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I blame the scapegoats

Touch of the Fumbles

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I blame the heat. And the rotations.

Actually, it has been unseasonably mild in Adelaide this week; that can’t have helped either.

And come to think of it, Saturday night’s freezing cold and rain weren’t particularly conducive to our game plan, which requires very specific meteorological and topographic conditions; we probably shouldn’t be scheduling matches in South Australia in mid-August anyway. The AFL really ought to look at that.

And couldn’t the Stadium Management Authority have thought to close the Adelaide Oval roof? It was a bit nippy out, if they hadn’t noticed.

It did seem an odd gambit for Brenton Sanderson to so publicly bang on about the fixture that saw his unfortunate team forced (FORCED, the poor dears) to play a game of football in pleasant Autumnal conditions last week, particularly since they happened to win said game by 105 points. It was as if he’d decided Brad Scott’s combination of middling results and sulky demeanour was so endearing it deserved to be emulated.

True, the Fumbles similarly suggested this was a danger game because of last week’s relative heat, limited bench and six-day turnaround, but it’s the Fumbles’ prerogative to make excuses for this perpetually frustrating team. I’m not sure having the coach do it – and do it a week before they’ve actually played – is really a winning strategy. I can only imagine it was some bizarre attempt at reverse psychology, given that every time we front up for a must-win home game and Sando bangs on about how we have to be switched on and running full-tilt from the get-go, we tend to underwhelm.

So instead, he effectively propagated the notion that the team had every right to be flat, listless and weary, hoping it might catch the in-form Tigers napping. It didn’t; they’re too doggedly determined to reclaim their cherished ninth place finish. And we underwhelmed regardless. Indeed, we are so underwhelming that even when the coach warns we’ll be underwhelming we still manage to underwhelm!

The good news is this means we’ll certainly beat North Melbourne in Hobart next round; the bad news is we’ll then blow it at home against the wooden-spoon-bound Saints the following week.

A crowd of 50,459 braved the conditions – and the dreaded six-day break – to watch their team concede the first two goals in as many minutes, fall four goals down shortly before the final change, surge back to take the lead, only to meekly surrender it again.

Strangely, the only spare seats in the house these days appear to be a bank alongside the Fumbles and his assorted pisshead cohorts. Even Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy muppets who’ve sat behind us throughout the season disdainfully narrating the home side’s ineptitude (even during the occasional wins), appear to have given up for 2014, handing their seats to their respective progeny, who ironically turned out to be the friendliest, most laid-back people on the planet. But the other 50,457 people in attendance weren’t so friendly towards the home side by the final siren; the only possible consolation is that we aren’t Demons supporters.

It was nothing we could help though, you understand. It was Loss Week, and Loss Week doesn’t discriminate. The Yoyo Crows have admirably managed to reassert their perpetual inconsistency, to the point that we are now more frustratingly schizophrenic than Richmond; quite some achievement!
The good news is this means we’ll certainly beat North Melbourne in Hobart next round; the bad news is we’ll then blow it at home against the wooden-spoon-bound Saints the following week.

Adding insult to the injury is that unflappable air Sando brings into the post-match presser. “We need to get better at those close games,” he muses airily. You don’t say, Sherlock!

He’s starting to get as annoying as Neil Craig, who could emerge from a heartbreaking preliminary final loss to pronounce that the boys really learnt something about finals-like pressure that would stand them in good stead. That’s great, Neil, after all finals are really just glorified practice matches, aren’t they?

What might be cause for some concern though, is the fact that whatever Sanderson’s approach, the players don’t seem to pay him much attention. He has, for instance, been lamenting our tackle count for three years now, and yet we’re still one of the poorest-tackling teams in the league, laying an average 63.2 a game. (Unsurprisingly, Sydney stick the most (72.8) while, interestingly, Hawthorn (61.2) average the least.)

Last year the coach made it abundantly clear he wanted to see more tackles, and yet the only player who paid him any heed was Ricky Henderson, and even he seemed to misunderstand what was being asked.

On Saturday night, we did at least see more tackles on the field than in the change-rooms at half-time, but we still managed to let Brandon Ellis, the second-biggest accumulator of uncontested possessions in the league, accumulate an inordinate amount of uncontested possessions (and worryingly, an even more inordinate amount of contested ones!). Here’s a thought, guys: why not put a tag on him?

But evidently Sando was far too engrossed in the riveting theatre of the game for such considerations.

“I was on the edge of my seat, it was a real nail-biter,” he reflected later, sounding less like the coach of a side that had just blown its best chance to consolidate a finals berth than a casual observer who merely hoped football was the winner.

He’s right, though; our ability to blow the close games can be the difference between us and, say, Geelong (well, besides them being really good and us being really average).

I am comforted by the memory that Brisbane had the ultimate yo-yo year in 2000, just before launching an incredible run that yielded three successive premierships. In that season, the Lions had a bewildering 12-week stint during which they were unable to string together consecutive wins; they finally managed to break their duck, naturally enough, against Adelaide at AAMI Stadium.

It’s sort of nice to console oneself with the notion that big things might lie in wait for this Crows side in coming seasons, given they seem chronically unable to match their “on-paper” potential. In the meantime, maybe they can ask Port Adelaide for some tips on this “wet-weather football” lark. Against the Suns, the Power finally worked out (for the most part) that a regular winter weather event known colloquially as “rain” causes the ball to become relatively heavy and slippery, which requires a corresponding tactical adjustment.

The driving downpour made for tough going, with both sides desperate for a scrappy win. Fortunately such dour spectacles will be less common once the AFL bans Saturday afternoon Queensland matches in August.

Strangely though, Ken Hinkley chose not to bemoan the fixturing oversight, instead describing the conditions as “absolutely perfect”.

“It’s what you want the game to be … tough and hard, and you’ve got no choice in those conditions but to play that way,” he said, in his least Brad Scott-like manner.

The Lions, too, managed to shake off the rigours of playing in the Sunshine State and the six-day break to smash the undermanned Collingwood, whom the Football Gods have evidently decreed won’t be playing finals this year.

Bizarrely, though, the Crows remain in contention, a few results going our way to leave us clinging undeservedly to eighth spot.

In the end, it didn’t much matter who won out of West Coast and Essendon, since either would have leapfrogged us; but importantly, the cliffhanger finish ensured the Bombers didn’t significantly enhance their percentage. And Port remain in fifth, which gives rise to the sneaky conspiracy theory that we threw Saturday night’s game in a bid to ensure we play off against the hated cross-town rival.

However, we still have two more games to play first. Win or lose, we’d better get our excuses ready.

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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