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The very definition of madness

Touch of the Fumbles

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They say the manifestation of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like when we front up each fortnight after a euphoric Adelaide victory and expect their good form to carry over into a second successive week. Nope. Never happens.

And yet we listen to those post-match pressers that speak of stringing together four quarters and having 22 solid contributors and allow ourselves to once again believe that the cycle of deprivation will somehow, magically, end.

Human beings in intolerable situations have an amazing capacity to find salvation in fantasy; this probably explains the prevalence of the sex industry in Canberra.

Many years ago now, I lived in the nation’s capital, which is not an experience I recommend to anybody. This was back in the days when the World Wide Web was an aspiration rather than an understatement, and before FoxFooty was a ubiquitous fixture in any half-decent pub, so to watch AFL games you either had to rock up to the Ainslie Footy Club’s front bar each week or know someone with cable TV.

The guy I knew (who coincidentally became my best mate for a few months, but with whom I’ve long since lost touch) happened to be a Fremantle supporter. I was quite magnanimous about this, since back in those days Freo was everybody’s default second favourite team. They were hard to hate; hapless, quirky and a bit charming, and evidently genetically predisposed to snatching annihilation from the jaws of defeat.

Back then, the Dockers were bad in any given year, but this year (2001) they were egregious. They started out promisingly enough – a one point loss to the previous year’s preliminary finalist Carlton. But from there they never got into gear; three and four goal losses gave way to ten to fifteen goal drubbings; it would be almost five months before they actually won a game (against eventual preliminary finalist Hawthorn).

But none of this seemed to faze my Foxtel-toting friend (whose name eludes me now). He was accustomed to his team’s misadventures, and he’d formulated a failsafe strategy to remain upbeat in the face of unrelenting incompetence.

It was so simple, but brilliant: he just gave Freo a 30 point head-start every week. So when you’d sympathetically sidle up and broach the tricky subject of his team’s ugly 19 point loss to Sydney the previous weekend, he’d cheerfully pipe up: “Great, wasn’t it? An eleven point win! Just what we needed.”

Or a week later, when they’d gone down by a typical 38 point margin to Richmond, he’d come in shaking his head: “Can’t believe it, so close. Eight points. What a heartbreaker…”

You get the gist. It’s worth noting that, even allowing for this generous advantage, Freo still would have missed the finals, with 11 wins and 11 losses. And at any rate, they managed to snare just one more bona fide win that year….you guessed it, against the Crows, who basically squandered their season with a 37 point thumping on the eve of the finals (or, as my mate would have it, a 67 point percentage booster).

An unlucky 13 years later, I still have one friend who fervently supports Fremantle. Ironically, the Crows are his default second favourite team. Make of that what you will, but it seems utterly condescending to me. The fact that we now rely on the lofty sympathy of Dockers fans is a sign of just how poorly we’re travelling.

There were a couple of good signs early in Sunday’s game: three first half goals to Charlie Cameron, and…no, that was about it. A recidivist optimist would argue that Jenkins managed to kick a goal, so at least not all four of his possessions were wasted. Jaensch got whacked in the noggin at one point, which might have explained some of his decision-making (eg a 180cm player trying to handball over the head of a 211cm player), except that all the befuddling decisions occurred BEFORE the injury.

And the second half followed the well-worn script of the past month, wherein any time we show a glimpse of promise and appear to drag our season back on track with an against-the-odds victory, we piss it away the following week with a meek capitulation.

The mental fragility of this Crows outfit is probably something more befitting a learned psychological dissertation than this humble blog, but it’s certainly enough to drive its supporters to distraction.

Next week, the hated Power play Sydney and (dodgy knee permitting) He Who Shall Not Be Named. It might be the first ever Port match in which I have conflicted loyalties…

Another writer in another place recently suggested that Crows fans were now jealous of Port Adelaide, which appeared to generate the intended opprobrium, but is also kinda true. Frankly, I’m a bit jealous of any supporter who can front up every week knowing that their team will put in a determined effort and is more likely to win than lose.

Instead, Crows devotees belong among that weary band of supporters that includes North Melbourne and Richmond, who have no idea which manifestation of their club will rock up from one week to the next (or, as happened when they played one another on Sunday, both manifestations rock up at once). It’s not that these teams lack talent, it’s just that they’re collectively psychotic.

That makes this week’s matchup against the Kangaroos at home a tipster’s nightmare. Based on our stuttering but unstintingly consistent form (win-loss-win-loss-win-loss) we should have it in the bag. But based on North’s pedigree (they only lose the ones they’re genuinely expected to win), so should they.

As for that cesspit of maleficence (otherwise known as Port Adelaide), I keep waiting impatiently for them to screw up and — for a brief, shining moment — it looked as though this might be my week. Of course, it was never going to happen.

For about 20 minutes in the second quarter, they had quite literally stopped competing, evidently just for a bit of a laugh, and St Kilda still managed to make excruciating work of getting the ball into the hands of anyone with half a chance of scoring. After this tentative, tenuous approach had yielded two goals, enough to bring the visitors level, Port simply remembered “Oh yeah, we’re supposed to be playing some kind of competitive sport here” and nonchalantly slotted three goals in time on. Bang. Bang. Bang. Game over.

Next week, the hated Power play Sydney and (dodgy knee permitting) He Who Shall Not Be Named. It might be the first ever Port match in which I have conflicted loyalties…

(Yes, all you Port devotees, that is all I have to say about your team this week. You are welcome to vent your spleen in the space below, as long as you understand that your tears are like sweet wine to my lips and your whinging is like glorious music to my ears.)

Since Adelaide played St Kilda in the ’97 Grand Final we’ve lost four preliminary finals and blown two further finals by less than a kick. It’s tempting to think we’ve just been supremely unlucky, but there’s always someone worse off.

The Saints themselves have won a wooden spoon and had a glut of bottom four finishes. They’ve also played in three further Grand Finals for a draw and two losses and lost three prelims, one by a mere whisker.

Over the same period, our rivals this week, Freo (not counting the five goal tolerance) have had six bottom four finishes including one wooden spoon, have suffered more earnest whippings than a curious customer in a Canberra call-house and have lost a preliminary final and a Grand Final.

That’s heartbreak; the kind of heartbreak that makes otherwise sane adults invent indulgent fantasies wherein their side is 30 points a week better off than they actually are.

So while, for now, we’re justifiably bemoaning throwing our lot in with this monumentally frustrating Crows outfit, it’s worth remembering the immortal words of Morrissey: “You just haven’t earned it yet, Baby!”

And anyway, there’s always next week.

Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.

On Mondays during the AFL season he can be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell.

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