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Leather fish bonding

  • 30 March 2011

The silence that follows the thud of the ball shouts 'Run!' I jog backwards, staring high into the dark tree backdrop, one hand raised to shield the glare from my eyes. The ball is a speck, a bird, a comet hurtling to earth. The mighty football seeks its target: me.

I position myself, guessing its trajectory. Run head up, arms open and upward, and wait for it to land in my beginner's trap. I count. Three! A caught ball is a mark. Two! A mark earns the praise of the gang. One! Praise beats running after a dropped ball. Zero!

The football crashes though my arms and hits the ground.

I bend to pick it up, it bounces away. I run after it for ten metres. It leaps all over the place with the unpredictability of lotto balls in a barrel.

It is raining. The ball has doubled its weight and is like kicking a basket of wet washing. And it's slippery, like grappling a live fish. But the other players — Vin, Steve, John, Bruno, Andrew and the rest — seem to catch and kick with purpose.

A ball hurtling towards me from on-high raises a new set of fears: bent fingers, sprained wrist, broken nose. No wonder I drop so many. But then, the way to avoid running around like a grasshopper in a plague is to take successful marks.

Many of these guys have played footy for a long time. I watch with admiration and jealously as Steve takes a mark with ease.

As I continue to fumble the leather fish, Steve calls out an instruction for better catching. He demonstrates an open-armed approach, offering an opportunity for the ball. Then closes his arms around the ball, holding it 'like a loaf of bread'. I've never held bread like this before, but figure the ball won't slip when it knows you are looking at it thinking: 'sliced or toast?'

Steve kicks to me. Despite his expertise, the kick is a dud. The ball bounces between us. We shrug and smile. No-one's perfect.

We play with an original kick-to-kick Sherrin — a mud coloured, leather Aussie Rules football, shaped somewhere between a soccer ball and a blimp. It's kicked by foot from player to player. In a good moment, a leg will lift towards the heavens and the ball will torpedo in an arc to the next-in-line. The players give a couple of