Wednesday, 1 August 2012

another Ghost of Optus oval- Number 14

Well it seems this year is dithering along like a naughty child not wanting to go home. Each week brings a certain dread. My son seeks release having kicks in the street playing the part of Club saviour as all kids have done no matter what the state of their club. On his back is an imaginary 14 for Fisher, his idol who has just come back.

 I sit and watch him through the glass and feel a distinct separation from the affairs of the team. Oh how swiftly we fell. A few injuries, some poor acts that led to disqualifications and suddenly we are the bottom team. Still it can’t be helped. We are young and frail and we have been punished to ensure we are poor for a few years. If we could have waved a magic wand and fixed everything then it really wouldn’t have been a harsh punishment. It was harsh. That is the reality no matter a certain journalist might want to bleat.

So the Bluebaggers are struggling and my mind has gone all fuzzy, like a photo through a Vaseline lens to make Doris day seem young and beautiful – it’s easier to reminisce than it is to watch some of the games we are playing. I think it is something about not being able to hit the side of a barn that makes me slide back into the glory years.

Lately I’ve been thinking about another 14. I have been thinking about Rod Ashman. Remember him? A rover’s rover. We don’t really have them any more do we? Rovers I mean. Nowadays we have midfielders, though really they should just be called fielders ‘cos all they do is run all over the field. There are your forward midfielders, your back midfielders, your in and unders, your outside receivers and your bench warmer specialists who help rest the legs of all the other types.

But once upon a time when ruckmen rucked and fullbacks full backed and wings were not only found on birds – ahh Gary Crane what would they do with you today? We had rovers. These guys were small, tough and worked in tandem with the ruckmen. A symbiotic relationship where for many years the ruckmen argued they made the rovers and the rovers argued they made the ruckmen – like all good arguments the truth lay somewhere in between.

Now Carlton have had some great rovers, in fact once we had a whole fleet of them called the mosquito fleet that buzzed so loudly they drove the opposition wild but of all our rovers my two favourite would be Gags Gallagher and Rod Ashman. Gag’s was an old, old rover, who just got the ball and kicked it long, this was back in the black and white days of football when we watched a kick, a mark, a kick, or a kick a spill, a crumb, a kick. Gags didn’t fly for marks; he lived at the feet of Big Nick, always there for a tap, a knock on or a short, deft handpass.

Rod was the next model. Small also, but fast, very, very skilful and tough as an old football boot, with the long stops and the thick leather patch covering the ankle, left on the back doorstep too long after training. Rod never shirked an issue (which is why he eventually needed to wear a helmet) but it was his ability to win the hard ball or to kick the much needed goal that won my heart. Bearded Rod was one of those select group of players that could be relied upon. When we needed a lift it was Rod taking that mark forty meters out on a wet day and slotting home the goal. Or Rod breaking free in the centre to get the ball out to another runner and we were off.

Many, many kids – usually the smaller ones, wore the number 14 proudly on their duffel coat. Rod was someone we small, would be rovers, identified with. When I played football with Shane O’Meara and we talked about where he would tap the ball I do not know who was in his head, but in mine was Rod Ashman, and on my imaginary  Carlton jumper was the number 14. Many, many times we played at school or at training or in my front yard and practised the art of ruckman and rover and each time in my head I was Rod Ashman, rover supreme.

Oh and wouldn’t it be nice to have a Rod now to help out our midfield. In fact lately it would be nice to have a few of the old players. Kenny on the back flank beside Doully would be handy. Of course Jezza and Buzz to help out Fev would make life interesting. Or SOS in the backline and The Dominator and Bucks in the middle with Rod and we’d be away again.

But players like Rod have had their time in the sun and have had to move on. We as a club have also had plenty of bright moments to stand and scream about until we are hoarse with pride. So even though now things are not going so well and we sit lower than will ever be comfortable for a Bluebagger supporter, even so, I have faith in the boys down at Carlton.

The AFL made sure it was a long way back and many people are happy to see us struggling to keep up but we have a young list and the boys are learning and we’ll be back. I have no doubt.

We’ll return to the top and this time I hope we remember to do a Rod Ashman and always, always, keep our eyes on the ball and our feet firmly on the ground. Leave the fancy stuff to the other clubs Carlton has always been about hard work and success, for a time we just forgot that’s all.

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