Sunday morning. 9.30. Local footy ground.
There was still dew on the grass so John and I knew to keep the ball off the ground.
We stand 20 metres apart. Drop punts back and forth. Back and forth. Size 3 Sherrin. For our ageing bodies. I’m 60, John not far behind.
Back and forth. Back and forth. We’re not saying anything. We don’t want to break the spell. But we’re both keeping count.
Our counting method is to call out a player’s name when we reach the number of his jumper. Being Essendon fans we’re big on the players of the ’84-’85 premierships.
After 18 successive kicks and marks I call out ‘Van Der Haar’. Soon after, ‘Billy Duckworth’. By the time we’re calling out Tim Watson and Glenn Hawker we know we could be onto something this morning. History is beckoning.
The week previously we’d got to 55, by which time there are no more players to dredge from our memories. Just numbers. Some years ago, using a full-size Sherrin, four of us had got to 112.
We’re still 20 metres apart. Right foot drop punts. No torpedoes. No drop kicks. No left-footers.
Locals are walking across the ground. Their dogs with them. Going to the beach. Coming back. Shortly after Glenn Hawker a white dog appears, seemingly out of nowhere, at my feet, at my ankles. I pause, try to aggressively shoo it out of the way. (I’m no fan of dogs.)
The dog runs for the footpath, away from its owner and towards a black dog. The Sunday morning calm turns into a canine melee. Yapping. Barking. Yelping.
John and I watch. The dogs and their owners sort it out quickly. Ball in hand, I look back to John. He can hear my unspoken question from 20 metres. ‘Glenn Hawker,’ he says.
Back and forth. Back and forth. We’re not saying anything.
A dad and his two boys, about eight and ten, amble onto the oval and play nearby. Full-size footy. Dad’s the umpire. The boys are ruckmen. Centre-bounce. Boundary throw-ins.
50, 60, 70, 80, 90. We bring up the century. We’re heading to our collective age.
At 110, a third player joins us. Hugh has never been to our Sunday morning sessions, despite the best of intentions. He knows it’s old blokes playing kick-to-kick but he doesn’t know about The Count.
I introduce Hugh to John and then say to Hugh: “No pressure, mate. We’re up to 110.” I figure that he’ll know what we’re doing. If not, John and I will be happy with 110. Quite a baptism, though.
We form a moving triangle on the forward line. Each of us 20 metres apart. John kicks to me. I kick to Hugh. He takes the mark like he’s cradling a newborn. He kicks accurately to John.
115. 120. 130. A fourth player joins us. Paul. A left footer. A regular since last season. I introduce him to Hugh and add, “No pressure, mate. We’re up to 130.” Paul parks himself at centre-half-forward. John’s on the flank. I’m in the pocket, and Hugh’s a few steps out of the goalsquare.
We form a slowly moving square. As I’ve written in years gone by, these Sunday mornings are like a dance.
The ball goes around. 135. 140. 145. The spell is broken at 150, by which time the dew has well and truly lifted from the green grass of Fearon Reserve.
Now we can kick torpedoes, drop kicks, stab passes. Now we can call, and lead, and take chances. Now we can fumble. The ball goes here and there. Hits the ground now and then.
One of my kicks strays towards the dad and his two boys. Hugh heads off to get the footy. The older boy picks it up, handballs to Hugh, and says “It’s only a little footy!”
He’s right, but for four blokes it’s been a big Sunday morning. See you there next week.