I’ll sadly never forget heading along to AAMI Stadium – you remember, that place where Adelaide used to win matches sometimes – to see us play the cellar-dwelling Blues.
It was 10 years ago next month. Carlton, languishing in the lower reaches of the ladder, were coming off a 100 point thrashing the previous week, and were duly steamrolled early. With the home side up by almost 30 at the first break, I headed happily to the Goalkickers Bar, earnestly sympathising to myself with a couple of die-hard Blues supporters sitting glumly amid the sea of red, blue and gold.
“You poor, poor bastards,” I magnanimously thought. “Why do you bother?”
Unspoken and rhetorical though my question was, it was soon answered when a second and final quarter Carlton revival culminated in Fev kicking his seventh – and the match’s final – goal, to hand the Blues a stunning victory.
So, you see, we have form on these things.
And even though we bounced back the following week, that match killed off Gary Ayres’s AFL coaching career, setting up the reign of Neil Passmore Craig (whose middle name, incidentally, reflected his coaching philosophy) and two top-two home and away finishes in succession.
It’s funny how sometimes in hindsight these nadir moments can become a critical turning point; a thrashing by Carlton in 2001 provided the spur for Brisbane to turn things around to such a degree that they won that year’s premiership and the two thereafter. And just this past week reflective Port Adelaide types have mused how their catastrophic loss to GWS in 2012 provided the impetus to overhaul their coaching and administrative framework, a move which now sees them annoyingly perched atop the AFL ladder (second by percentage).
Though just what the future benefits might be of Adelaide’s horrible, horrible loss to Melbourne on Saturday remain unclear.
At 3-4 and with most of what’s shaping as a fitful, frustrating season ahead, it’s unlikely to see heads roll, but it surely requires more urgent examination than Brenton Sanderson seemed to suggest post-match. While lamenting the laughable first half, the coach also managed to describe the club’s sort-of fightback as “gallant”, as if they were playing Essendon or West Coast or some other mediocre team that might nonetheless get away with a home ground hijack. Not bloody Melbourne. A team that hasn’t won in Adelaide since 2001 (funnily enough, also a three-point victory over the Crows).
No matter how improved they may be, there is nothing gallant whatsoever about losing to the Demons.
If we were being objective (which we aren’t, of course) we’d acknowledge that in the bigger scheme of things a win for the red and blue was a win for football, or at least would have been had it not been possibly the worst game of football ever played, close finish notwithstanding.
But there are so many dull, predictable games each week, routine 30 to 40 point wins by the obvious favourite; we watch footy for the occasional upsets. Just … y’know … not when it’s our team.
Is there a positive to be found here? Perhaps at last the Crows will dispense with that fun weekly game of “Let’s Give The Crap Team We’re Playing A One-To-Two Quarter Headstart And See If We Can Reel Them In” (which they invariably can’t).
Despite Crows supporters’ palpable and unrelenting dissatisfaction with the club’s administration, it will be Sanderson who is ultimately made the fall guy, which is unfair given he reasonably thought he was heading into a club with a healthy list and a full complement of draft selections. But that is another year’s (and perhaps another coach’s) problem.
For now, the team – on paper – still looks fairly solid. Indeed, a week ago it was hard to tell who would make way for the likes of Walker, Douglas, Crouch, Otten, Rutten, and later Van Berlo and Henderson, let alone the ilk of Porplyzia, McKernan and Brodie Martin, who must despair at their prospects of a recall. Now, at least, it’s somewhat clearer.
Grigg looks likely, while also looking a likely player, and Hartigan, Shaw and Brown have a way to go. Reilly still has the familiar capacity to frustrate and, after being feted in the media for his career-best season, the undeniably improved Mackay continues to make the odd bewildering decision. But as probably the side’s only natural outside midfield runner, he’s not easily dispensed with; he has pace, where pace is sorely lacking. (By the by, Jared Polec, the skilled, quick, midfield linkman Port Adelaide won over last year while Sanderson was attending a Leadership Course in Europe, was best on ground for the Power on Saturday, with 30 touches and three goals.)
But Adelaide’s trouble seems less personnel than perspective; the archetypal downhill skiers, they play like world-beaters when lesser teams quickly capitulate, but struggle under pressure. If morale is down, it is perhaps because the club shopped a player (to Melbourne, no less) popular among the team and its supporters (which was necessary) and then seemingly tried to shop almost everyone else not nailed down in its draft-stricken panic (which was not).
The problem is clubs like Adelaide never really bottom out. Unless we can beat Collingwood on Thursday week (which seems astronomically unlikely) and then go on with it (which seems even less likely) we’ll just carry on, winning intermittent games and occasionally leaning half-heartedly on Sando’s famous panic button, amounting to little but a beige, mid-table semi-respectable football side. Which is why, as I watched those frustrating and frustrated supporters streaming out of Adelaide Oval on Saturday night with five minutes left on the clock – as they do week after week, regardless of the scoreline – I stifled my usual outrage.
Instead, I found myself recalling that bleak June afternoon in 2004, and thinking with sad sympathy: “You poor, poor bastards; why do you bother?”
Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.
On Mondays during the AFL season he will be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell.
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