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Sunday, January 17 2021 @ 05:51 pm ACDT

Witnessing Greatness

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To watch The Moody Blues live at the Sydney Entertainment Centre was one of my life long wishes. Burned into my memory is watching Justin Hayward ascend an ethereal mountain singing “Nights In White Satin” and hitting every note as I had remembered it. My life seemed complete…almost.

A year earlier I had the same uplifting feeling watching Pink Floyd play the entire Dark Side Of The Moon album, and was transfixed when David Gilmour brought “Comfortably Numb” to life. A couple of years earlier at a Dire Straits concert, Mark Knopfler played the guitar solo from Sultans Of Swing to sheer perfection, and their pulsating rendition of “Private Investigations” was breathtaking . Watching Jimmy Barnes and Chisel burst to life with “Conversations” was brilliant, but nothing tops watching The Boss play “Born To Run” live with ten thousand plus backing vocalists.

I feel so lucky to have experienced so many of the greatest artists in the world live, right there in front of me. Today’s youth might see my choices as dated or irrelevant (poor souls!), and prefer to carry their memories of Beiber, Katy Perry or similar as their own defining entertainment moments. God forbid!

But how does this conversation link to footy?

I wasn’t around to experience John Coleman. My dad was. I couldn’t experience Jack Dyer. My grandfather did. Dad saw the likes of Bob Davis, Charlie Sutton, Thorold Merrett, Bernie Smith, Lou Richards. My grandfather saw greats like “Chicka” Smallhorn, Dick Reynolds, Jack Regan, Haydn Bunton Senior. At the time Dad and Poppa may or may not have known they were watching legends of the game.

I came into the orbit of footy at a time of change. I watched the retirements of John Nicholls, Bob Skilton, Ted Whitten, Ron Barassi and Kevin Murray. I wasn’t there for the games – just the news service later in the day. But I did see Kevin Murray play live – right in front of my eyes. More would follow.

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s I had my own football awakening. The ability to get to games changed and I remember watching greats like Leigh Matthews, Peter Knights, Peter Hudson, Michael Tuck and Don Scott at VFL Park taking on a Collingwood team boasting Len Thompson, Bill Picken, Barry Price, Peter McKenna and the Richardson lads, Wayne and Max.

I would venture to the occasional Essendon game and see the likes of “Nifty” Neville Fields, “Rotten” Ronnie Andrews, Graeme Moss and a red and black version of Des Tuddenham. Later on, once I had a car and could get to games under my own steam I saw more Bomber greats but also watched, with varying degrees of awe and annoyance – depending on the scoreline – greats like Malcolm Blight, Gary Dempsey, Keith Greig, Robbie Flower, Kevin Bartlett, Bruce Doull and so many more stars of a great era.

I could see the “Mad Dog” Muir’s, the Mark “Jacko” Jackson’s, “Big Carl” Dittterich or Peter “Crackers” Keenan and their various shenanigans. I could watch on in wonder as the “Macedonian Marvel” Peter Daicos slotted goals from almost anywhere to the chagrin of Essendon supporters. I saw Trevor Barker leap high into the air, only to be equalled or bettered by Paul Van Der Haar or Simon Madden.

I could go on for days at the incredible talent on all teams that I was able to watch live – just like Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen – but it would become tedious.

But it raises a new thought. As I look back on an era 30-40 years ago, and the players then who would go down in history of icons of the game, who of the current crop will we remember with the same fondness, awe, excitement or reverence as we do now a Gary Ablett Senior, a Tim Watson, a Bernie “Superboot” Quinlan or a Maurice Rioli. The answer will likely be clouded by club affiliations, favourites, man (or woman) crushes or something else entirely. But it makes for an interesting argument.

It is a question of who that player might be and what sets them apart.

The 1990’s and early 2000’s gave us some likely legends in names like Nathan Buckley, James Hird, Mark Ricciuto, Wayne Carey and Michael Voss as a starting point. More recently names like Adam Goodes, Jobe Watson, Scott Pendlebury and Joel Selwood have set a course for legendary status after they finish their playing days. But, just as we might now think about musicians and their possible place in history down the track a way, what current players have that quality that might have us looking back at them one day and speaking of them as if they were a Coventry, an Ian Stewart or a Doug Wade?

Hard also to find a starting point here, so arbitrarily I will look at debuts from the start of this decade – 2010.

From the draft of that year, Dyson Heppell at Essendon and Luke Parker from the Swans have that certain something that suggests greatness. At the same time Tom Lynch at the Gold Coast might yet become one of the great forwards, if not club leaders. From the 2011 crop, Port Adelaide’s Chad Wingard is already well on the way to hero status beyond his own club and could be a legend.

From the 2012 intake, Ollie Wines at Port Adelaide and Jake Stringer at the Western Bulldogs have those freakish talents associated with the greatest. Essendon’s Joe Daniher has the potential to be a truly great forward, much like Paul Salmon. Of the 22013 talent, “The Bont”, Marcus Bontempelli at the Dogs has so much X-factor it is frightening, whilst Carlton’s Patrick Cripps might become a Blue’s great one day.

And so, what did the 2014 draft deliver? It is way too early to know, but fun to gaze into a crystal ball. Collingwood’s Darcy Moore is a special talent like his dad. Swan Isaac Heeney is a super talent and a marketable face also. Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw has the smarts already to be the next big Demon thing. And keep an eye on Essendon’s Jayden Laverde who has already shown glimpses of a huge future.

In less than a month the 2015 draft takes place and a new crop will be on display in front of adoring fans. It begs the question as to whether or not names like Weitering, Scache, Parish or Mills will be watched up close by their current idols and spoken of in reverential tones thirty years from now.

I was once dragged kicking and screaming to see Torvill and Dean live in Sydney. I had no clue about the art of ice skating and wondered what all the fuss was about. But after sitting mesmerized as they skated their way through their “Bolero” routine right there in front of my eyes I grew to appreciate their incredible talent – so much more impressive live that on the TV. Thirty odd years later their performance still lives in my memory, even if my enthusiasm to take up skating myself has waned.

Witnessing greatness from close up cannot be replaced. From The Moody Blues to Alex Jesaulenko, seeing this greatness at arm’s length allows greatness to live on in the memory, and I am extremely lucky and blessed to have witnessed so much.
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