Harmsy's Handle - AFL Round 5

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John Harms discusses the rivalry between Geelong and Hawthorn. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au/Herald Sun
AFL Round 5 - Harmsy's Handle

This thing is getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. The rivalry between Geelong and Hawthorn is becoming so intense, so fabled, so brilliant that we can hardly wait for the next time these two giants of the modern game lock horns.

First bounce yesterday. The Hawks are hot favourites for the flag. The talk in sections of the MCG is that the $2.70 is overs, and that the reigning premiers have such class all over the paddock, and have played so well in the first month, that we might as well put a cack and mustard ribbon on the Cup and take it back to Waverley. Hawks fans are cocky.

Meanwhile Cats fans are happy that their club – undefeated too, mind you – has escaped the spotlight. We aren’t confident, but we are dead-set certain the boys will put in a big one.

First quarter: the contest is highly-pressured, physical, desperate. Both teams are trying to break the hold; both know that they must take advantage of moments of clean possession and space. Travis Varcoe kicks the first goal of the match and the Hawks fans laugh the laugh of the victor. “You can have that one Travis!”

When Hamish McIntosh marks on quarter-time, we return to normal breathing for the first time in half an hour, and I race off for a shout.

As I’m handing over two thirds of last fortnight’s pay for three beers, more laughter peels about the stadium again.

No! He’s missed. Turning point?

Second quarter: the game is still tight and in-close. There are passages when Geelong’s youngsters look out of their depth, passages where they show promise. The Hawks look confident. Beautiful skills. Gunston is sharp, and can kick a Sherrin as arrow-like as anyone you’ve seen.

But the Cats won’t be intimidated and Johnno plays all the roles (from champion footballer, to pick-pocket, to clown-wrestler), and C. Enright throws one on the boot for a goal.

Half-time: I am standing on the flank with a crew who know the game. They are Hawkers, Catters and interested neutrals. They are giving the match top marks for tension and consequent engagement. But we agree it’s a scrap. What happens?

Third quarter: the Cats come out and lift their intensity. They are going to try to get on top by getting in the faces of the Hawks. They do for a while, but then the Hawks come back. It’s still anybody’s four points.

Fourth quarter: bodies are tired and the game takes on a different look. Positional play becomes more evident. Harry Taylor does well across half-back (where is Brian Lake when the Hawks need him), the Cats break free more often, and they have a huge target in Tom Hawkins. Tom has been solid all day. He looks back-spasm free, leading strongly, outmuscling his opponent, and setting himself for big marks (some of which he pulls in). He really dominates the last quarter, and is the difference. He’s helped by Jimmy Bartel who roves around, and Johnno. The Hawks have no answers in the end.

It’s a big win. The Geelong fans believe. The Hawks fans downplay the significance of the moment. The home and away stat is intriguing.

At the pub afterwards: we’re trying to guess the mind of the bookies. Who is now premiership favourite? I’m saying they should be $3.50 each of two. P. Flynn, speaking with the wisdom of the large yak, observes (rightly) that it’s only the weight of already-invested Hawthorn money which will keep them at the top of the market, and that the Cats should be hot faves for the flag. He lists the players to come back: Motlop, Christensen.

Midnight: “We’re four goals better than Hawthorn,” his late-night text message reads.

This Hawthorn-Geelong situation is remarkable.

But we do have to wait for the next clash – until the penultimate round.

And in the meantime other sides will stake their claims. Port continue to attract the eye with a telling victory against West Coast. What a game this Sunday v Geelong at the Adelaide Oval. Strap yourselves in for that

Collingwood’s recent form suggests they’re going to be somewhere in the mix, and we will learn a fair bit about them, and Essendon, on ANZAC Day.

And then there’s Freo.

There’s a quid to be made somewhere, but you’re not going to see juicy Geelong odds for some time. Although, when I looked this morning, they were still at $5.

John Harms is editor of footyalmanac.com.au