U24's Tuesdays: Gracias, Amigos

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Our final game at Worlds ended, as most games do, with a throw and a catch. Goannas players rushed onto the field together, as we had at the end of every point since New Zealand Nationals. High-fives became hugs; we laughed and cried, and in between stood, trying to take it all in.

The game had been one of our best. As a whole, it was a wonderfully fitting climax to our campaign. The game before us went overtime, forcing us onto a nearby training field for our warmup. We were excited for the game and made sure that everyone sharing the training field with us knew it.

We walked together to the game field – a big pack of green and gold Goannas. We yelled, cheered and chanted at the top of our lungs every step of the way, and players and spectators on the fields we passed turned away from their games to watch us go by. The Colombians in front of us were trying to sing and walk in time, but couldn’t make themselves heard through our noise. We were having the time of our lives, and the game hadn’t even started yet.

Twenty-five points later, it was finished. It had been relentlessly tight in the first half, with both teams scoring breaks. We squeezed harder in the second half, and made sure they felt the full weight of our accumulated pressure – offensive and defensive. We consolidated our lead with several more breaks, and then stretched it further – throw by throw, goal by goal, break by break, for the rest of the game. Final score, 15-10 to Australia. Goannas 5th.

The Colombian team was emotive and energetic, and harnessed their passion to fuel their play. The honesty and intensity with which they showed their emotions during the game was novel to us, and continued after the match. They had invested deeply in the game and were bitterly disappointed to have lost. In the minutes after the game’s end, both teams let the moment roll over them. The culmination of our Worlds campaign, and the end of our chance to define the 2019 Goannas.

The Colombians took several minutes before they were ready for the spirit circle. We could see them grappling with the game’s emotional fallout. When they opened their huddle to admit us, they were singing softly: ‘graçias, amigos.’ Thank you, friends. Their captain explained: this was thanks for how we had played the game. The Colombian players sat up as he went on; many of them wet-faced, some crying openly.

The game had been hard. Both teams had fought tooth and nail for every possession and every point. Play had been athletic and aggressive. The lead had changed more than once, and both teams had wanted to win very badly. The spirit had been very good too; in particular, players were willing to listen to and trust the perspectives of the opposition. They were thanking us for the respect we had shown them throughout the game, not just in discussions, but in the intensity with which we had played.

Games like these happen at almost every level of the sport. Far from being unique to Worlds, it is possible that these games are perhaps even less common at representative levels. But it felt even more significant because this final game had been played absolutely on our terms. We and our opponents had both relished the contest throughout the game, and had not compromised in our standards, style, or integrity. We were grateful to one another because we understood that the way in which the game was played was as important to both teams as the final result.

Sitting on the grass in a circle with a group of young men from Colombia and Australia was the best moment of my Worlds campaign. The match had exemplified all of the reasons I play ultimate. To have this love of the sport vindicated at the highest level I had ever played was as gratifying as it was reassuring. Spirit – our own and our opponents’ – had been a casualty in past games during the week. Against this team, the result of competitive play and sportsmanship was, for us, a strong win against a good side, in an important match.

To the Colombian team, and to the 2019 Goannas – thank you, friends, for the best possible close to our campaign.