A well-meaning official tried to guide the crowd toward the door, to no avail. His heart wasn’t really in it anyway. In the milling multitude, Terry de Koning stood out by standing out. At 196cm he is still as tall as his sons Sam, the Geelong premiership defender, and Tom, an impact player for the Blues tonight.
He turned his scarf over to make sure the correct insignia was facing out. “Tom saw his brother win the flag (last year). He was very emotional when Sam won,” de Koning said. “I think it’s because he knows how hard it is.”
Tom de Koning characterizes Carlton 2023. By mid-season he seemed gone as the contenders circled. But he stayed. The same goes for the team; they were gone, but they are still there. “He loves Carlton,” his father said. “He likes all boys.”
It was two unlikely threads rolled into one: Carlton’s season and Carlton’s night. The last four in June, the first four now; that’s the stuff of movies. No one can convincingly say what changed, except that they redoubled their efforts, kept their composure and their faith in coach Michael Voss in a way that the Blues wouldn’t always have done , and inside the club kept their cool.
The supporters kept their… membership tickets, but only? “I never gave up, but I didn’t see this coming,” Pakula said. “I really didn’t see that coming.” Rejoined de Koning senior: “They never lost confidence. You have to admire that. They believed in Vossy and in each other. They have the ability, but there’s a lot of football between the ears, isn’t there?
Or somewhere even more remote. Looking back at mid-season, general manager Brian Cook said: “It’s like flipping a switch. I have no idea how we did it. I can tell you what happened before and what happened after, but I can’t tell you what the button was, who flipped it. I just couldn’t tell you.
Here is the mystical element of football, of sport, which professionalism has fortunately not completely removed. Sometimes things happen this week because they happened last week. They happen because they do. It’s wonderful and it makes nights like Friday even more wonderful.
Every club, every coach says they work hard, but it’s only for Carlton that it works like that. Cook would object, but he could at least be part of the key to the mystery. He was on the West Coast for their first two premierships, steered Geelong to a trio 10 years ago and now… what now?
De Koning thought back a week ago to when Tanya Weitering, Jake’s mother, asked, “Why not us?” “Luke Beveridge said that in 2016,” former Bulldogs player de Koning said. “It was their theme…” It was a long time between drinks for Carlton, but for de Koning senior it could be back-to-back.
The crowd in the Carlton halls did not move for hours. It was as if they were afraid to go out into the world again and discover that it was all fantasy, a trick of LED lighting. Eventually, they spilled into a lobby, where staff were trying to load a truck with devices used on game day. The work was done, but there was still work to be done.
“We’re riding an incredible wave right now,” Sayers said. “The boys are getting confidence and confidence back and it’s just great to watch.” Williams was still shaking his head. “I couldn’t really believe we won,” he said. “It was one of the great victories. It will be even harder next week. We’ll just enjoy this one for now.
After next week, there’s only one left. “I’m not going,” Cook said, “not yet anyway.” They go to Brisbane, in the preliminary final. They will be prepared in one way. Even if Brisbane is sweaty next Saturday, it won’t be any stickier than the overflowing, party-worthy Carlton Halls from 1999 on Friday night.
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