THE AUSTRALIAN cricket team tour to Sri Lanka in August/September of 1992 was momentous for a number of reasons. It was also the starting point for the most hectic trip of my life just to try and watch a footy game.
No foreign team had played on Sri Lankan soil for more than five years, as civil war wracked the country. The Australian team’s decision to tour was an enormous boost for the island nation, which was battling to establish itself in the international arena but was being given little respect by the major cricket nations.
While the north of the country was still strictly out of bounds, the Australians didn’t just head into Colombo for a lightning visit, but headed both inland and south to play three Tests and three one-dayers.
One member of the tour party who had been selected on hope and potential for the future, a young leg-spinner called Shane Warne, announced himself to the world with three late wickets in Australia’s dramatic 16-run first-Test win, after Allan Border’s tourists had trailed by a massive 291 runs on the first innings.
That Test match, and the eventual victory from nowhere, was one of the great sporting contests I’ve ever witnessed, and there was maybe 20 Australians there in total, with no television or radio coverage of that game.
As a footy fan, and a Geelong fan, this tour didn’t shape as one that could cause a crisis of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. The pessimist was in control of me when considering how that 1992 footy season was likely play out.
After jumping on board the Cats in the late 1970s while growing up in Adelaide, it was 13 years and counting at the time for the hope of seeing a premiership.
Coach Malcolm Blight was the eternal optimist, and made most of us fans optimists along with him, thinking about what could be, and an end to a club drought that was stretching back to 1963.
The Cats were great to watch. Goals and more goals.
Lots of goals.
Brownless, Ablett, Couch, Bairstow, Hocking, Stoneham.
Seven of the nine highest scores in Cats’ history to this day still come from that Blight all-out offence period from 1989-92.
But the pessimist still looked at the bottom line.
The 1989 Grand Final loss by a goal to Hawthorn was the only time we had reached the big day. On that morning and afternoon in 1989, all three Cats’ teams played at the MCG and all three lost by six points or less across the Under 19s, Reserves and Seniors.
Come late 1992 as the passport was being readied, the Cats were going well but West Coast was a serious concern.
After the Eagles had missed the premiership in 1991, they were red-hot for redemption and they owned us at the time. Not just had the edge, they owned us.
From early 1988, the Cats had won just two of 11 against the Eagles going into that September, and the pessimist in me didn’t expect anything to change. Thank god I was a quarter of a way around the world.
As the third Test was being played in Moratuwa (you’ll need Google to find it) the optimist was listening in via Radio Australia to the second semi from the MCG. Pretty soon, it was apparent the pessimist was in charge as I got to tune in as the Eagles came to Melbourne and spanked the Cats yet again, to make it 10-2 in recent history.
As a badly beaten unit, we were going to the prelim final, with no confidence, and I was in Sri Lanka, heading west for some pre-booked time off in India to explore.
On the day I landed in Goa, at the start of Grand Final week, I rang home for three minutes just to get a score. We’d comfortably beaten the Dogs for the second time in September and were in the Big One.
The optimist was back!
Who cares if we were facing a side that had won 10 of the last 12 against us, with six of those losses actually being in Victoria – we’re in the Grand Final!
But hang on, what if we win and I’m not there? You can’t miss a Grand Final!
I’d spent five seasons reporting AFL games around my primary role with cricket commitments, so I could get a media pass.
But I was in Goa. I hit the local travel agent and hoped for the best.
This was my journey. Get a train to Hyderabad, sitting up in a seat for about 13 hours. Then a flight to Mumbai and another to Hong Kong.
While in Hong Kong for an overnight layover, leave a message with the VFL media department that I would need a media pass and leave a message with the sports desk that I would be working at the game, whether they expected me or not.
A flight to Melbourne that landed around Friday lunch time and pretty much straight to bed, exhausted.
The optimist woke up on Grand Final morning and was at the ‘G by the first quarter of the reserves game. Daniher, Pagan, Hird, Misiti, Mercuri and Neitz were all part of that curtain-raiser if you want to look it up on Youtube. For Terry Daniher’s last match in Red and Black, it’s actually a pretty momentous game when you looked at who played that Grand Final morning.
Come the main game and the optimist is running wild. Can I imagine what it would be like if we win?
At quarter-time we were three goals up. Looking good. At half time, still two goals up. But the conclusion to the second quarter had been concerning.
The pessimist arrived during the main break, perhaps late due to jetlag. Peter Matera arrived at the same time.
An hour later, Matera had a Norm Smith Medal and the Eagles had a maiden flag. I’d wait another 15 years to see a first premiership for the Cats.
Just two years later, we would lose another Grand Final, to the Eagles again.
For that game, it wasn’t possible to get back and I was sitting in Karachi for Mark Taylor’s first series as captain of our national team and listening again on Radio Australia. Just 24 hours after the Cats got belted in the Big One, Australia would lose a dramatic Test match by one wicket after Inzamam ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed put on the largest 10th-wicket partnership to win a Test in international history.
The moral of the story.
Don’t ever skip a Grand Final if you’re in it, because you’re a chance. It was better to have got back and supported the team, and watched us lose, than being stuck on the other side of the world and hearing about us lose.
You’re always a chance. You’re no chance if you’re not there.
Patrick Keane was a journalist with the Australian Associated Press for almost a decade before working as a media and communications manager with the then-Australian Cricket Board and later the AFL. He is now on the AFL Executive, holding the title of Office of the CEO.