16. AFL debut
The halogen lights illuminated the grass making it appear greener as the sky changed from pale blue to lavender, then pale pink, brilliant magenta, violet, then to deep velvety purple.
Our seats in the grand stand provide us with a perfect vantage point to witness this AFL match – our sons AFL debut. We have traveled from cold winter chills down south to warm tropical heat for this momentous occasion.
Earlier in the day we spoke to Jeremy. He seemed calm enough but had gone to the cinema to distract his mind from the match. He told us that the best advice he had received prior to this game was from one of this former under 18 team mates who sent him the text message, “The grass is the same colour and the ball is the same shape.”
Finally the team runs out onto the ground through the banner with Jeremy amongst them. We know he will be starting on the bench, so there is still time for nervous energy to accumulate some more. In this heat the bench will no doubt be rotated continually.
His team begins well scoring the first couple of goals. Then he is on. I see his first footfall onto AFL turf. He is in the forward line – in familiar territory. He has the jitters and fumbles his first touches. He gets the ball, has a bounce and gets caught from behind, just getting the ball off to a team mate in time.
He starts on the bench again for the second quarter. When he does come onto the ground he goes to the back line, but is soon moved forward after some indecisive moves.
There is a scramble in their goal square. Jeremy gets the ball and snaps it onto his left foot, kicking the ball over his shoulder and through for a goal! He celebrated with a cool relieved response – no jumping around or hand gestures.
After this his play is more settled. He has two fantastic tackles that stop the opposition effectively. A photo of one tackle making the major newspapers the next day.
The game is agonisingly close with the lead see-sawing a point either way.
In the final quarter Jeremy leads out from the goals, marks the ball well at about 45 metres out on an angle. He quickly runs around his opponent to pass across to a team mate who misses and the ball is knocked out of bounds near the goals. It was too close and too near to the end of the game for Jeremy to line up for a difficult set shot, despite the cries from the people in the grand-stand to “Kick a goal!”
His team ends up winning by a couple of goals and they are jubilant as the underdogs. The crowd goes wild as the team song plays. It is great for Jeremy to experience a win for his first game of AFL footy, and even more satisfying for him knowing that he made his contribution to the score.
The team stretches, photos are taken, text messages arrive thick and fast from family and friends, and strangers in the crowd shake our hands and wish our son well.
We are invited to go with the team on the bus to the after-match function at a local supporters club. The view from the bus is a real eye-opener as real fans flock about for a close-up glimpse of their super stars.
We meet some of the team support staff and have a few words with The Coach. Everyone seems happy with Jeremy’s first effort as an AFL player. We stay only a short while and soon leave for our red-eye special southwards. The team will stay overnight, have a sleep, maybe a swim, and then return to their home state.
Jeremy will front the media for the first time on Monday but I doubt it will be shown on the television stations in our home state.
It occurs to me that although the risks are high for players competing in sport at this elite level, the rewards are just as great. They love what they do. The challenges met, reap a sense of satisfaction beyond the norm of everyday lives. It can be the best fun, especially when the outcome is a win. And if they are good enough (and lucky enough) they get to do it all again next week.