by NICOLE HAYES
I’ll confess that I love AFL.
I love the feel of a Sherrin in my hands, the smell of liniment and mud on a wintry afternoon, and the adrenaline hit that follows that first bounce — and the last one, too, if my beloved Hawks are winning.
So I’m biased. I’ll state that right upfront.
But in the months since my novel about a teenage girl obsessed with footy was published, it’s become clear to me that not everyone feels the same way. In fact, a lot of people — women, especially — feel quite the opposite. Which is a little surprising because footy is easily the most watchable of all the football codes, especially for women. And I’m not just talking about the shorts — though what’s not to love about those butt-hugging, thigh-accentuating, teensy-weensy scraps of cloth?
Wait. Where was I?
Oh right. Five reasons why thinking women should watch the AFL Grand Final:
1. The speccy. First made famous by a bloke called Cazaly, who, apparently, spent a lot of time “up there”, the speccy is probably the most acrobatic and exciting aspect of any football highlights reel. Watching a six-foot-plus bloke leap onto the shoulders of another six-foot-plus bloke, stay there long enough to catch an oval-shaped ball and then land, ideally but rarely, on his feet — without breaking anything — defies both logic and gravity, and also, if you ask me, common sense. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a rush every time I see one.
Verdict: A favourite with the aerodynamics and biomechanics professionals amongst us.
2. The boundary line goal. Kicking goals is hard. Firstly, you have to drive the ball a really long way — with your foot. Plus, there’s an opponent standing in front of you, waving his arms and shouting insults about you and your loved ones and/or warnings about chewing gum on your boot, which would be disconcerting even without the sixty-thousand-plus people in the stands shrieking for your blood, awaiting the outcome.
Throw in the fact that the space you have to slot the ball through shrinks the further away you are, shrinking again if you’re almost parallel to it, then you start to get a sense of just how difficult the boundary line goal is.
That the kick of choice from this position is named after a yellow tropical fruit is just a distraction from the high degree of difficulty. The boundary goal offers the toughest angle and is the longest shot on the menu, and hardly anyone pulls it off successfully. Which is why we love Buddy Franklin.
Verdict: A winner for physicists, psychologists, and fruit lovers alike.
3. The hip and shoulder. Despite the apparent thuggery of the “hip and shoulder” — the act of bumping your opponent sideways using your, you guessed it, hip and shoulder, with the aim of knocking him out of the contest for the ball — the beauty of the hip and shoulder is its precision.
For a start, you can’t make contact with your opponent’s back. Or head. Or legs. Also, you have to be within five metres of the ball or else you’ll give away a free kick. All of this must be gauged and executed on the run. The strategising and risk involved in pursuing this oldest of footy tricks requires excellent balance, physical strength, and a head for maths. That, or be really sure the umpire isn’t looking.
Verdict: If you have a head for geometry, logistics, or crime, this one’s for you.
4. Holding the ball. Is there any other sporting code that elicits the cry of an actual identifiable word — both accusation and plea — the second it’s believed to have occurred? Not the inarticulate roar of the spectacular goal, or the resounding howl of the undeserved fifty-metre penalty.