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Touch Of The Fumbles: Standing on the shoulders of Giants

Football

Eddie was everywhere. Eddie was electric. And as such Tom Richardson has set aside his usual gripes about his team's selections, wayward kicking and final quarter fadeouts, to revel in the antics of arguably the Crows' best recruit of the century.

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So, that was pretty good.

Indeed, it was one of those weekends where even Port winning had a semblance of consolation about it, given the failure of Melbourne’s top end-draft talent in the nation’s top end ensured four points plus percentage continues to separate the eighth-placed Crows from the chasing pack.

And it was a weekend in which the upstarts got their comeuppance, the surging threat of the Demons and the Giants – with their collective armoury of blossoming high draft picks – temporarily extinguished.

The week’s headlines had been dominated by Port, with defender Tom Jonas rubbed out for six weeks after a tribunal argument so unconvincing he would have done better to just rock up and recite the lyrics to Weezer’s My Name Is Jonas (at least the song’s title, unlike the rest of his testimony, would have held up to independent scrutiny).

But Port, and its oenophile five-goal forward Charlie Dixon, continued to bamboozle the pundits, keeping a lacklustre Demons at bay all afternoon in a contest so ultimately one-sided that even the television broadcaster decided to switch over to the concurrent Hawthorn-Lions clash for a few seconds mid-game.

Charlie Dixon of the Port Adelaide Power takes a mark during their Round 10 game against the Melbourne Demons at Tio Traeger Park in Alice Springs, Saturday, May 28, 2016. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

My advice: don’t annoy Charlie Dixon. Photo: Dan Peled, AAP.

But after it all, there was only one forward-line recruit dominating the nation’s footballing discourse, one word on everyone’s lips…

Eddie.

Eddie was everywhere during the week, pumping up indigenous round the way his on-field antics pump up the Adelaide Oval crowd, as he reflected on his life and career in a series of media set-pieces.

But he saved his best work for game-day, and specifically for a little purple patch of brilliance in the match-defining third quarter.

Eddie was electric.

Eddie Betts of the Crows waves to the crowd after his team defeated the Giants during the Round ten AFL match between the Adelaide Crows and the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Saturday, May 28, 2016 (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Eddie Betts leads the victorious Crows from the field. Photo: Ben Macmahon, AAP.

The Eddie Betts Show left GWS – the form side of the competition before the weekend – awestruck in its wake. I’ll concede I gave us no hope of overpowering them, such was their midfield pace and dominance. But, like everyone else, ’twas as if the Giants just stopped to watch the Port Lincoln boy in full flamboyant flight.

There were other subplots, of course. Taylor Walker’s first quarter was like a lyric the Kings of Leon would have written if they followed the AFL: “This Tex is on fire.”

It’s funny to think that five years ago everyone was utterly certain Tex, who couldn’t get a game under Neil Craig, would be lacing up for GWS, then a looming startup franchise. They poached Phil Davis instead, which was annoying – but preferable. Because if Tex had been doing to us what he did to GWS on Saturday night, I’d have been mightily pissed off.

AFL Season 2016, Round 10, Adelaide Crows, GWS

Tex on fire. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Tex aside, the first half was like an unpleasant stroll down memory lane – or, more aptly, some PTSD-induced flashback – for longtime Adelaide supporters, as time and again we wasted opportunities in front of goal.

By the long break, we’d squandered our chances so thoroughly that our 17 scoring shots to 10 had somehow conspired to give us a mere two-point buffer, with GWS seemingly, inexorably closing in.

And then came that third quarter.

It was, apparently, our highest-scoring third term since 2001. And, bizarrely, it corresponded almost exactly to the cadence of that game against Richmond 15 years ago.

I was at the MCG that Friday night, and it remains one of my fonder football memories.

Funny as it may sound given the ensuing decade and a half, the Tigers then loomed as an ominous assignment; they’d won five of their first six games before losing to Essendon the previous week (but this was 2001, when losing to Essendon was pretty much obligatory).

The match was significant for a couple of other things.

It was the second and final game Adam Richardson ever played for the Crows, the hulking full forward sitting out most of the second half after garnering zero kicks and zero handballs in the first (he did, however, helpfully contribute four hitouts).

Richo’s year wasn’t a complete write-off – he served out the season with West Adelaide, where he won his fourth consecutive Ken Farmer Medal.

And at least his complete lack of possessions meant he didn’t contribute to the Crows’ hideous half-time score of five goals and 12 behinds.

Back then, of course, this was a pretty standard conversion rate for Adelaide, who trailed the Tigers by 22 at the main break (this was back in the days when 22 points was considered a reasonably imposing deficit).

And then, from nowhere, came the most amazing third quarter we have ever played (well, in a minor round, at least).

And, like on Saturday, it came in a late flurry. Goodwin bursting from the centre square to kick one on the run. A checkside from Chris Ladhams from a free kick on the boundary. (Ladhams, incidentally, was kind of like a diminutive millennial version of Josh Jenkins, inasmuch as he joined the Crows because he couldn’t get a game with the Bombers).

Brett Burton came of age with five majors for the night.

We kicked nine goals straight to one in that third term – neither side sullied the scoreboard with a behind – to turn a 22 point deficit into a 26 point advantage.

Before, even more bizarrely, returning to our comically capricious ways with a 3.6 final term.

Just as on Saturday last, the highlight reel was dominated by an indigenous star; in 2001, it was Andrew McLeod who set the ‘G alight with 27 disposals and a goal (well, six behinds actually, but same difference, right?)

But this time round, it was Eddie Betts who left the punters shaking their heads in disbelief, as he clasped the guernsey his Aunt Susie had designed for Indigenous Round in impassioned celebration.

AFL Season 2016, Round 10, Adelaide Crows, GWS

“Gimme five!”: Eddie and Tex kicked ten between them on Saturday. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

True enough, the subsequent last quarter fadeout was disconcerting.

With the AFL’s enterprise bargaining deal on the table amid suggestions of player strikes, I have it on good authority Crows players are happy to forego any extra payments as long as they can formalise the condition that they don’t have to turn up for one full quarter per game, to be determined at their discretion on a week-to-week basis.

Sounds fair.

But I was critical last week after a 75-point victory. I reckon this week I should probably just shut up and take the win.

Particularly since I was one of the many who was sceptical about us picking up Eddie Betts in the first place.

Our inherent aversion to change is as much a part of the Adelaide psyche as shouting ‘BALL’ during any given scrum or demanding the proponents of a zone defence ‘man up’

A four-year deal for an almost-27-year-old seemed whimsical, the $500,000 a year price-tag for a small goalsneak far-fetched (conveniently forgetting that we had to give up precisely nothing by way of a trade). Moreover, Betts appeared on the wane having kicked a mere 27 goals from 18 games for the Blues in 2013.

That was a year, incidentally, when the Crows’ top goal-scorer was Tom Lynch, with a whopping 33 – ten of which he kicked in a single game against the fledgling GWS.

And yet, somehow, we were collectively unconvinced about recruiting a guy who had averaged 36 goals a season over nine years – and whose scoring total had increased for each of his first seven years in the competition.

Scepticism, of course, is the South Australian condition.

There’s a reason we’ve adopted the Sturt Desert Pea as our floral emblem; we similarly refuse to adapt to changed circumstances unless the conditions meet our strict requirements.

Our inherent aversion to change is as much a part of the Adelaide psyche as shouting “BALL” during any given scrum or demanding the proponents of a zone defence “man up”.

But fortunately, the detractors (myself included) did not dissuade Eddie from returning to his home state, and playing the best and most consistent football of his career – and becoming, indeed, the best forward pocket player ever to lace up his boots for the Adelaide Football Club (Chris Ladhams notwithstanding).

(By the way, if you’re wondering about the apparent hypocrisy of the fact I celebrate Betts leaving Carlton to come to Adelaide via free agency while continually lambasting Paddy Dangerfield for dudding the Crows to head to Geelong (two losses on the trot, but who’s counting?) – well spotted. It is complete hypocrisy. I never claimed otherwise.)

AFL Season 2016, Round 10, Adelaide Crows, GWS

“Eeeeeeee-ddie!” Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Yes, there is still much to ponder about where we stand in this 2016 season. For how long will Milera’s one brilliant moment per game sustain his place in the side? What became of those likely lads the Crouches?

We sit alone in eighth spot, four points below the glut of contenders and four points above the also-rans – and not quite certain with which group we belong.

But this week isn’t the time for such ruminations.

Despite our eternal frustrations with our club’s capricious team selections, wayward kicking and final quarter fadeouts, once in a while a player comes along whose contribution transcends the normal discourse of form, structure and role; a player who is just a genuine joy to watch.

In 2001, Andrew McLeod was such a player. At his best, Tony Modra was such a player.

And the man who inherited Troy Bond and Graham Johncock’s Number 18 guernsey – and who this week had it decorated in the healing hues of his native heritage – is such a player.

So for now, this week, after another likely Goal of the Year in Indigenous Round – a fixture he ranks on par with a Grand Final in terms of personal significance – all we can do is sit back, shake our heads in dumbstruck wonder and thank the Footy Gods for the great and continuing gift that is Eddie Betts.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.

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