Game of our lives 43
THE final siren yesterday brought down the curtain on one of the greatest seasons in the history of the Australian Football League. The 2017 season had it all — elation, heartbreak, nailbiting finishes and the dawn of a new era with the launch of the AFLW.
Today, of course, the country salutes Richmond as the new AFL champion.
This was truly a win for the ages. The result so many of us had hoped for as a 37-year premiership drought was ended and the cup found a new home in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond, sending the Tiger army into a euphoric celebration.
This season reminded us all again of the vital role Aussie rules plays in our lives and the life of this marvellous state.
Footy is what connects us. It is our common language.
It is the game that ignites our passion, that gives flight to our hearts and takes us on the most wonderful rollercoaster of emotions.
In this city, our great game is the most unifying of forces.
It brings us together whatever your background, your religion or your politics.
Our winters are set around when our team is on the park.
Our conversations start with the latest we’ve heard about a team or a player.
Sure, there are bad things happening in the world, but when the game is on, the latest from North Korea or the rising power prices are pushed from our minds.
When the first siren sounds, it is all about the now, about the daring deeds on the field, about winning and losing, about don’t argues and screamers, about forward pressure and game-changing tackles, about heroes and villains.
This is why we love footy and this has truly been a footy season to remember.
Who can forget that the top eight was decided late on a Sunday afternoon in Perth, when every goal West Coast kicked in the last quarter helped the Eagles scrape in ahead of the Melbourne Demons.
Remember how Collingwood teased us with glimpses of form, and ended months of speculation when re-signing coach Nathan Buckley. And didn’t that man show the greatest character and strength under the heaviest of burdens.
And then there is Tigers coach Damien Hardwick, who was under siege this time last year — who had many baying for his blood as a board coup plotted up-ending the club.
Thankfully, that was repelled, Hardwick changed his style and a team came together as one.
This year also saw the inspirational stories of two footballers struck down with cancer.
Jarryd Roughead filled our hearts with admiration with his return to the game as Hawks skipper and cancer survivor.
And how wonderful it was to see Jesse Hogan come back from testicular cancer.
Then there were the Bulldogs. Remember the Cinderella story of last season — the Sons of the West, who won the flag only to be banished this season without even winning a place in the finals and a chance to defend it.
This season saw us welcome back Essendon to the football fraternity and say goodbye to some of the greatest footballers the game has seen, including Jobe Watson, who carried so much of the burden of that drug scandal. He came back for a year and left, on his terms.
Also gone from the game is Bob Murphy, the Bulldogs’ unlucky captain who was forced to watch last year’s premiership from the sidelines.
The Cats said goodbye to Tom Lonergan and Andrew Mackie. Stevie J exited from Greater Western Sydney, St Kilda hero Nick Reiwoldt said farewell and Sam Mitchell hung up the boots.
Amid the many departures, though, this season will be remembered also for the arrival on a Saturday afternoon in February of the new women’s footy league, the AFLW.
What a brilliant day that was at Ikon Park when Carlton and Collingwood kicked off the league.
Remember how the gates were closed when 22,000 fans turned up, and AFL boss Gill McLachlan desperately tried to soothe the clamouring crowd.
This women’s league means so much to this state and this country.
It has given hope and a career path for hundreds of thousands of daughters, sisters and mothers across the state, who will now join their brothers, fathers and sons playing footy for the first time.
AFLW is a game-changer, a long overdue game-changer in a season that will live in history as one of the greatest the code has ever seen.