Cats Get Trimmed In Thriller At North Ipswich (Young Woman Misses Golden Opportunity to Upgrade from Hatch)
Mackay Cutters v Easts Tigers; Intrust Super Cup Grand Final; North Ipswich Reserve; 29/9/2013
“The way she stands there, about to run in and kick, is roughly the way you would stand before a weird glowing entity found lying in a paddock which may or may not be an alien.”
Report by Nicholas Turner
It’s perfect live footy weather. Just under thirty and not a cloud. On the way to the ground, you might happen upon some lads drinking Mexican beers out of a car boot – tanned and tattooed arms uncovered by skimpy singlets, hip-hop rattling the chassis – and think you’re headed down to the beach. Arguably the quintessential grassroots image of the afternoon is the streets around the North Ipswich Reserve, cluttered with traffic automotive and human. There’s something parked on every blade of council turf and only a superficial respect for private land. Creative drivers have angled in to exploit slivers of daylight between bumpers, Tetris-style, plus there’s some straight-up and much less inspired double-parking. The long march from one’s unfortunately very distant park to the gates is, on the plus side, a great chance to ogle the attractive and prevalent Queenslander homes that are one of Ipswich’s charms. Presumably the inhabitants of these ones have nicked off for the afternoon or else settled down homeside, because if they want to head out over the next few hours, they’ll be walking.
It’s twenty bucks to get in, which is a bit of a surprise and probably the absolute upward cut-off for a grassroots stub. For that, at the very least, you get a real-deal holographic ticket instead of your neighbourhood stamp on the wrist. Plus, the burgers and beers are priced sympathetically. As it turns out, that twenty is pound-for-pound one of my better sporting investments, because the dance between the Mackay Cutters and the Easts Tigers will surely go down as a classic for both quality and drama. It’s the Grand Final you wish for but rarely get, and it’s pretty hard to overstate.
Technically speaking, the North Ipswich Reserve is neutral ground for both sides. But Mackay (eleven hours by car from home, as opposed to the one hour drive for Easts), is the side for which heading to this game constitutes a roadtrip. For that reason, they embody the ‘away’ spirit. Where the Tigers fans, outnumbering the opposition by at least two-to-one, are scattered fairly evenly around the park, seeking shade, bar access, vantage and personal space, the Cutters supporters instinctively form large groups and stake clear territory. It’s a phenomenon that David Attenborough has explained once or twice. The biggest contingent of Cutters followers has settled behind the northern goal posts. In the first half they’re an excited but reserved bunch, and Easts get the bigger cheers. But that will all change once the Cutters boys start running from their supporters’ end. That’s when the theatre of the afternoon seems to fall into place.
The game starts fast and razor sharp and it really doesn’t let up. Considering the heat it’s remarkable that the full eighty minutes goes without a lull, and that neither team really gets exposed on a systemic level at any point. There are some line breaks through the forwards later in the game but they’re not exactly eye-rollers from a defensive point of view – in fact, they’re a fairly reasonable outcome when you’ve spent a long, warm afternoon attempting to catch fridges that can sprint. Easts get busy right away and score first in the south-western corner after a rather audacious switch, which seems to hang behind the advantage line too long for a game of this speed but turns out to be an essay in weight and poise. It’s nothing to shame the Cutters but an ominous sign of what the talent-rich Easts side are capable of. Since the first half is otherwise an arm-wrestle, you get the feeling that flashes like this might be what separates the teams in the end.
At half time, with a score in it, we’re told over the big speaker in no uncertain terms that they’re going to give away a car. Since the stakes are so titillatingly high, everyone in the stadium stops to watch a young woman – who announces under interview that she’s never place-kicked a football before, repeat never – attempt to slot one from forty out. If she gets it, the car is hers. The girl in question is wearing nightclub-ready painted-on pants and is pretty short now that the heels are off. She’s bubbly and breathless with the microphone in her face and is not in a million years going to get that car. The way she stands there, about to run in and kick, is roughly the way you would stand before a weird glowing entity found lying in a paddock which may or may not be an alien. Every person in the venue, maybe four thousand of them, is watching this (a fair feat considering this is prime time for toilet breaks, match day burgers, and beer – though admittedly access to all three has been pretty clean all day). From a marketing point of view, the car brand has in fact pulled off a pure swindle here. They’ve managed to generate compelling tension over a zero-probability situation. And they’ve branded that tension. How is this possible, I wonder, as the girl runs in and, flailing her right leg, manages to move the ball somewhere between the tee and the tip of the shadow the ball was casting before she struck it. It’s a little hard to tell given the subtlety of the ball’s arc, but she may have sliced it too.
In the second half I notice a too-good-to-be-true clearing just under the balcony of the main bar, and learn just a few moments after arriving why there’s a clearing under the balcony of the main bar, which is getting noisy and, incidentally, beer-soaked. As the looming reality of full-time starts to ratchet the tension of the game, and the sun begins to set behind the stand, the Cutters’ fullback goes to the bin for cynical play. He’s had a rough afternoon already, once saved from committing the closest thing to a rugby league own goal by the grace of merciful gods. But while he’s off the field an Easts attacking error on the western flank results in a Cutters try and lead. Then Easts go for pure grunt through a barnstorming second rower that keeps putting his hand up, and they find their own way over. The game gets locked at twenty a piece.
Now it’s serious. Allegiances are clarified. On the bowl of slopes around the field, people on their feet outnumber those sitting. The main bar’s balcony, previously divided fifty/fifty between supporters, suddenly looks all Tiger, and the ‘Carn the Cutters’ banner, once proudly festooned, now hangs by a thread off the rail, lynched and unreadable. The Easts faithful have come out of the woodwork. They’re the much bigger contingent and they start to realise it. Too late to gather in one place, they start doing what they can to make themselves known. Their scattered yelling is like a frenzy of squawks from birds that have just noticed each other in a jungle canopy.
Television or radio couldn’t really explain what’s happening on the ground at this point as the whole afternoon gathers on a needlepoint. If ever there was a testament to getting out to watch live sport, this is it. The relentless attack and defence keep coming from both sides, but from ground level it’s almost as though the field has gotten smaller. I’m constantly moving a few steps to get a sight on the scoreboard and the time remaining, which is not much. When the Cutters return to the in-goal from their good deeds – a try and then a crucial field goal to put them in front – they pump their fists to wind up the crowd. And the faithful, in turn, rise and chant, transferring energy or else ammunition to keep their boys going. This spiritual overlap of crowd and players really defines the last part of the game, a palpable sort of load and fire relationship that surely can’t come through a screen or a speaker. The best stuff happens in your gut and you don’t get to keep it.
The Cutters score again with one minute to go and the clock drags them the rest of the way to the cup.
Match Day (Steak) Burger Score: 7.0
MD(S)B Price: $5.00
MD(S)B Service Atmosphere: 5.0
Game Score: Mackay Cutters 27 def. Easts Tigers 20
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