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Miracle on Brunswick St: A father's perspective

An emotional account of his son’s match-winning goal after the siren


By Marshall Toohey


Donovan celebrating after the match

On this particular Saturday, I was doing what I had done for the last 15 years – going to watch one of my sons play sport. For the last four or five years, Donovan has been at Fitzroy: initially in the Colts and now with the big boys. The seniors play every home game at the beautiful Brunswick St Oval, a torpedo from the rotunda: where we had our wedding photos taken; where we watched the Northcote High School band play some jazz.

There'd been a premiership in the men’s ones and twos in 2018, the heroic avoidance of relegation in 2019, and a lost cause for us all last year. Donovan’s time at the Roys has seen some riotous celebrations and also some floggings, but all in all it’s been a great place to be. This year, the men’s seniors have an overwhelmingly young list and a canny, positive coach in Luke Mahoney.


This particular Saturday was unusual: a twilight game – 4.45pm kick off – against St Bede's Mentone. It was a 'must win' game, like almost every other game. A must. The city backdrop, the evening air, the willing crowd (inflated even more by the curtain raiser played by the Under 19’s) – all together, it created a spectacular setting. Kind of like ‘a spirit in the sky’.


The first three quarters were up and down affairs, ebb and flow, no conclusive stamp put on the game. Though the visitors had an edge, there was no lack of want from our boys. The Roys are a committed lot – and with maturation will soon be a formidable side. There seemed to be a belief in the huddle at the final change. I resumed my seat in the front row of the grandstand next to my wife, my mate Gerry, my son's girlfriend, and other Fitzroy movers and shakers. We barracked as hard as we could.


The problem was that we slipped to four goals behind around the ten-minute mark of the last quarter. Not looking good, Irene. We kept coming, and didn’t concede, but it was going to be hard. By the 26-minute mark we had reduced their lead to 3 points. We had a chance. But the boys from down south seemed to have it parcelled up – we lunged a couple of times, only to be repelled. Around the 31-minute mark, lovely left footer Ligga grabbed the ball at half back, got it to the wing, Rosco Borland marked, and pinpointed a pass straight onto the chest of a Roy Boy on the lead, around fifty out. I thought it was Ted Clayton initially, and immediately thought he would have the distance covered.

 

“There was an eery silence right before he kicked it… I was thinking ‘if he misses this, he’s not going to get any sleep tonight’.”


- Furious George' Pyers, Number 37

 

Director Gabby then proclaimed: 'It's Donny, Donny'. And it was my boy, Donovan. A thousand thoughts swirled around, we all looked at each other and started hoping for the best. The crowd were yelling as one. There were a hundred teenagers behind the Brunswick St goals. Everything was moving in warped time. So much was happening in less than a minute. I hoped – I don't pray ­– I wished, I stared, but I knew he would have the distance covered. It was a question of accuracy and nerve. How do you measure nerve?


As it happened

He went through the routine; wondered what to do with the mouth guard. It was beautiful off the boot – dead centre, with five metres to spare. Automatic eruption. A mass hurdling over the fence, screaming from the stand, and a figure tearing around the ground like Shane Warne after he bowled Strauss for his 700th. A surging pack of players in the middle of the ground, spectators launching. Old and young, male and female: in the stand, on the terrace, all jumping up and down. The four of us all hugged. I then walked earnestly to the huddle. I had a fatherly purpose.


I couldn't find him initially, then he emerged. I just grabbed him around the shoulders, I think I kissed his cheek, told him I was proud of him, and left him to be with his mates. Only a parent knows this feeling. I looked towards the Bede's boys. They were all slumped on the ground.

 

“I was waiting on the goal line, trying to make sure their ruckman couldn’t tap it on the line. I remember being so tired but getting a surge of energy and sprinting towards Donny…It was pretty crazy. I haven’t been that ecstatic from sport pretty much ever.”


- Nino Lazzaro, star player, Number 65

 

It doesn't always happen like this, believe me. Since this unbelievable win, a two-week lockdown and a couple of floggings at the hands of superior opposition have made the after the siren victory seem a bit more 'in the real world'. But from the 31-minute mark of that final quarter until the second beer in the rooms after the game, it seemed unreal. Sometimes I think only footy will do it.


After 12 rounds (but only 10 games due to Covid) the senior men’s team is currently sitting eighth on the ladder in a ten-team league. While mathematically it can make finals (and indeed there are still six rounds left) its main concern will be the avoidance of relegation. Meanwhile, the women’s’ team is fourth-placed in an eight-team league. With just two rounds left, it can hopefully secure a spot in the finals and make a premiership charge.


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