This coming weekend the grand finals for two of our football codes, Australian Rules and Rugby League, will take place. It can be a weekend of enjoyment, distraction and, for some, great joy or deep sadness.
My preferred Australian Rules team, Essendon, is not in the finals. But I did play and coach with the Garbutt Magpies in Townsville in the 1980s, so I have some sympathy for Collingwood. I also lived for many years in the Kimberley and, when once being in Melbourne for the AFL grand final, found myself a lonely barracker for the Eagles in the MCG crowd. I will always carry some support for the teams from the west.
It was while based in North Queensland in the 1980s that I first came to appreciate Rugby League. A lot of the young men I coached in Australian Rules played both codes. I now follow Melbourne Storm, but have some feeling too for North Queensland Cowboys, mainly because of the Queenslanders who play for both teams. My State of Origin preferences are now quite predictable.
I have witnessed the ups and downs of many football grand finals. Unpredictable winners and gracious losers. Brawls, upsets, tears. I have heard the racist taunts, the groans and enthusiastic cheers — sometimes, even, a timely humorous comment. Being a spectator has the potential to bring out the best and worst in any of us and there can be something special about being one among thousands on grand final day.
There is a Jesuit I know who, for many years, would take off on grand final day on his pushbike. It was something of a countercultural statement: he was going in the very direction many others were not.
It also seemed a finely tuned and chosen moment. The bike tracks in and outside of Melbourne were not going to be overcrowded that day. In fact, if you plan to get out of Melbourne (and perhaps Sydney), and not feel overcrowded, grand final day offers some very good options.
I suspect he was doing more than looking for an open, less crowded space. Whatever his reasons, he was reminding me not to get too caught up in the hype of one weekend where the event can become larger than life, the result of extreme and sometimes simply silly and competing media buildups. It is good to keep an eye on the bigger picture of life. Sometimes it helps just to get away.
This coming weekend I will have to make up my mind to either barrack for Collingwood or the Eagles. I know who I am following on Sunday night.
I might, also, over the weekend just be a little bit jealous of those who use the weekend to get away from it all.
Fr Brian F. McCoy SJ, Provincial