The rushed behind. Footy’s get out of jail ticket. Or not.

What was Callum Mills to do, facing away from goal (no U-turns permitted) and Liam Picken maybe there, maybe not? Indeed, what are any of us to do, our backs to the world and the implied pressure of Liam Picken set to take us down – mortgage repayments, bratty kids, career going to the dogs – but to occasionally rush a behind in life?

Except Picken held off, and made it obvious what was about to happen. Look, on one hand I feel a bit embarrassed about the Doggies getting more frees than the other teams these days. I mean It was devastating that the Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership has officially been annulled due to the tenacity of three anonymous blokes wearing out the slo-mo of their Grand Final DVDs. (But why would you even re-watch a lost grand final in the first place?) Maybe 2017 will finally be the year, hey Doggies?

But on the other hand, Mills needed to get with the program. Even I knew that this year the AFL were cracking down on dodgy rushed behinds, and I’ve been in Bolivia all summer, where I get my AFL news via two soup cans and a string stretched across the Pacific.

He had to do one of those fake fumbles – oops – where you get your hands to the ball two or three times and keep running – slippery ball – until the line saves you. Sorry ump, just couldn’t grasp it.

The quasi-abolition of the rushed behind has created moments of wonderful skill. A player backed against his goal line will dodge and handball his way out of trouble surrounded by two attackers and the most limiting space possible. If you’re a type who liked the Doggies’ handball-thon of 2016 and centimetre-perfect possession, it’s a new high-water mark. Call me an aesthete. Or call me a wanker if you have to.

By my count, the rushed behind, with a checkered history, decided the 2005, 2006 and 2008 grand finals, should have decided the 2010 grand final and played an indeterminate role in 2009. Leo Barry you star? ‘Fatty’ Dew cutting loose? Please.

It’s so strange to think of that era where a Victorian club didn’t reach the Grand Final for three years. For people swimming in Hawk/Cat memorabilia it’s like a black hole in our memories. But this thing actually happened, supposedly. West Coast and Sydney lined up for their second crack at each other in 2006.

Enter Tadhg Kennelly. From what I saw of him, rushed behinds were his bread and butter. The 2005 Grand Final ended when Sydney missed numerous chances to seal the flag, and then one stray Eagle kick freakishly split the pack and Eagle Mark Nickoski (geez that was a memorable era wasn’t it?) was within spitting distance of a Stephen Milne-esque easy winning goal in a grand final. Kennelly grabbed the ball and walked it through. Then someone took a mark or something.

A year later, with 13 minutes to go and the fast-finishing Swans down by six, Kennelly had David Wirrpanda up his ass and decided to rush the point rather than head away from the goal, which with Kennelly two steps ahead was eminently possible. He actually had to change direction to rush the behind.

“That point could be important,” said my brother, watching on replay, unknowing. You have no idea, I was bursting at the seams to reply.

So the Swans lost the 2006 Grand Final by one rushed behind. Two years later Hawthorn beat Geelong by ’eleven rushed behinds’. If in doubt, put it out, I hear the ghost of an ex-soccer teammate. Start again if there’s anything going wrong in the backline. That’s what Hawthorn did.

It wasn’t great aesthetics, an apologist’s buzzword for thumping blokes (‘unsociable’) beating the Greatest Team of All, always on the ball, on a quirk. So the AFL decreed that rushed behinds were no longer a thing. That lasted about two rounds into 2009.

Then there was Steven Baker’s full dive face-first into the goalpost with a touched behind to preserve St Kilda’s one-point lead in the rain late in the 2009 grand final. We know what happened after that. Nick Riewoldt held his mark in the goalsquare and Acland Street that night turned into an orgy of soldiers kissing damsels on black-and-white Polaroid pics.

If only. But the Baker touched behind was a thing of real beauty. I will lose my teeth but St Kilda are winning this premiership, he seemed to be saying. It could have been the defining visual image of St Kilda’s history, just like how Brendan Goddard’s speccie as the most iconic moment of all time would be required viewing for all immigrants come to start a new life in Melbourne if only the Saints had held on in 2010. A rushed behind would have won them the flag!

Time to break off from this reverie of St Kilda domination. I truly think the Mills moment was a free kick, under 2017 interpretation. But to be safe, we’ll just crucify all persons involved.

Crucify the ump! Crucify the AFL for their Bulldog conspiracy! Crucify Mills! But not Liam Picken. That guy is just the best.

 

Marty Gleason