As the haze of the never-ending summer releases its grip on a season of searing heat and morning dew greets each sunrise, thoughts turn to the season that awaits.
It is a season that brings much anticipation, with the hopes of many riding on the stories that will unfold and the truths that will be revealed.
And, just like the many seasons that have gone before her, she holds much promise.
For this will be the season where impossible victories are realised and where legends are made. She will turn boys into men and will uncover champions we never knew existed.
And, as she grows old, she will capture our hearts, as our emotions soar and we marvel at the exploits on the field.
But, like those that have gone before her, she will also be callous and cruel – unforgiving and relentless like the cold, dark nights that take the southern states hostage in the bowels of July.
She will leave many shattered and torn, broken and abandoned like a lonely piece of machinery left to rust in a paddock defeated by the modern world.
She will destroy careers and make villains of those in whom we trust.
And, she will leave many of us helpless – heartless, as our hopes for the new season are mercilessly ripped from our chest, some before we even see the beginning of June.
For this is not just a game, it is theatre – a spectacle where our modern-day gladiators battle it out for the coveted holy grail come the last Saturday in September. This is AFL season 2017.
Jason Walsh, far right, at a Sydney Swans game
And, as I sit in Spain as season 2017 commences – I cannot help but think of the agony and exhilaration this game, Australia’s game, has given me through the years.
However, I must admit, I am but an imposter to this game, having been born in NSW where the football of league reigns supreme.
For mine was not like the beribboned cots of Victoria where babes are wrapped in club-colours at birth.
Rather, I discovered ‘aerial ping-pong’ as a teenager growing up in Tamworth studying Bruce Dawe’s Life-Cycle (wherein he explains life through the fortunes of an AFL team) as part of my HSC.
It was around this time I began to follow my Sydney Swans, a love affair that continues today.
And, it was around this time, that I tasted for the first time the pure elation and gut-retching disappointment the game can deliver, as the Swannies challenged their first ever flag as Sydney in 1996, with the likes of Plugger, Kelly and Roosey carrying the Bloods to an unsuccessful grand-final.
From then, my elation and heartache has only intensified as my love for the game has grown.
Firstly, to Queensland where I spent my weekends learning the rules of the game, while I studied law – lauding my “other team” the Brisbane Lions as they brought home three flags to the sunshine state.
Then, to Sydney, where I was able to witness first-hand the fortunes of my true love, the Swans, when I relocated life to the harbour city.
Since then, my winter weekends have been spent at the historic SCG, where her iconic members and ladies stands lay witness the drama that unfolds on the field.
If you do only one thing this year – get to a game
It is at this glorious ground that I have transformed my soccer-loving English partner into a dyed-in-the-wool Swans supporter – similar to the conversion of my league-loving parents.
It is here that I have spent much time with friends sipping white wine from a plastic cup as we enjoy the view of the athletic players in their tight shorts and even tighter guernseys.
And, it is here in 2005 I rode the shoulders of a stranger behind the posts where, in the dying minutes of a semi-final against Geelong, Nick Davis kicked four impossible goals – a victory that would ultimately carry the Bloods to their first premiership since 1933.
So, as AFL season 2017 commences – I wish you and your team all the very best as we anxiously await the first bounce. May she bring you unexpected joy, a little heartache and memories that will last you a lifetime.
If you do only one thing this year – get to a game, as there is nothing quite like sharing a stadium with 40,000 fans as your club song fills the air and your heroes struggle to smash through a titanium wall of crepe paper 10 metres high.
And I dream, that come 4.45 on the last Saturday in September as the shadows of the MCG encroach on the green grass below – that the season ends with the Swans going three goals up with only 5 minutes remaining in the fourth as I nervously wait to hear those beloved banjos ring in the chorus of voices to Cheer Cheer the Red and the White.
Do you love AFL? Who is your team? Comment below.
(Feature image: Jimmy Harris / Flickr)