‘That’ one day in September

I wanted to post something that isn’t Bipolar related. This is a post about a sport, so if you’re not that way inclined, do look away now.

It’s Grand Final week in Melbourne, Australia. This is Australia’s version of the Superbowl. There is much hype surrounding this event.

Since the season opener back in late March, AFL football has dominated sports headlines in this city. It is a religion to those most consumed by it. From talk-back radio, to magazine television programs during the week, and the games themselves, six months of the year is all about the ‘footy’.

By the end of August, the regular season is over. Eighteen teams become the final eight, and the finals campaign is in full swing. By whats trationally known as the last Saturday in September, it all comes down to two teams who will contest the AFL Grand Final. It is that ‘One day in September’, and regardless of who is playing, make no mistake, we love it. The atmosphere around the city is almost impossible to ignore, even when you’re depressed.

‘This is Greatness’ – The simple catchphrase that embodies the advertising campaign of this years finals series.

In 2012, it has come down to these two teams:

HAWTHORN vs SYDNEY

On Saturday at 2:40pm local time,

these two teams will be fighting it out for this magnificent prize:

THE AFL PREMIERSHIP CUP

Both teams have had a solid and consistent year. On face value it is difficult to pick an outright favourite. Sydney have an even spread of players and have good team structures. Hawthorn have the ‘X’ factor with a group of talented mid-fielders and forwards. They are solid in defense, but so too are Sydney.

The venue for this blockbuster is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. With a seating capacity of just over 100,000 people, the atmosphere is always electric on this day. I have had the pleasure of going to three Grand Finals in the past. The most memorable was when I was just 10 years old, way back in 1987. That year it was Carlton vs Hawthorn. The temperature soared into the high 80’s or 31 degrees celcius. A hot summer’s day during the first month of Spring. It was memorable day, because my team (Carlton), had played off against Hawthorn in the Grand Final the year before. I might have only been nine years old, but that day, I felt for the first time, the pain of having your team lose the ‘Big One’. Luckily we weren’t there at the stadium that day. But in 87, Carlton stormed home to win by 33 points and I can still recall how exciting the occasion was. As a supporter, winning the Grand Final is something special. A former player of the game once said words to this effect:

“Win a Grand Final and you become immortalized. Lose a Grand Final and you are scarred for life”

In terms of the scarring, the same can be said for the supporters.

The last Grand Final I went to was in 2008. That day Hawthorn played Geelong and again, the atmosphere didn’t disappoint. Neither did the weather. A perfect spring day was on offer. I might have chosen Geelong as my team for the day, but to be otherwise neutral of the end result and marvel at the thousands of people that erupted when Hawthorn ‘kicked away’ late in the second half of the game, was a joy to be a part of.

This year I will be watching the Grand Final at home on television. Despite the fact that I hold a league membership that allows me to buy a ticket to the big game, I am more comfortable these days soaking up the atmosphere of the day via my lounge room. If it were my team participating, the story would be different and I would be there, rain, hail or shine. Which brings me to the weather forecast for Saturday. Wintery conditions, with the chance of hail and thunder. Ideal conditions to rug up and get comfortable on the couch.

There are many fantastic stories from Grand Finals past. There is Barry Breen’s famous point in 1966 to give St.Kilda it’s first and only premiership. In 1970 Carlton came from 44 points behind at half time to record the greatest comeback in Grand Final history. There was North Melbourne’s first ever premiership in 1975. Hawthorn, who were defeated that day would extract their revenge against the same team, twelve months later. In 1977, Collingwood surrendered a three quarter time lead of 27 points to North Melbourne which forced the second Grand Final tie in history. It was also the first ever live telecast of a Grand Final. North Melbourne would win the Grand Final replay one week later. In 1979, a missed umpiring decision, resulted in the most controversial goal in Grand Final history to give Carlton a 5 point win over Collingwood. In 1984, Essendon broke a 19 year drought by defeating arch-rivals Hawthorn by coming back from a 23 point deficit at three quarter time, kicking nine goals to two. These two teams played against each other three years in a row, with Hawthorn winning in 1983 by a then record margin of 83 points. Essendon would win again in 1985. The fierce rivalry between these two teams continues to this very day. In 1989, in what has been described as the toughest Grand Final of the modern era, Hawthorn held off a fast finishing Geelong to win by 6 points and record back to back premierships for the first time in their history. In 1990, Collingwood ended a 32 year old premiership drought, defeating Essendon by eight goals. They had lost eleven Grand Finals since 1958 before their breakthrough win in 1990. There was Leo Barry’s famous mark in the dying seconds of the 2005 Grand Final to give Sydney their first premiership win in 72 years by a slim margin of four points. Their victims, the West Coast Eagles would atone for 2005, defeating Sydney by 1 point the following year. Geelong broke their 44 year premiership drought in 2007, defeating Port Adelaide by a record margin of 119 points. In 2010, after trailing since the opening bounce, Brendan Goddard put St.Kilda six points ahead to give their side a chance at their second premiership ever. The game ended in a draw and the replay the following week was easily won by Collingwood, giving them their first premiership in 20 years, and 15th overall – the second most amount of premierships won, behind Carlton and Essendon on sixteen premierships. Last year, Geelong’s recent dynasty continued, overcoming Collingwood and winning their third Grand Final in five years.

Come Saturday, another chapter will be recorded into the history books. The winners will celebrate, whilst the losers will begin the grieving process. The rest of us will wait another summer in the hope that our team will be right up there with a fighting chance in 2013.

For the 2012 decider, I am tipping Sydney to win in a thriller, by 15 points.