A weekend of impossible choices

And so I’m back. Head fuzzy from jetlag and no sleep. Getting my head around being back in the real world instead of in the dream land of a small island off Brittany, or way up in the French Alps, pushing my somewhat startled legs up huge mountains in the name of my own personal summer league altitude training (also known as trying to keep up with my partner Chloe’s French family, who it turns out are half French, half mountain goat) and drinking delicious hot chocolates at the refuge huts to be found at 2500 m or higher.

Braves altitude training in the French Alps. 600 m higher than Mount Kosciuszko, with a knee brace. Oh yeah.

Braves altitude training in the French Alps. 600 m higher than Mount Kosciuszko, with a knee brace. Oh yeah.

Now returned to Melbourne, and facing impossible choices, especially for my not-quite-working brain.

I faced my first impossible choice on Wednesday when I had not even been back in the country for 24 hours and 10 pm dev league was on.

Who am I kidding? That was no choice at all. Of course I played, loved it, was surprised that I skated ok and my knee held up, even had a couple of decent shots on goal. Even if I couldn’t then sleep until 5 am.

So, actually, that choice was easy.

But this weekend isn’t.

For starters, there’s the election from Hell: a Labor Government which has achieved a lot, including surviving the global financial crisis, yet has managed to be so unlikeable and apparently dysfunctional along the way that even rusted-on left-wingers like me are blinking at the idea of endorsing it with our vote. But up against a simply unelectable dickhead with a sour-faced, aggressive front bench. It’s not really an impossible choice – I still stand by the words of Margaret Whitlam, wife of Gough, when asked why she had devoted her life to the Labor Party. She replied: ‘Because ours is the party of compassion.”

Faced with the choice of Abbott and his heartless cronies, it’s a no brainer for me. Labour or Green. (And I don’t usually get political but I’m still pissed off with the death of objective journalism in the Murdoch press, so screw it. Something has to stand up against that campaign.)

Vote done, Saturday’s challenge over, will only bring me to the important stuff, and a potentially harder choice.

This weekend will see the Australian Ice Hockey League finals held at the Icehouse. As usual, the top four teams gather at one rink (Newcastle last year, Icehouse this year) for two semi-finals on the Saturday and then the grand final on the Sunday – a financially easier finale for the national competition.

Of course, my team, the Melbourne Ice, is shooting for a fourth straight title – which is an unlikely but actually achievable goal, the team having managed to finish the season in fourth place despite the turbulence of a new president and coach, and the controversial mid-season retirement of Joey and Vinnie Hughes, and other destabilizing factors, not to mention just the sheer fact of having a massive threepeat target on their back, when every other team shapes up for a face-off.

The semis are tomorrow – vote early hockey fans – and my headaches really begin if the Ice makes it past the top-of-the-table Sydney Ice Dogs into Sunday’s grand final.

Because that game is scheduled for exactly the same time as Richmond v Carlton, my footy team’s first appearance in the finals for more than a dozen years. A cut-throat elimination final at the MCG, with a crowd of 90,000 people, many of whom will be Tiger tragics like me, barely able to watch after all these years of patience and waiting and suffering and wanting and hoping and dying and agonizing and fuming and daring to believe and finally starting to actually believe.

So ice hockey or AFL on a September Sunday afternoon?

1980 Tiger celebrations, so long ago they wore lace-up guernseys: This was supposed to happen every year ...

1980 Tiger celebrations: This was supposed to happen every year …

I was 15 years old in 1980 when Richmond won its last premiership; my first attendance at a Grand Final. Best friend Shonko and I standing among so many hulking men, so much black and white, deep in the old Southern Stand of the MCG, as Richmond monstered Collingwood to win by 81 points. Walking out of there, floating out of the ground, and stunned by the groups of Magpie fans slumped on the grass in the carparks, crying, desolate, shattered. My teenage emotions overwhelmed by the euphoria mixed with opposition heartbreak. I’ve always been too empathetic, would be hopeless in a war, where the whole point is to dehumanize the opposition.

I bled for the poor Magpies, against every rule in the footy book, but also sang that mighty Tiger song all the way back to Burwood on the 75 tram. Have never forgotten the thrill of wispy-haired Kevin Bartlett running riot, Michael Roach in flight, Geoff Raines’ long bombs from the centre, Jimmy ‘The Ghost’ Jess dominating centre half back.

Barracking for Richmond was the best thing in the world. This footy power would never fade! Would it? Umm … actually, that was it. Mostly a wasteland since.

The point of all this is that I’m invested in Richmond. Yes, I’ve been a Red Wing fan for a while now, and am clearly passionate about Australian hockey – at summer league level, dev league level and AIHL level. But I’ve been bleeding yellow and black since I was knee high, so Sunday’s choice is a tough one.

Not least because I’ve paid for AIHL tickets and bizarrely I have never managed to be there when the Ice has won its three titles. Through a series of events best not recounted – especially the team’s second title at the Icehouse, when I saw the first half of the Grand Final – I have yet to be there as Big Cat and my hockey mates have, to greet the final scoreline, step onto the ice and congratulate Army, Lliam, Baxy, Tommy and co in the moment of glory.

I guess this weekend will play out as it plays out. I’ll certainly be at the Icehouse tomorrow, barracking hard for the Ice to make it to Sunday’s game, and then see where life lines up from there.

Assuming I can stay awake, that is. Jetlag is a killer. But it’s totally worth it.

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