Just before half time during the Melbourne v Canterbury semi-final this year, I wrapped my arms around our 16-month-old Zach, and gave him a big squeeze. He was perched on my lap, blissfully oblivious to the insurmountable score-line. “I think this might be the last time we see daddy run around in that purple jersey, bub,” I whispered.
I was emotional after that game, which was a relief because I hadn’t been until then. I was beginning to wonder whether my attempts to stay stoic had accidentally transformed me into some kind of emotionally devoid ice-person.
In reality, I think the stress of preparing for a move to New Zealand and the everyday busyness of life had distracted me. Plus, it’s easy to defer the difficult feelings when you’re not exactly sure when that last siren is going to sound.
Driving home from AAMI Park later that night, though, I found myself feeling less sad than uptight. Something was bothering me and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Eventually, I worked it out. After the game, and in exchanges with well-meaning people, the sentiment seemed to be, ‘Ryan deserved a better farewell than that.’ Which is really sweet and I truly appreciate the kind sentiment.
But here’s the thing: Even if Ryan’s last game had been a record-breaking grand final drubbing of our most hated opponents (and you know who you are), I would still have felt absolutely gutted in that moment after the final siren. Because one way or the other, it literally signals the time to move on.
The week prior, Ryan had been honoured with a lovely video tribute of his time at the Storm and it struck me how young he looked in some of the footage. He was 18 years old when he first came down here. We met through a friend of mine who worked at the club when he was nineteen. Nine out of our first ten dates (probably) were Storm post-match functions. Half the attendees at our wedding were friends we made through this club. I found out I was pregnant with Zach the week of the 2012 grand final and I chose to wait until I finally got a moment alone with him after the win to tell Ryan. So even this most precious moment in our lives is forever and inextricably bound up with Ryan’s achievements at the Storm. Heading to Olympic/AAMI Park every second weekend for the best part of the last decade has altered the fabric of my day-to-day life and the lives of my family.
Whether I like it or not – and admittedly, I occasionally don’t – Melbourne Storm is more than a football club to us. We grew up here.
So for me, even mentioning Ryan’s departure in the same breath as the result of a single game just doesn’t do justice to the enormity of my feelings about moving on. One of those things is kind of a bummer. The other is one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.
If I have one complaint about football, it’s the frequency with which we as participants, commentators, fans and family, get bound up in the minutiae of score-lines and statistics, without pausing to reflect on what we really get out of our emotional investment in the game. I like to think that if Ryan had never won a single game, it still would have been worth it.
So with that in mind, I’m finished being sad now. If I can create one-tenth as many of the amazing memories at the Warriors as I have here, moving on will be the best decision we ever made. I’m excited for it, and I’m ready for it. Bring it on.