gan­is­ing the new lux­ury play­ers’ fa­cil­ity.

There was enor­mous pres­sure on him to make the de­ci­sion to stay. Walsh’s pre­de­ces­sor as coach, Bren­ton San­der­son, had stated with­out equiv­o­ca­tion that “the club would have to start again” if Danger­field ever left. Af­ter Walsh’s slay­ing, aban­don­ing a club that needed him more than ever was out of the ques­tion – so com­men­ta­tors un­re­servedly de­clared. But the deal re­mained on the ta­ble, and he fielded the moral co­er­cion ex­pertly. “It was in­cred­i­bly sad. I think he was an in­cred­i­ble per­son and coach. We would have loved to have him for longer and longer. The game needed to have him for longer, I think, such is his pas­sion for it and those who com­peted in it. But at the same time, I didn’t feel an obli­ga­tion to stay be­cause Phil had passed away.”

Still, there was a sense of mag­ni­tude. The cir­cum­stances of de­par­ture al­ways

are sen­si­tive, but the sit­u­a­tion was red-raw. Danger­field was a leader, nom­i­nally or oth­er­wise. He was be­ing de­pended upon to rally the troops and re­mind them of Walsh’s wishes for the team. And crit­i­cism was never far away. It would have been easy to ap­pear dis­taste­ful and self­ish. Walsh’s death was enough. But Geelong also had form in South Aus­tralia. Their at­tempt to lure Travis Boak in 2012 was con­sid­ered ob­jec­tion­able.

Danger­field’s last game with the Crows, the heavy los­ing semi-fi­nal against Hawthorn in which he was by far their best per­former, must have deep­ened the Crows’ tor­ment. He fin­ished with 29 pos­ses­sions, ten clear­ances and a pre­pos­ter­ous check­side goal from the bound­ary in the first quar­ter. He’d come through the dark­est of times not just with lu­mi­nous tal­ent, but ra­di­ant ex­am­ple. The vig­or­ous es­ca­la­tion of his game af­ter Walsh’s death was for his own ben­e­fit – it seemed he was let­ting it all out on the field – but also for that of his team. His run­ning and carry were more scin­til­lat­ing than ever and, tellingly, his dis­posal had be­come more ef­fi­cient. He was im­pressed him­self once he emerged: “That was the most con­sis­tent band of games I’ve ever played.”

Any­way, now he’s a Cat, this rare bird with the af­ter­burn­ers of a Judd and speed he can sus­tain, able to streak into and out of a con­test dam­ag­ingly, force­fully, oc­ca­sion­ally break­ing into an un­stop­pable ram­page. In ad­di­tion to his grow­ing quiver of skills, Danger­field is a se­ri­ously good run­ner who was able to win both the 100 and 400 me­tres – speed, and sus­tained speed – Vic­to­rian cham­pi­onships as a school­boy. He’s won the AFL’s Grand Fi­nal Sprint go­ing away three times, thrash­ing renowned speed­sters like Syd­ney’s Lewis Jetta, Fre­man­tle’s Tendai Mzungu, Shaun Atlee from North, Tim Golds from GWS and Gold Coast’s Joel Wilkinson. Be­cause of his scorch­ing swift­ness and his strength, Danger­field hap­pens sud­denly. So of­ten in the in­side 50, when there’s a melee around goal, he ap­pears from nowhere, slaps down a grop­ing de­fender’s arm and

FOR GEELONG, DANGER­FIELD IS A DREAM COMETRUE: A SU­PER STAR WHO WANTS TO PLAY FOR THEIR CLUB WITH OUT BREAK­ING THEIR BANK.

gets ball to boot. Of­ten it im­pacts on the board. His ball-get­ting, ball-car­ry­ing and pen­e­tra­tive ca­pac­ity is the sort of thing Geelong built its at­tack on dur­ing its bliss­ful days of dom­i­nance.

And now he’s home; a revenant heir. In 2015 the Geelong en­gine sput­tered. James Kelly, Jimmy Bar­tel, Mitch Dun­can and Ge­orge Hor­lin-Smith spent much of the sea­son in­jured. Now – an­other fas­ci­nat­ing sub-plot – be­lea­guered cap­tain Joel Sel­wood, an­other all-timer who could have com­manded mil­lions more dol­lars, is joined by his brother Scott, re­cruited from the Ea­gles. That’s the younger two Sel­wood brothers be­hind the now-re­tired twins, united for the first time. Add Lachie Hen­der­son, Zac Smith and Danger­field, all ex­cit­ing new flour­ishes to a squad that al­ready con­tains those gifted rem­nants – Bar­tel, En­right, Joel Sel­wood, Hawkins – and stir­ring new tal­ents like Mark Bli­cavs.

For Geelong, Danger­field is a dream come true: a su­per­star who wants to play for their club with­out break­ing their bank. He just needs to be home, and be­sides, pre­mier­ships are more im­por­tant. “You see mil­lion­aires die ev­ery day of the week,” he’s said. “For me, it’s not about ac­cu­mu­lat­ing as much wealth as I pos­si­bly can, it’s about en­joy­ing life, en­joy­ing footy, com­bin­ing the two but not at the ex­pense of suc­ceed­ing in our quest to win, you know, a fourth flag.”

This is manna. Yet, dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions, he never once met with Cats coach Chris Scott, or cap­tain Joel Sel­wood. He felt no duty to, and be­sides, he was con­cerned about the way the whole thing looked. It would have been a qui­etly ec­static Scott and an im­mensely grate­ful Sel­wood whom he fi­nally did meet, be­decked in Geelong colours. Sel­wood has car­ried Geelong’s mid­field load, and be­ing the Her­cules he is, has the scar tis­sue to prove it. To have Danger­field shar­ing the load will be par­adise the fruits of which Sel­wood hasn’t known since Ablett was there. In 2015, Sel­wood was in the AFL’s top 20 for any stats to do with get­ting the ball and get­ting it clear – an amaz­ing achieve­ment in a team out­side the eight. To play along­side some­one else who prides him­self on those stats – with abun­dant fac­tor X thrown in – will de­light the cham­pion skip­per.

Geelong is be­ing talked about again. Over­all, the Cats have played lit­tle foot­ball to­gether, but they have force, drive and abil­ity. Once the gestalt starts hang­ing to­gether, they might even leapfrog this Hawthorn era to res­ur­rect their own re­cent years of glory. Imag­ine if the Hawks era turned out to be an in­ter­reg­num be­fore the se­cond as­cen­sion of their fe­ro­cious foe, and their sto­ried ri­valry was car­ried into a new epoch. Geelong has posed a lot of ques­tions of late. Pa­trick Danger­field is a clear, co­gent an­swer.

He’s a man who ar­rives as sud­denly as a rev­e­la­tion. If he turns up enough, the mighty Cats might do the same.

A cham­pion sprinter shows clean heels. You win some, lose some; highs and

lows of last year's fi­nals cam­paign with the Crows.

The Geelong Fal­con play­ing TAC Cup back in 2007. With part­ner

Mardi at last year's Brown­low, pre­par­ing for

their home­com­ing.

Kick­ing, tack­ling, of­fload­ing: a dan­ger­ous foot­balling pack­age.

Danger­field's ef­forts es­ca­lated in

2015, in­clud­ing those dis­pos­als.

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