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An Easter miracle

Touch of the Fumbles

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This is the stuff of good weekends.

Feet up with a coffee under an incessant gas heater watching the rain sheet down outside, winding back the clocks for an extra hour’s kip (those of us, at least, who aren’t doomed to be woken instead at 5am by toddlers yet to appreciate the joy of sleeping in), and trooping along to a raucous Adelaide Oval to watch your team finally live up to – nay, wildly exceed – expectations.

Yep, the footy is back.

Don’t ya just love it?

Well, unless you support North Melbourne, St Kilda, Carlton, Geelong, Gold Coast, Brisbane or West Coast, of course.

I’ll exempt Essendon because their supporters are surely so doggedly accustomed to pain and disappointment by now that Saturday’s spectacular collapse would have been met with little more than a raised eyebrow and a wry nod of the head.

And then there’s Port Adelaide.

Ah yes, alas, poor Power. A team of young guns undone by the league’s oldest list, and by the deadly accuracy and clutch goal-kicking of Pav, who has rarely been synonymous with either deadly accuracy or clutch goal-kicking.

They will improve, of course, but for now let us simply enjoy the fruits of their ill-fated trip to Perth –  their third match-up against Freo there in their past five games – as proof that evil doesn’t necessarily prevail in this world and that bad things can happen to truly horrible teams.

For, in keeping with the theme of the Easter weekend, the forces of light and righteousness triumphed over darkness and there was much rejoicing. I don’t want to labour this religious analogy too much, but suffice it to say we may have witnessed the resurrection of the Adelaide Football Club on Sunday, as it ascended to its rightful place on football’s highest throne.

That’s right: it may be only Round One, but the Crows are atop the AFL ladder, and that’s cause for some muted celebration.

It has, after all, been three years since we had a first round win, and that was against a still-fledgling Gold Coast, so it hardly counted.

Beating (annihilating, in fact) last year’s preliminary finalist is a pretty solid way to kick off season 2015.

I’ve nothing against Kurt Tippett’s brother Joel per se, but there was some small sense of karmic retribution in the fact he was so dominated by the rampaging Taylor Walker that he was red-vested with nothing but a solitary disposal to his much-maligned name. In the end, the Kangaroos were so befuddled they stopped trying to win the ball and simply made off with Tex’s guernsey instead, a strange tactic that did nothing to quell the captain’s match-winning zeal.

Taylor Walker and Eddie Betts celebrate their joint 10-goal haul at the end of the game. Photo: Michael Errey/InDaily

Taylor Walker and Eddie Betts celebrate their joint 10-goal haul at the end of the game. Photo: Michael Errey/InDaily

It means little in the scheme of things, of course. St Kilda won their first two games last year before claiming the wooden spoon, while Port dropped their first two twice in a couple of their early 2000s minor premiership seasons (neither time, amusingly, going on to make a Grand Final). So, much as I’d like to think this week’s ladder is a portent of things to come, I’m pretty sure neither Melbourne nor Richmond will be rubbing shoulders in the top four comes season’s end, nor that GWS and the Western Bulldogs will round out the eight.

Sydney started slowly last year, and indeed for much of Saturday’s game looked nothing like the team that made last year’s Grand Final and every bit like the team that actually played in last year’s Grand Final.

The other, much worse, Tippett was having an absolute Tippett of a game, turning back the clock with a brace of sprayed sitters that at least gave Sydney supporters some insight into why Adelaide fans always found him so profoundly frustrating. He improved, sadly, as did the Swans.

Point being, round one form can be deceptive. Or in our case last year, round 9, 11, 13, 15, 18 and 20 form.

Can we banish the Yoyo Crows this year? The genius of Phil Walsh was evident even prior to Round One, in that piece penned for the Geelong Advertiser by Sando the Snake-Oil Salesman (he of the “We’ve just had our hottest Adelaide summer since 1997 – hint, hint”, puh-lease!), in which he effectively conceded he’d lost the Crows coaching gig because he hadn’t had enough Man Conversations.

… let’s just decide right now that this will be the one football forum in Adelaide that doesn’t feel the need to incessantly speculate on Paddy’s future. Well, maybe just a bit.

I’ll admit in my least cynical moments I’ve had wistful visions of Walsh as a Blight-like Messiah, leading a non-finalist to a premiership within 12 months, but the new coach himself insists: “I’m not Mandrake!”

By which he means he’s no magician. Either that, or he just really likes putting the word “Man” in front of things.

At any rate, the magic wore thin briefly mid-game. When North kicked the last goal before half-time Walsh was a bit Mannoyed. By the time they’d piled on six in a row midway through the third he was downright Mangry.

Walsh is in his coaching honeymoon, which means manoeuvres such as throwing Eddie Betts into the midfield are hailed as strokes of genius, even though the Snake-Oil Salesman used to do it regularly when opposition teams got a run-on (which merely serves to emphasise our lack of leg-speed in the engine-room).

It’s the prerogative of new coaches to be lauded for doing exactly the same things that were lambasted when their predecessor did it. T’was ever thus. Poor old Gary Ayres used to cop the opprobrium of critics for playing Andrew McLeod in defence, but when Neil Craig followed suit it was celebrated as a tactical masterstroke that delivered us some apparently-hitherto-lacking defensive run.

Still, what goes around comes around. Once the gloss had worn off Craig was pilloried for stubbornly insisting on playing Dangerfield up forward; now the same tactic is hailed for bamboozling opponents with our newfound flexibility.

Where's Fumbles? A happy Crows crowd during Sunday's game, including your columnist. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

Where’s Fumbles? A happy Crows crowd during Sunday’s game, including your columnist. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

And on the subject, let’s just get one thing out the way from the outset: let’s just decide right now that this will be the one football forum in Adelaide that doesn’t feel the need to incessantly speculate on Paddy’s future. Well, maybe just a bit.

But it must be said, Geelong losing badly to a team it’s had a recent aversion to losing against is unambiguously a Good Thing. From a Keeping Paddy At Adelaide point of view.

It also ensured that the Scott family’s Easter reunion was officially the Unhappiest Place on Earth (Brad, gloriously, paid incidental homage to your decreasingly-humble correspondent, bemoaning that his charges “fumbled the ball like I haven’t seen us fumble in my time as coach”).

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely respect a team that can hold a pointless grudge for as long at the Cats have against Hawthorn. Anyone who persevered with the Fumbles throughout last year will know I’m all about pointless grudges.

They’ll also be aware that over almost two decades of the Crows being Not Quite Good Enough we’ve cultivated a proudly despondent tone here at Fumbleland, a tone I fear will be difficult to maintain if the Phil Walsh reign continues in this vein.

But this is a good problem to have.

If you think it’s too early to start talking about messianic premierships after one round, you haven’t been paying attention. As of September this year there will be people of legal drinking age who were not alive to see our first flag; people for whom Nigel Smart is merely a slightly gaffe-prone football administrator, rather than a premiership defender who would (literally) walk over hot coals for his team.

So even if come season’s end the likes of Dangerfield, Sloane and Lyons all ‘fly as one’ (sorry) back to Victoria, it would be worth it if the Adelaide Football Club’s 25th season could yield that elusive third premiership.

Sloane has helpfully pointed out that playing Collingwood in Melbourne this week will be “a massive test for us early in the season”. You don’t say.

My fervent hope is, of course, for a nailbiting win against the Pies followed by a glorious Port loss to Sydney at home; but in the meantime, amidst the heady euphoria of Round One I’m channeling Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisited, and feeling so drugged that I’ve begun to believe that the whole of Sunday was a dream.

Please don’t wake me up.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, usually published on a Monday during the AFL season. For new readers – yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below. 

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