The End of a Mighty Era

Filed in From The Couch, NRL, Other by on December 11, 2010

It would have been a little over five years back and I was playing tennis at the Buffalo Club with Fisky when the call came through. Fisky, known in some circles as Mr Rugby and in more excitable scenes as Frank the Tank, was a friend and colleague from our days at the old Sports Acumen together and we weren’t opposed to a spot of midweek tennis together at the Buffalo Club. We worked strange hours and liked to reserve the weekends for heavy bouts of drinking and gambling so we usually pulled out the Pat Cash headbands and the Monica Seles grunts on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. At the change of ends I would knock down a cigarette and some water and would then proceed to spray backhands everywhere including the weird house across the road where the balls were often abandoned. It wasn’t a pretty sight, both the house and the backhand.

That is all by the by, however, and is nothing more than a small alleyway off Nostalgia Road.

More important than my ability to play tennis or the habits of Fisky and myself circa late 2005, however, is the fact that The Call came through. It was Matt Elliott, one half of Punting Ace. We chatted a while and talked sport and business and probably whores and horses, to borrow, perhaps for the last of many times at Punting Ace, a line from Shane MacGowan. We seemed to see eye-to-eye on many matters and we both drew many life lessons from the words of Hunter S. Thompson and soon enough a deal had been reached where I would contribute regularly to the Punting Ace website and in return my itinerant and nocturnal lifestyle that often involved all night benders at hotel bars, wild card games in non-descript industrial estates and a refusal to wake up anytime before midday to continue unabated.

It was the perfect arrangement and one that was filled with many highs and few lows over the next five years.

It wasn’t long before I met Matt and Jess in person. At the time, Jess seemed like a civilised adult, preferring long distance early morning runs to an all night bender strung up at a bar talking bollocks and chain smoking cigarettes and knocking down shot after shot of Irish whiskey. That kind of behaviour was left to Matt and myself and the soundtrack was usually “Mr Jones” after Matt bribed whoever was spinning the discs to put on his favourite tune. “Mr Jones and me stumbling through the barrio, yeah we stare at the beautiful women…” There have been a good number of bars along the east coast where that line has been belted out by the two of us.

It soon became apparent that this civilised version was anything but the real Kirley though. The real Kirley, who for a period was known as ‘Wedding Kirley’, turned out to be quite good company for a night on the drink once this dedication to athletics and the like took a back seat. I know few men as skilled with winning the affections of attractive young women and there are few with his stamina for drinking. Kirley always kept it legal but he was quite often the last man standing, happy to recommend breakfast as you wander out of a King Street club with the sun rising or prepared to offer an 8am nightcap back at his hotel room.

There were plenty of good nights out in Melbourne and Brisbane and Sydney and Canberra and various locales on the Sunshine Coast. Kirley and Elliott knew more than a little about a good time. They still do to be perfectly honest. There is nothing quite like “business networking” with these two and boy could they throw a party.

There was the night of the first Punting Ace Christmas Party in Brisbane. The team had spent much of the day at Doomben and the champagne opened mid-morning in the limousine on the way to the track. It was a long day. The night, however, finished much earlier, at least for your author. We had all adjourned to the Treasury Casino, decked out to the nines and now onto the red wine. Kirley and I absconded for a dinner somewhere upstairs as the festivities rolled on. I cannot recall what we ate, where we ate or who we ate with but I recall the dinner quickly ended and a bottle of red was taken past where it should have been. Security was soon hot on our tail as we ran through the upper stories of the Treasury, a sordid modern day Benny Hill pantomime in play. We somehow managed to shake the beasts but that only delayed the inevitable by less than an hour. It wasn’t long before the red was being downed in the front bar and it was only minutes later that Kirley had covered me in much of it. My white shirt was now merlot red and conspicuousness was not my friend. I soon got the tap on the shoulder from a large Samoan prone to conservatism in the word shortage department and was told it was time to leave. I tried an explanation but it was too late by that stage. I was on the march and Kirley was making an even bigger scene at the bar. When I got back to my hotel room I soon realised my bag was locked in Kirley’s and come morning the only way to his room was via the lobby of The Oaks where, covered in wine and still in the suit, I received any number of strange looks from hotel employees, fellow Christmas party revellers and young families on their way to the continental breakfast.

Then there was the Christmas gathering last year. That was a far tamer and more civilised event. That was until a prominent forum members failed to put on the correct trifecta for the punters club and cost the team plenty. All hell broke loose then. Fisky wouldn’t let it go and neither would I. And why should we? We were in the right and there is nothing like some good-humoured razzling over Japanese and red wine and saki to excite a party.

Neither Christmas party held a candle to the week we all had down in Melbourne when our poker playing friends from Vegas made it out the first time around though. It was a week that will never be forgotten by anyone involved. Double K, Bobby Dazzler and the Rho Boat were in town for the Aussie Millions and it was a wild week that ended with the Rho Boat running second and winning quite the sum. We floated high for the rest of the night and the remainder of the morning; high on life and whatever else we could get our hands on. The champagne flowed freely in our cordoned off area until the bar shut, heading to whatever was open until the sun was blazing and the limits of consumption had been reached.

The times at Punting Ace, they have been good.

On the writing side of things, times have been just as interesting. Slamming Ian Thorpe seemed to create somewhat of a divide at Punting Ace with the bushfire lasting well over a week and many never forgiving me for taking the less trodden path of calling Thorpe selfish, stupid and unpatriotic. A piece I wrote on the legendary Matthew Richardson received some much appreciated praise in The Age and was one of the highlights of my Punting Ace days and a personal favourite piece of mine. A light hearted piece on Steve Robilliard was heartily read by the man himself who got in touch sometime later.

And then there was the piece written late last year on potential match fixing in rugby league. A barrage of lawyers, a general misunderstanding, emails from mainstream journalists, strange anonymous midnight phone calls and a public apology led to some restless nights and plenty of angst. We can all look back and laugh now but at the time the hammer appeared to be coming down rather heavily and it appeared as if my skull was firmly underneath it.

On a more serious note, I want to thank Matt and Jess for the opportunity to write. They took a risk on some fool with a literary dream five years back and I hope I went some of the way to repay their faith. They have supported me at every opportunity, encouraging me, backing me, defending me, helping me. In the process we have all become close friends and it is that friendship that will kick on long after the last of the dirt has been piled on the Punting Ace grave. Matt and Jess have often had more faith in my abilities than I have had and that support has allowed me to carve out a life as a sportswriter that I could never have imagined. It is rare that you get to work for and with such wonderful folks. So thanks Matt and Jess for giving me not only the opportunity to write for you but the opportunity to write for a living. Even more thanks for being such outstanding gentlemen and such brilliant company.

There are many other people I would like to thank who have supported me throughout my time at Punting Ace and within whom I wouldn’t be where I am today without. There is my mum and dad, who never questioned my decision to become a sportswriter after four years of university where they, most likely, assumed I was heading for a more recognised and financially rewarding career. The rest of my family read me regularly and always provided me with plenty of material. My partner Louise has always been in my corner and despite a general lack of interest in sport has always provided me with plenty of sound advice and unwavering encouragement. The likes of Kendall, Boss, Cliffo, Flash, Parko, Dougie, Flanners, Vickers, Bommy, Srem, Fisky, Jamo, Robbo, Christine and Mik, along with many others who I apologise for forgetting, have always been there with ideas, criticism and a beer when required. To every flatmate I have ever had, apologies for being around constantly, watching sport and spreading notes and books and the like throughout “the office”. Punting Ace has allowed me to work from home and while that has been just fine with me it has surely been a burden to those around me at times. A thanks to Sue Elliott, who has in recent years proofed and uploaded my word to the Punting Ace site and does so in the most delightful and pleasant of manners.

I’d also like to thank everyone who read “Making The Nut” and “From The Couch” over the last five-plus years. Judging from the steady flow of emails I received, there were plenty of you. There was plenty of love and plenty of hate but that came with the territory. I always appreciated those at Punting Ace who deigned to read my words and those who logged on just to see what I had to say and I was always moved that people would take the time out to write. I have had a blast. I would never have had such a wonderful job if it wasn’t for so many people seeing what I had to say on everything from rugby league and politics to snooker and facial hair.

While Punting Ace will be shutting down, Making The Nut and From The Couch will live on. The archives of both will be stored on my new website to be launched over the coming weeks (URL will be notified on Punting Ace), while both articles will continue on. Making The Nut will take a small hiatus but will return early December when the site is up and firing while From The Couch will be back for the 2011 NRL season where the Willie M Medal will once again be the highlight. Anybody interested in joining the mailing list for the new site and to keep up to date with where I’m writing should email me at

It is personally very sad for me that Punting Ace is no more. It has been my life for five years, giving me an identity and a purpose and an opportunity that so very few receive. I may be biased but I can think of few better sites out there. The liberal thinking and upstanding nature of the owners meant that what was offered was always of a high quality and broad scope.

I have never been good at endings so I’m going to leave to leave you with the final lines of The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite and most worn out novels.
“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning –
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Like Gatsby, I believe in the orgiastic future. We all do I suppose. We have no choice.

So that is it I guess. Farwell Punting Ace. I bought the ticket and I took the ride. And it is a ride I would trade for no other.


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