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"You won't have Mick to kick around any more..."

Touch of the Fumbles

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We avoided a strange quirk of fate when Carlton was compelled to cut to the chase and sack Mick Malthouse.

The club’s stated preference was to wait until the Round 11 bye and then “conduct a review”, evidently a euphemism for “sack the coach”.

Which would have meant the illustrious career of Mick Malthouse was to come to an end on the back of a game against Adelaide.

A loss, one would hope.

We do a pretty good line in ending coaches’ careers.

Wayne Schimmelbusch’s tenure at the Kangaroos ended (in the pre-season, of all things) after a 183-36 point thrashing by the Crows, while Robert Walls lost the gig at Richmond in 1997 after Adelaide pantsed the Tigers by 137 points.

And ironically, Malcolm Blight’s last game was against the Crows, the 97-point defeat putting paid to his tenure at St Kilda, which meant the club effectively ended his job twice, first by playing very badly and then by playing very well.

So Malthouse would have joined a prestigious list of ex-coaches whose last game was a loss to the Crows, although I’m not sure there isn’t a backhanded insult in there somewhere, as if the boards of these clubs figure there’s no more egregious humiliation than losing to Adelaide.

Anyway, having jumped the gun on that scenario, the Blues have now opened up another, far more worrying one. That Carlton might actually come to play this week.

The “new coach bounce” theory is fairly universally understood, and the Crows are certainly no strangers to it. We came up against Freo (yes, bloody Freo) the week they sacked Chris Connolly in 2007, and they jumped us by four goals at Football Park.

Let’s face it, an injury ravaged Carlton was never going to beat Sydney on Friday at the SCG … but a similarly injury-hit Adelaide at the MCG? That’s a distinct possibility.

We haven’t beaten Carlton for the past two years (indeed, the last time the Crows beat a side coached by Mick Malthouse was a four point win over Collingwood in round one, 2009).

And the losses have been truly horrible moments. I still shudder to think of that April afternoon at the MCG in 2013 when Tex Walker looked briefly like blowing the game open only to blow out his knee instead.

Yes, the Crows acquitted themselves pretty well against the rampaging Dockers in the wet on Saturday night, Freo frustratingly answering that question about whether they can run out close games (as opposed to merely putting opponents to the sword early before putting their feet up) firmly in the affirmative.

So, knowing the Crows, this week’s is just the sort of must-win match we’d usually drop.

Young Power player Karl Amon gets a Gatorade shower after Port's victory against Melbourne. AAP photo

Young Power player Karl Amon gets a traditional sports drink shower after Port’s victory against Melbourne. AAP photo

I’d like to be magnanimous about Carlton. Really, I would. After all, they’ve ended up with Bryce Gibbs and Steven Trigg, while we’ve got Sam Jacobs and Eddie Betts, so they have rather more reason to feel hard done by.

Gibbs, incidentally, has a back injury and may not play this week, but either way will have his usual influence.

But Malthouse, being the lovable guy that he is, generously injected some extra spice into the affair by briefly drawing the Crows into Carlton’s travails. I half expected him to do a Richard Nixon, and tell the baying media pack that they won’t have Mick Malthouse to kick around any more.

But while Nixon was haunted by the realisation he would never be clutched to the public’s proverbial bosom, Malthouse is content to be disliked. Indeed, he seems to relish it.

He certainly didn’t win a lot of hearts among Adelaide supporters, publicly implying that Betts, unquestionably the best thing about our season thus far, was actually this year’s version of Kurt Bloody Tippett, at least until it was pointed out that Carlton’s right of veto over the restricted free agent’s contract made it effectively impossible for him to have been “stitched up” 18 months early. One might well argue that this makes the whole free agency system somewhat farcical, as indeed it is, but just because the rules are flawed doesn’t mean the Adelaide Football Club broke them.

Free agency, by definition, tarnishes the faux-romance of Australian Rules football, a nominally community-based club competition wherein supporters like to think of players as standard-bearers for not just their own state or city, but for all its attendant hopes and dreams as well, rather than merely as professional sportsmen trying to get the best out of their brief careers.

While the Adelaide crowd’s love affair with Betts has even spawned unofficial naming rights for the north-east pocket of Adelaide Oval, free agency is a bit like a second marriage. No matter how much passion and intimacy there is, there will always be that pre-history with another; they will never be entirely yours. Does this matter?

It didn’t for Darren Jarman. And, I suspect, Hawks supporters have had no trouble embracing Norm Smith medallist Brian Lake as one of their own, even though his tenure at Hawthorn is to his football career what stopping off at Changi airport for a bit of duty-free shopping is to a European holiday.

In other words, if it yields a premiership, the romance can be damned.

But the fact we can still be warily nervous about playing the 18th-placed side suggests talk of imminent premierships is some way off yet.

And in the end the Blues did something against Sydney that they hadn’t done for almost a month – they won a quarter of football. Just.

Hopefully they haven’t got a taste for it, since the Crows are so depleted they vaguely resemble a reserves side, which is never a good thing when their actual reserves side is languishing near the bottom of the SANFL, winless after seven starts.

It was nice to see Brodie Martin running around for the seniors again; I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed his comically capricious kicking for goal. While only Eddie Betts could have kicked that checkside major from the boundary in the first quarter, no-one but Brodie Martin could have managed to hit the behind post on the full from directly in front.

Though, to be fair, he played with the relentless tenacity of one who knows he is playing for his career. As usual. Hopefully he gets another look-in this week, even if he falls foul of Adelaide’s rule that no player will be the starting substitute in consecutive weeks unless their name is Jarryd Lyons.

And Paddy Dangerfield reminded us what we all expect to be missing out on next year, although at least the Moggs Creek Seniors fortuitously returned to their early season form of heavy defeats.

Port, annoyingly, remembered how to play football halfway through the second quarter against Melbourne.

For a while there they were so hapless it appeared they could do nothing right; their only goal before the first quarter siren was disallowed after Schulz gave away a ridiculous free on the last line of defence.

Melbourne captain Nathan Jones celebrated the retirement of premier tagger Kane Cornes with eleven first quarter possessions, as that audacious first term against Hawthorn back in round four suddenly seemed many, many seasons ago. But Port finally managed to shrug off their demons before, well … shrugging off the Demons.

I saw a mate of mine, a Power supporter but otherwise fairly sensible, muse on social media that his team had now “turned a corner”.

I was tempted to suggest it’s a sign of how far Port have fallen in a few short weeks that a win over lowly Melbourne is now considered a season milestone.

But I might just wait and see how we go against Carlton first.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each 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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