John Harms says the Suns are rising fast. Image courtesy of heraldsun.com.au/Chris Hyde/Getty Images
AFL Round 7 - Harmsy's Handle
It looked pretty easy – on Friday morning. One of those rounds where every favourite would win comfortably; where the all-up price was about $3 and bit of change. (What’s $1.12 raised to the power of 9?)
But there’s always one – or two – that muck it up.
I thought it might be an improving Brisbane at home, who were at least good value at the line.
It certainly wasn’t Carlton on Friday night. The Pies smashed the Blues so comprehensively that those worn out by the week had every right to be snoring in front of the TV by half-time.
Saturday morning and I’m off to Murtoa, a little sheep-wheat town four hours away from Melbourne in the Wimmera. They’ve had some good seasons on the land so the committee has forked out for quality lights and this is the first evening game: the locals, Minyip-Murtoa, versus Horsham (who have won about 10 of the last 11 Wimmera League premierships.) Both are undefeated and the local Burras think they can knock off the visitors from the big smoke.
The pre-match function is great fun with 86 year-old Dasher Milgate telling yarns from the microphone (“Lights! We had kero lamps when I was a boy!”) and Donk Delahunty trying to explain how he got his name (to the disappointment of everyone).
Back in Melbourne, St Kilda were never going to cause an upset and, although GWS started well at Manuka, Port always had their measure. But, as we tucked into the malt product and the home made sausage rolls, word got about, as it does at local footy matches, that Melbourne were going well. (“Dees are three goals up at the Adelaide Oval.”)
I have had a long association with Murtoa, for some unlikely reasons. Remarkably my grandfather went to school there for a while, over 100 years ago. More recently, though, the first horse I ever raced (always great to be a ‘connection’), Courting Pleasure, had her first start in a race at the picturesque little Murtoa track with its mallee scrub and silos in the distance. I wrote a book about her – Memoirs of a Mug Punter – a tale of incompetence and loss, highlighting the fun of racing and the great people you meet. Courting Pleasure also won her maiden at Murtoa. The local committee got wind of this, so they invited us up to the Murtoa Cup meeting (Turnbull Stakes day) and we’ve been going there for years.
The place is teeming with Delahuntys – good farmers and good footballers. Mick played for Collingwood; Hugh played for Essendon (and is now Minister for Sport in the Napthine Government), and there have been local teams run out with more Delahuntys than would be in mass on Sunday.
Melbourne are still ahead in Adelaide. (“Really!”)
The cold front rolls in shortly before the first bounce and conditions are suddenly polar. The wind is coming from somewhere near the Mawson base when the match begins at 6.15.
The Murtoa boys take it right up to their fancied rivals.
Word gets around again, “Melbourne have won.”
There goes the multi.
A good crowd has gathered at Murtoa. People are huddled around the various incinerators made from wheel rims and old drums which radiate beautiful heat so you’re cooked on one side and medium rare on the other, and you need a stubby-holder to keep your hand from icing over.
Others watch from behind the glass of the community room, or of the White House as they call the president’s area where some have one eye on the TV. The Bulldogs might pull off another upset, against the Bombers.
Murtoa are brave but they go down by four points. There’s a party with a couple of guitarists and a singer (they’re good) belting out classics and the joint turns into the set of a Strongbow ad. (Imagine if they’d won!)
I get talking to the locals. I catch up with blokes who trained at Collingwood, and played all over the place. Eventually I chat to Peter Lynch, father of young Tom, now making his way at the Gold Coast. He is impressed with what the Suns are doing, and how Tom is coming on. I also talk to Tom’s great aunt Maureen. The party goes forever.
It’s a long drive back to Melbourne on Sunday, but we are encouraged by the prospect of a hamburger with the lot at Beaufort and the North-Suns game on the radio. The Suns kick the first seven goals of the game and Tom is on fire, offering a strong target up forward.
Surely not another upset!
North fight back, but G. Ablett is his usual genius self, and Tom has a game which otherwise would have him best on ground. The Suns win convincingly and are a genuine Top 8 chance. It’s an important away win. They’re going to be tough at Metricon; tough everywhere.
Richmond are right in their match (eventually) against the Cats, but can’t pull off the upset – that’s because they’re Richmond. And West Coast threaten but succumb to the Dockers.
So seven faves win – of course. Hawthorn look the pick of them; the Suns are the most intriguing of them. Peter Lynch will be proud.
And Minyip-Murtoa announce themselves as a fair bet in the Wimmera League.
John Harms is editor of footyalmanac.com.au