Our amazing 2008 Grand Final Week September 30 2017

In the spirit of Grand Final week I have decided to share with you some of my memories of the week we had as a family back in 2008. It is probably not you would expect. 

Shane had played 304 games for his beloved Hawks and was contemplating playing his last. In a Grand Final no less. His only Grand Final. While we all knew the importance of this game to Shane and the huge significance that this would probably be his only chance to achieve his life long dream, we all tried to carry on like it was normal. It was NOT normal.

Throw in an active two year old boy who did not understand the significance of the occasion. Who had barely slept an entire night in his life and very rarely woke after 6am. Then there was me, eight months pregnant. Not at all tired, hormonal or anxious. Then there was a little renovation we were trying to finish out the back, including a half ripped up wooden deck. 

It is well documented that physically, Shane was not in good shape. His back and his knee in particular were giving him the most trouble and I’m sure I only knew the half of it.  He had had the best treatment, recovery and training programs possible to get him to 300 games about one month earlier in Tasmania. He had so desperately wanted that milestone and he really, really wanted to share it with Charlie (the aforementioned sleepless, active toddler). He made it and it will forever be one of my fondest memories of watching Shane enjoying the game and being surrounded by admiring people that loved him. And that was just from within the Club. 

Shane had arrived at Hawthorn more than 17 years earlier and joined a hugely successful team who had won five Premierships in the previous decade. So it would have been reasonable to expect that he wouldn’t have to wait so long for his chance. But it was to be the entire length of his long playing career, riding the bumps with a grin. No one saw that coming. 

So here was his chance. Of course he is so proud of his 1999 Brownlow Medal, but ask any AFL player and it’s the Premiership they want. The lucky few that achieve it get to live a different life. Not materially, but psychologically. I didn’t want to live with those battle scars.

The “what if’s” the “if only’s”.

I wanted Shane to not only have closure, but to also live the rest of his life as a free man inside his head. A father to my children that had no unnecessary demons. 

I am not saying that a Premiership maketh the man, but it certainly makes a different man. 

One that is more content and forward thinking, I can imagine. That is what I wanted for our future. It was not just the most important of Shane’s career goals to tick off, his boyhood dream and a fitting end to his amazing career. It was his sanity and his peace of mind too. 

So the pressure was on. But we couldn’t make it look that way. The day after winning the semi final, I asked Shane what he wanted me to do that week. How should I act? Should I stay scarce? Who can come to the house? What do you want to eat? Do you want to go and stay in a hotel? 

NO, just be normal. I just want it to be like any other week”.

Well Shane, it was not like any other bloody week and that answer just made it more difficult for me. There was so much anxiety that swelled into that grey area. I wanted specific’s. An itinerary of what I could do and when. What meals to serve. How much to talk. Whether I should keep Charlie out of his way? Or use him as a nice distraction? Should I sleep in his bed? Can I pass on the thousands of well wishes that were directed through me? The requests for tickets? The updates on the renovation? 

IT WAS NOT JUST A NORMAL WEEK. 

Should I dare ask him what I should do if I went into labour?

Did you recall that I mentioned I was eight months pregnant with my second child? 

There is always that chance that Shane Junior #2 was going to try to spoil the party. However, on that front, I was pretty confident that there would be no movement there. All of my babies have been very comfortable in breech position (sideways, upside down, wedged under my ribs). Yes even the twins. Apparently quads could have fit in there nicely. (Never underestimate your ability to breathe, or lie down on your back, or even hold a conversation without gasping for air). 

So… I knew that Benjamin (as it turns out another boy) was pretty well stuck in there no matter how much stress I was under, or how many flights of MCG stairs I ran up and down (more on that later). But just for the record, I had decided (as with all of our babies) that if Shane was playing a game of footy when I went into labour, I would keep the news to myself. 

You may call me stupid, selfish, or worse still, inflating the importance of an AFL game.

Unless you have had a child with one of these madmen, save your judgement. I mean that in the nicest possible way. I did not want the burden of knowing Shane had missed an AFL Grand Final opportunity to watch me in labour. 

Of course, if I had the choice I would want him going through as much pain as I was and to gain just a glimpse of what women put their bodies through for years and years, even before the day they give birth. And then after….if only he could understand how lucky he is to sprint around the park and not wet himself, or feel his uterus in his undies, or his belly jiggle, or his boobs swell so hard and then leak. Or squirt everywhere in the shower. 

But we all know that is why the WOMEN have the children. So my point is, no I was not going to interrupt his lifelong dream to have him sit next to my hospital bed eating a toasted sandwich. 

So there it was, we were to act normal. 

We did NOT act normal, we just had our best poker faces on. I did my best to make sure Charlie was not over tired, hyperactive or even loud around Shane. Instead of faking a deep sleep, or kicking Shane to notion that it was HIS turn to get up, I jumped out of bed in a split second at even the slightest non sleeping sound coming from Charlie’s room. I stocked the fridge with all of his favourite foods, healthy and unhealthy. I didn’t want to not have what he was craving in that particular moment. I put extra effort into preparing the meals and ramped my inner domestic goddess up a notch (not hard). I took most of the phone calls and requests and remembered all of the messages. I perfected the logistics of our week and incorporated sudden changes to our plans with a grin. 

I danced around him and I walked on egg shells, all with a smile on my face, acting “normal”. 

The Monday night was fun. Finding a flattering dress for the Brownlow, ripping an upset toddler off my leg and walking the red carpet feeling like a bloated whale. Then trying to last in between Ad breaks without wetting my pants. Every time I waddled across Crown Palladium to the bathroom (a lot) I prayed my waters wouldn’t break. Right there in front of Bruce McAvaney. Joining the boys in drinking cups of tea instead of alcohol and dreaming of my luxurious bed that was just a short ride in the lift away upstairs. 

So we got that out of the way. No disrespect to that year’s winner, Adam Cooney. (You may also remember him as the guy who proposed to his beautiful wife with a Cheezel). 

So we put on our poker faces once again and danced through a couple more days. UNTIL Shane decided to vent, or exercise, or help, or something equally bizarre, by helping the builders to rip up the old rusty, splintered deck in our back garden. Can you see where I am going with this? 

Did someone say Tetanus shot? 

He couldn’t be told and in the spirit of keeping my smiling poker face, I watched out the window with baited breath. 

Yes, he stepped on an old rusted nail that wedged itself right inside his foot. His expensive, skilful, 304 game foot that had the weight of thousands of Hawks supporters on top of it too. Shit. 

The nail was as quickly pulled out as Shane put his tail between his legs to come inside and call the Club Doctor. Another Tetanus shot later and it was nothing more than a bruised ego for handyman Shane.

So we danced some more and I tried a bit harder to keep all potential hazards out of the way of not only our two year old, but Shane also, who was clearly looking for distractions. It was just a normal week. 

Thursday night’s Footy Show passed in a lot more serious way than Shane’s usual all singing, all dancing, shirtless extravaganza’s of previous years. There were no girls draped all over him and there were no special effects or acrobatic hoists being used to help Shane take centre stage in the Player Review of 2008. This year he only had eyes for one big stage.

On the Friday we included Charlie in the Grand Final Parade through the city. It was one of those typical Melbourne days that covered all four seasons, so I left the house with unshaved legs covered in opaque stockings under my maternity dress and kidded myself that it was no problem to take a brisk walk through 100,000 people up Collins Street at a faster pace than the car Shane and Charlie were travelling in. Lets just say that a quick stop off a a city cafe to rip off my tights (yes hairy legs and all) and a $5 bottle of water later…and I made it up the hill in time to see my boys in all their glory. Shane had a glow that came from so deep within that day, I will never forget it. He had his son in one arm and the Premiership in reach of the other and he was definitely in his happy place.

That night while I prepared an oh so casual looking but vitamin packed, carb loaded bowl of his favourite pasta, he announced he was going for a walk. This was not that unusual for Shane who often walked from our bayside home all the way out to Waverley in the months that his injuries were hampering his traditional training. But this week I had noticed he was avoiding being in public much more than usual. He had ticked off all of the mandatory engagements but other than that, had kept very much to himself. 

I tried to distract myself as much as possible while he was gone, but the minutes were long and he seemed to be gone for hours. I prayed that it was all not getting too overwhelming for him. Outwardly, he was cruising through the week seemingly enjoying it, relishing all of the special moments. But inside was he breaking down? As the minutes ticked by, the more nervous I got. It was that horrible helpless feeling you get when someone you love is going through something so important (or horrendous) for them and all you can do it be there. Stand there waiting, hoping to do something a little bit useful. Probably a lot like Shane feels in the maternity ward :)

It was only years later when I read the draft to his book “That’s what I’m talking about” that I discovered Shane had had a little cry on that walk. 

He wrote “it was the closest I came to betraying my emotions that week. Olivia and many others were just waiting for me to crack, but I didn’t. In fact I remained incredibly calm….

Walking along, caught between the present and the past I started to think about all the team mates I’d played with, the coaches I’d had and the training sessions I’d undergone….That’s when I started to get a bit emotional. For a very long time I’d wondered if I’d ever get the chance to taste team success, and now it was potentially only a few hours away….The thing that really brought tears to my eyes that night was thinking about the fact that this game might be my last”.

I took a little secret into the 2008 Grand Final that no one other than Olivia knew. I didn’t tell the coach, I didn’t tell my team mates, I didn’t tell my family. I hardly even wanted to admit it to myself. But I knew that this was going to be my last game. I might have changed my mind if we had lost, but losing never crossed my mind. I was confident that we could - and would - win”.

That was the secret we were sharing. The burden we were holding.

I told you, it was not a normal week.

So Grand Final day finally arrived and early in the morning Shane declared that he was going to take Charlie to the park. That was not his usual game day routine at all, but who was I to argue? 

Shane’s instructions to me about including Charlie on Grand Final Day were simple. He wanted him to be there if the Hawks won, but not if they lost. Simple? Not at all. As I nodded my head in atypical compliance, my mind raced with the logistical nightmare what exactly pulling off that “simple” statement entailed. 

My Mum agreed to stay at our house with Charlie and invite a few friends over to watch the game. At the point that we thought Hawthorn could win, she would jump in the car and drive Charlie into the MCG. Once again, my Mum sacrificed her own enjoyment to help out Shane and I on this important day. She was hosting a party, was not able to have a few drinks in case she had to drive and she was waiting by the phone. (I have told you before what a champ she is).

That last day in September, it was hot. Extra hot for a heavily pregnant woman, so once at the game, I was drinking a lot of water. Which meant, you guessed it…I needed to pee a lot too. Every time I stood and shimmied my way down the aisle towards the bathroom, all of the Hawthorn FC significant others looked at me with expectation. No my waters had not broken. No I was not having labour pains. I just needed to pee.

Again? Yes again.

While everyone else could enjoy an alcoholic beverage to ease their nerves a little, I was sticking to the water when I needed it least. By half time, the score was Hawthorn 51 to Geelong 48 points. Not exactly making it easy to make the phone call to my Mum to bring Charlie into the MCG. We decided to wait a little longer and by three quarter time the scores were Hawthorn 89 to Geelong 72 points and Hawthorn seemed to have the momentum. So Mum jumped in the car with Charlie and her good friend Lois (who has been her Partner in crime since they were very young). 

Half way through the final quarter they were approaching the MCG, so I waddled down several flights of stairs (sweating and using my pelvic floor muscles) to wait out the front. If I hadn’t been so stressed, I would have had a good laugh at Mum and Lois driving straight through all of the orange cones looking as naive as possible. They managed to somehow literally drive right up to the entrance only to be stopped by some confused Police Officers. Charlie was promptly handed out of the window without so much as a "thank you" from me and with him on my hip and 8 month preggy belly, I raced back up many flights of stairs to our seats. Phew.

The Hawks had kicked a couple more goals in my absence and it was then that I could finally relax and enjoy the moment. Those last five minutes of the game were blissful. Charlie cheered and I was very emotional. I believed that no-one deserved that fitting ending more than Shane. The siren sounded with a convincing 26 point win and after dancing to the Team Song with Charlie, I had to overcome my next obstacle.

How do I get from level two through this crowd with Charlie in time for him to complete the lap of honour with Shane? Off I went and pushed and shoved and huffed and puffed my way through the crowd to the front row of the ground. Tight security was my next obstacle so without any sort of official ground pass I gave my best pregnant lady innocent face to the burly security guard and explained my story.

He almost laughed in my face and said “everyone has a story lady”.

I will never forget those words. After more pleading and getting nowhere, someone in the crowd recognised either Charlie or myself as part of Shane’s family and started chanting “let her in…let her in!”

I had no option but to swallow my pride and lift my leg up over the fence. How I did that with my preggy belly and a toddler on my hip in a very tight space, I do not know. I made it and said something to the security guard along the lines of I’m 8 months pregnant, I’m carrying a toddler, I dare you to stop me” to which the crowd cheered and I walked as fast as I could without looking back. 

He took my advice.

I managed to find Ben Dixon (Shane’s long term team mate who had unfortunately retired just one year earlier) pretty quickly and handed Charlie over to him. At that point I was pretty much standing in the middle of MCG by myself. It was awesome. 100,012 people cheering, the Hawthorn theme song blaring and the two loves of my life doing a lap of honour around the MCG. 

Being alone out there and not wanting to intrude on the boys celebrations (just yet) I was one of the first to head down the race into the players rooms. This is where the second greatest moment of the day happened. Someone must have politely got me a chair and I sat in a corner and watched the team, the coaches and all of the Club officials walk in.

People describe the atmosphere is electric and it is very difficult to explain if you haven’t felt that. It’s making my spine tingle just thinking about it.

If you’ve ever been to a Wedding where you absolutely adore both people and you know they are 100% truly in love and are destined to live happily ever after…you feel the immense love in the room. It was a little like that. Except it was combined with exhaustion and relief and littered with sweat, rather than rose petals. 

The X Factor that team had was palpable. They had it in 2008 and clearly they still have it now. It is difficult to explain and impossible to replicate, but you know it when you see it. As a woman I describe it as extreme love and devotion for each other and for their shared goal. 

 Shane would roll his eyes at that.

So now, I live with a man that is not only a Premiership player, but a content and forward thinking man. He has no Grand Final baggage and he is able to sit back and enjoy watching his former team mates win Premiership after Premiership since his retirement with no bitterness. He became a changed man that day and I count my lucky stars for that. Occasionally I see that little glow appear that he was awarded that day. It is when he shares a moment with another man who has felt what he has felt.

That’s what I’m talking about.