Airborne Stingers Ineffective Against Jungle Prince at Leyshon Park (Superstar’s Hand Potentially Confesses to Fear of Canine)

Brisbane Lions Reserves v Aspley Hornets; NEAFL Northern Conference Grand Final; Leyshon Park; 15/9/2013

Knowing from experience that a cluster of inebriated clubmen will be anything but quiet and unopinionated…I decide to grab a beer and settle down on the fringes.

Report by Scott Gittoes

“Born to Fish, Forced to Work”, well at least that’s what his shirt’s telling me.  I’m perched under the scoreboard observing the crowd and this man, whose piscine birthright has been cruelled by simple market economics, is characteristic of the scene laid out before me.  It’s so stereotypically Australian, if such a thing actually exists.  Fold-out picnic chairs, the type with their own netted drink holders built into the arm, almost outnumber spectators.  Families without eskies or zip-up cooler-bags are in the absolute minority.  It’s immediately apparent that grassroots Aussie Rules is not so much a match as a day out.

Compared to its distant rectangular-fielded cousins, the sheer size of this sport’s oval has me feeling mildly anxious as I scan for the ideal seating location; it’s not as straight-forward as ‘on or near halfway’.  The cambered playing-surface is reminiscent of the Earth’s horizon in scale; even from my position on an elevated grassy verge, bodies on the opposite boundary are only visible from the waist up.  I cut at least three laps in search of a suitable vantage point, taking a mental note of the rare pockets of shade on what is an aggressively hot September afternoon.  For clean viewing, the best spots must be up high in the two-story demountables reserved for the coaches and media or, better yet, in the towering AFL Queensland headquarters that loom ominously in the distance, reminding me of that all-seeing ‘Eye of Providence’ on the United States one-dollar bill.  A handful of shadowy figures are standing on the balcony, occasionally pacing, overseeing proceedings.

I’m loitering absent-mindedly behind the posts as the teams put the final touches on their warm-ups.  For a man juggling a match day burger and a drink, it’s not a wise place to be; Sherrins rain down from all directions and it’s thanks to some Samaritan kids in front of me and a little luck that my lunch doesn’t hit the dirt.  As the players line up for the Australian anthem, I reflect on the many grassroots grand finals I’ve attended in recent weeks across other football codes.  This is the first time I’ve heard us all rejoice; there’s no doubting this is Australia’s own sport.

I get the distinct sense that no matter what the match day program says, the Brisbane Lions Reserves are expected to win today and anything less will be a genuine boilover.  The Reserves are not your run-of-the-mill grassroots club, they are a solitary roster of fringe top-leaguers cutting their teeth in the second-tier competition.  I’m told they have fourteen AFL-listed players in their line-up, not to mention a disproportionate number of support staff.  But this built-for-purpose feeder team is born of a well-known fact; the depth up here simply isn’t the same as in the south and west of the country, where the AFL enjoys a banquet of endless talent from many long established tier-two clubs.  (It’s no surprise, then, the Brisbane Lions Reserves will meet the Sydney Swans Reserves in the NEAFL Cross-Conference Grand Final this coming weekend).

In the circumstances I can’t help but find myself instinctively backing the underdogs.  And the Aspley Hornets, striped as hornets are in dirty-yellow and brown, give me every reason to cheer during the first term.  There’s no doubting Brisbane is stronger in the one-on-one contests, particularly up-forward, but Aspley finds plenty of open paddock and moves the ball with disciplined intensity.  My apprehensions of a lopsided fixture have subsided by the end of the opening quarter with the scores locked at twenty-a-piece.

Stretching the legs at the break, I wander into a tight nest of Hornets supporters that has built-up around a makeshift bar at the far end of the ground.  Here are the grassroots clubmen: nimble aspiring juniors, journeymen from the lower-grades and grey-haired lifers.  If the balcony at AFL Queensland HQ is the prime location for viewing, this is definitely the pick for atmosphere.  I search for the Lions’ equivalent but all I can see are some groupings of citizens occasionally waving maroon and blue flags. For some reason the Lions appear to have a following that is predominantly very young or else very old.  Knowing from experience that a cluster of inebriated clubmen will be anything but quiet and unopinionated, particularly when their team is vying for the flag, I decide to grab a beer and settle down on the fringes.

The Lions open and maintain a two-goal buffer in the second quarter, which could have been more for want of accuracy.  In a sport where momentum plays such a significant factor, and sequences of consecutive goals can run like wildfire, this two-goal lead doesn’t have me thinking ‘blowout’ just yet.  In fact, the Hornets are still running-on well and appear genuinely capable of an upset.

Tucked behind the opposite boundary fence, the Aspley supporters’ bus is plastered with giant images of a current Brisbane Lions AFL star in a Hornets jersey.   Late in the day, after the Lions Reserves have mocked the underdog spirit with an impressively thorough ‘premiership quarter’, I actually see that same star player in the flesh.  It’s worth noting that despite his advertised allegiance to the Hornets, he is milling among the tents at the Lions’ end (right under that AFL HQ balcony where all the pacing and chin rubbing is going on). Prudently, perhaps, he’s wearing neither team’s colours.  Instead he’s in a singlet that reads “HAND THAT FEEDS” accompanied by a drawing of a hand pointing to his left. There’s a dog with him, leashed and sitting. The drawing of the hand is pointing right at it (the dog, via the player’s own leash-holding hand).  And since the sting has come out of the game, I have plenty of time to try to understand what it all means. Is the dog the hand that feeds the player?; or, does the player only eat with his left hand?; or, does he just not want the dog to feed on his hand?  The only thing I do know for sure, every time I look up, it’s the AFL that’s feeding them all.

Match Day Burger Score: 6.0

MDB Cost: $6.00

MDB Service Atmosphere: 5.0

Match Score: Brisbane Lions Reserves 125 def. Aspley Hornets 79

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