Despite having a cheesy naming rights sponsor, the kick-to kick at the end of the GWS versus Fremantle clash last Saturday reminded me of a sometimes lost aspect of AFL.
The sheer joy of thousands of kids as they took to the field post-game, ball in hand and a grin from ear to ear, reminded me of the roots of the game and the importance of nurturing the youth.
For the first time in her life, my youngest daughter was part of the throng that invaded Spotless Stadium at around 5:30. All in all, it had been a great day. She is a Cats fan in reality yet wanted to attend her first game with Dad and this fixture suited.
I prepped her beforehand and spoke of the future superstar Josh Kelly, informed her of Jeremy Cameron and his accurate left boot and filled her in on the balance, poise and craft of Nathan Fyfe.
She loved the Subway and fizzy drink that her mother would have been horrified to have seen her consume. The seating was comfortable, affording an excellent view and the contest was thrilling. With Fremantle holding sway well into the second half, the Giants found their mojo and rolled over the top of the Dockers with some run through the middle that had been absent in the first two quarters.
Rory Lobb suddenly began taking marks, Dylan Shield starting to influence the centre of the ground and Steven Coniglio marked his return with some quality touches in the final quarter.
Initially wanting to whisk the kids off to the car, get home and settle in for a feast of football on Fox Footy, my neighbour and I had a change of heart when we spotted another family whose daughter is a close friend of our two.
The girls buddied up together in their seats and had a close-up view of the closing minutes as the GWS held on in what was a close run thing.
The son of the couple into whom we had bumped had brought his football and before long, all four of the kids were lined up along the fence waiting for the gate to be opened and the running of the bulls to begin. My little girl looked somewhat lost.
She loves her footy and when we head to the park she keenly practises her drop punts and handballs. It’s all done with a commentary, where the words Dangerfield and Selwood feature regularly.
However, in this circumstance, she was a little fazed. Entering the field of play and running on the same turf as the heroes who make the game look so fluid, brought a level of excitement that had her more hyped than an hour earlier when she had finished her fizzy drink.
The gate was slung open and out they poured. The four began their adventure with sheer aggression and violence. The older boy ran the ball while the three younger girls launched themselves at his torso in an attempt to drag him to ground.
They were successful and thank God the MRP wasn’t watching, as some of the blows landed with elbows and fists might have seen them sitting in the stands for the short term future.
To his credit the youngster took it all in his stride and finally a roughly laid out square became the template for their play as they kicked to each other.
What was fascinating was that each time a kick wasn’t marked by the intended target (which was quite often) a madcap chase ensued and the ball winner was eventually caught and accosted by the other three. It was beautiful, hilarious and profound to watch, all at the same time. The final result was a mighty lot of fumbling, a ‘stacks on’ situation and the comical sight of a young child sitting comfortably atop three other kids all laughing, screaming and chiacking.
The profundity of the situation was just how powerful the simple action of entering the field of play can be. Sharing the same blades of grass, kicking a ball through the same posts and for a few moments, having some understanding of what it might be like to be on the big stage.
The pictures being drawn in the minds of the kids were almost visible in the stands, as a little tacker took possession and turned onto his left foot, a young teen climbed on the back of a friend in an attempt to take a ‘hanger’ and a young girl kicked truly from the top of the goal square.
It’s all a bit field of dreams, but there is something special happening in the minds of the kids during those moments, and let’s all admit it, the adults as well. For every cute little kid, there is an adult emulating the kicking style of their hero or posing by instructing their own kids on the appropriate techniques and skills required to play the game.
Footage of our current stars participating in kick-to-kick would be worth its weight in gold, as well as potentially forming part of what could be one of the greatest advertising campaigns of all time. Imagine footage of a young Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett Jnr or Joe Daniher spliced with modern day images, the young boy morphed into the grown man.
The beauty of the game could never be more accurately captured than through the passion for footy, established in early kick-to-kick experiences, seen as fuelling the careers of the current champions.
On the way home, my daughter asked for a kick in the park. Unfortunately, light beat us. I hope we get a few chances this week, just as I hope that the AFL always keeps kick-to-kick as an integral part of the match day experience.
If it was ever lost, something far more important and powerful could be lost as well.