Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Old Ghost Articles

For a time I wrote articles as The Ghost of Optus Oval for the Carlton football club - thought I'd post some of them over the ensuing months (etc) so that they aren't lost.

here is one I wrote for an player on his retirement (Darren Hulme - the 'Pup') - later Darren contacted the club to tell them he was so happy with the article he had it pinned to his fridge.

All kids dream, all kids spin the ball over and over; their eyes glazed as they drift years ahead and see themselves taking the field for the team they support with all their youthful hearts. All kids yearn to don the jumper of their chosen team but the truth is it doesn't happen much nowadays. This is a vital dream, the blood of this great game. As long as kids dream the game is safe. It is a powerful dream but one not everyone can achieve. I dreamed the dream; oh how I dreamed as I watched Ragsy run the flanks or Gags duck that head of his and spin out of a tackle. My eyes glazed over as Craney burrowed in and visions of an adult me filled my mind as Quirkie ran the wing. I lived and breathed that dream yet I was small and slow with little skill, what hope did I have. Yes I burrowed in, yes on wet days I had a chance but my dream slowly lost its colour and faded like an old leaf.

Pup must have had that dream too as he played the game a wee lad determined to make his mark. To reach the elite level and simply play a single game of AFL is an achievement most of us would die for. To play a hundred or more games means you've shown class. To play those hundred odd games for the team of your youth shows the Gods smiled favourably upon you. Pup has been blessed. What he lacked in size he gained in heart. His heart rivals Phar Lap's; it pumps a steely resolve. The Pup never shirked, never sidestepped, never wavered in his desire to achieve his boyhood dream. How wonderful then for him to don that jumper, to run out onto Optus Oval the first time, to push through the banner on his hundredth game. 

Yes Pup's time at Carlton is over but he gave us many moments, many games, many things to be proud of. In some ways Pup was a footballer from another era. Small and tough as an old boot, he burrowed in and then would escape the clutches of opposition teams by taking off, those small, strong legs of him pumping like pistons to extract the maximum amount of acceleration in the shortest possible time. Then the kick forward and the bluebaggers were off. Pup played some great games and I feel his time was just starting when his leg injury cut him down and robbed him of a bit of that explosiveness that drove him out of the packs. Never a long kick, that injury also stole some precious distance off his kicks, distance he could ill afford to lose. Yet on his strove, on against opponents taller and faster but no one displayed more heart, more desire than the Pup. The Pup gave this game his all, every game. Watching him run around you could see it in his eyes, that resolve to extract as much out of this dream of his as he possibly could. No opponent, no opposing coach's strategy was going to stop him from living this dream to the fullest. 

Pup showed us not just how we might play this game but a way to live our lives as well. To put everything we have into those things we most cherish, to not be denied, to give it everything we had and then some more. And we supporters loved him for it. He was hard, dedicated, brave and usually the smallest man on the field. He was one of the small but proud band of short men whose height disadvantage was worn like a badge. He strode onto the field in the shadows of the giants yet strove against them on equal footing because his desire and resolve more than matched theirs. He might not have been our star player but his 27 was emblazoned proudly on any number of coats and jumpers. All us small blokes marvelled at him. And how hard he must have worked to force the recruiters to notice him when we know their eyes rarely see anything below 182cm nowadays. How he must have bashed and crashed and collided to get himself noticed in those faraway days when he was just a school kid chasing a dream. He must have got leather poisoning, worn out several pairs of boots a season, copped whacks and head highs a plenty to show he deserved his chance in the main game. Pup obviously is one of those rare individuals that doesn't take no for an answer. He demanded a spot on our list and then week in and week out showed he deserved it. 

The dream at Carlton has ended for the Pup as all dreams must but what a dream it was. His name now permanently on that 27 locker directly after Des English: No one can take that achievement away from him. He is a hundred gamer, and a hundred games meant you belonged, you were worthy, you lived your dream as well as any. Pup must now find other things to occupy his time but he can leave this club proud of what he has done, of the games he has played, the footballers he has matched his skills and endeavour against. The crowd shall be a little lost for a time. How often we sought out his frame when we were in dire need. How often we yelled, 'Chuck pup in the middle!' when it seemed we could not extract the pill. How proud we were when Pup squared up against an opponent undeterred by their size or reputation. Pup was an everyman, he was one of us, a bloke you'd want to share a beer with. So this then is just a little message, a farewell, a thank you for everything, a salute to a warrior. Bravo Darren Hulme, Bravo and well done!

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