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The 10 moments that just sucked

Touch of the Fumbles

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Once upon a time there was a football team that came from the depths of despair to produce a stellar season, putting the competition on notice of big things to come.

Under a fledgling coach, they played off against Hawthorn in a preliminary final, only to fall short by a solitary kick. But no matter; a Grand Final berth the following year was a near fait accompli. Except…

By mid-season it was clear all was not well. After a devastating Round 11 loss at home, they limped to the halfway mark with a precarious five wins and six losses.

But enough about the Crows in 2012-13. Let’s talk about Port Adelaide.

If there’s an obvious difference in the Power’s 2015 narrative from Adelaide’s two years before, it’s that they managed to gain a key forward-cum-ruckman in the preceding off-season, while we conspicuously lost one.

Otherwise, it’s genuinely spooky how familiar the storyline has become.

I ended up scoring an unintended ticket to Port’s Friday night fixture against the Moggs Creek Seniors and, while being surrounded by 47,000 baying Power supporters isn’t exactly my idea of a dream date, I figured I’d make myself inconspicuous in much the same way as the protagonists of Shaun Of the Dead managed to evade the zombie hordes.

Either that, or I’d have fun prank-calling the Power’s new “dob in a derro” service, texting the 0400TELLUS line bon mots such as “Yeah, I’d like to report someone wearing offensive colours and trying to murder INXS…”

Fortunately, though, it was one of the more pleasant evenings I’ve spent at Adelaide Oval, and the crowd’s collective opprobrium was evidently too focused on the umpires for them to notice the lone rogue Crows supporter in their midst. And even though, like Joel Selwood, I was parked in the nosebleed section, it was an education. Not just to witness the infamous Never Tear us Apart groupthink, but to appreciate that it’s not just Adelaide supporters who turn on their own when the going gets tough.

Despite his herculean efforts for the past two years, Lobbe copped the brunt of the dissatisfaction after an underwhelming night in the ruck. And poor old Jasper Pittard really is the Rodney Dangerfield of the AFL – he just can’t get no respect. Given he’s in the midst of a breakout season, the jibes that greeted each of his 22 possessions were really rather gratuitous (I’ll give you a clue; the clever Port barrackers had cannily realised that the first syllable of his surname rhymes with a well-known expletive…)

At any rate, the genius of Chad Wingard aside, the night happily ended with the Moggs Creek Seniors winning their tenth of 11 matches since beating Port by 119 points in the 2007 Grand Final (that observation, like the anti-Pittard barracking, was entirely gratuitous; I just wanted to mention that losing margin again.)

And while it appears possible that maybe, just maybe, the much-lauded Pear is indeed a Lemon, the Crows have a milestone of their own with which to contend this week.

Thursday night’s match-up with reigning Premiers Hawthorn is being billed, somewhat ridiculously, as the game that marks Adelaide’s 25th season in the AFL (y’know, because we beat them in Round 1, 1991?)

To mark the auspicious sort-of-occasion, the Tiser has been counting down the Crows’ 25 “defining moments”, a grab-bag of mostly-successes that paint of picture of the club’s quarter century. It’s not a bad list, from what I’ve seen of it.

In truth, though, the greatest defining moments will always be the three Grand Final wins, in 1997, 1998 and 2007.

But that’s not really what we’re about here at Fumbleland.

No, like Friday night’s Port supporters, we are generally more fixated on what’s going wrong than on what we’ve done right.

So I’m proposing a different tack.

Here, then, to mark Crows’ sort-of anniversary, I offer the Fumbles’ pick of the 10 least-inspiring moments from 24-and-a-half years in the AFL.

They’re not the worst moments; those would of course be the succession of finals failures (most of them close), and that list writes itself: 1993, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012.

No, these are just a handful of common-or-garden moments that really shat me over the years. In no particular order:

  1. Chris Tarrant’s kick after the siren. (Coll d Adel, 114-109, Football Park, Round 7, 2003)

On paper, it looked like everything had gone to plan: Carey kicked four, Ronnie Burns three, Ricciuto had 31 possessions and, in the frenetic dying seconds, the Crows were grimly hanging on to a one-point advantage. Except for the bit where Ben Hart slipped over as Nathan Buckley speared a pass to the Collingwood forward 30 metres in front of goal. Cue the Fumbles’ first ever mobile phone being hurled against a wall and shattering into several pieces.

  1. Third straight 8-point Showdown loss. (Port d Adel, 84-76, Football Park, Round 20, 2002)

To lose once to Port by eight points is a misfortune. To do so twice looks like carelessness. But thrice? That’s just silly. And the crowning turd in the waterpipe of this 2002 match was the fact that, on the dying siren, the ball ended up in the hands of Adelaide forward Mark Stevens who, having peppered the ball five times already, managed to finally kick truly, reducing the deficit to what was by then our traditional losing margin. Which was just insulting, really.

  1. The three-peat hopes drown. (Bris d Adel, 83-44, Football Park, Round 19, 1999)

This was an entirely unremarkable match, but there’s a moment I will never forget. I was watching this at home, back before I could afford a season membership. We were approaching the millennium; they were heady days, back in the infancy of the information superhighway, when we were at the mercy of the much-delayed free-to-air telecast to find out the AFL results. Sure, we had the internet, but it took about 10 hours to log on, so it never occurred to anyone to go to all that trouble merely to check a football score.

At 8-10, Adelaide’s season was hanging by a thread but, still dizzy from the back-to-back premierships and facing the Lions at home, we were nonetheless hopeful of edging towards another finals berth. It was an ugly slog of a game in the driving rain, and the Crows were starting to fall away in the second half. Watching Seven’s after-the-event coverage, I happened to glance out the window and catch sight of my neighbours arriving back from the game. That moment pretty much summed up the post-1998 Crows supporter experience for me: locking eyes with a group of despondent, bedraggled, sodden souls decked in red, blue and gold paraphernalia. And the look in their eyes told me there was no need to keep watching. Even though I did anyway. 

  1. The Bulldogs’ Revenge. (Bulldogs d Adel, 99-97, MCG, Round 16, 1999)

The 1999 season was already almost shot weeks earlier, when Malcolm Blight announced he would retire at season’s end. That at least re-booted the side enough to come out firing against the Bulldogs in Melbourne the following Saturday, opening up a 40-point advantage by the third-quarter break. But it all went to hell in the final term. Stevens dislocated his kneecap, with vision of him bashing it back into place beamed incessantly across the big screen at the MCG, as Bryan Beinke pondered his ensuing shot for goal. He missed, scoring one of the two behinds that made up our entire final-quarter score, as the Dogs came back to win by the same margin. Which, given we’d just knocked them out of successive preliminary finals, was probably fair enough, really.

And speaking of Steve-O’s knee…

  1. The pre-season premiership that killed the next two seasons. (Adel d Coll, 104-73, Docklands, Wizard Cup Grand Final, 2003)

Having recruited Wayne Carey, Adelaide went on to notch a satisfying but meaningless win over Collingwood in the pre-season Wizard Cup final, and there was much rejoicing. It appeared a portent of big things to come, but in the end the most significant moment of the match came late in the final quarter, when Stevens took a strong mark in front of goal. He landed awkwardly, and hobbled off. Not much was made of it at the time, but that moment instigated a long-running battle with niggling injury that ultimately prompted the former Kangaroo’s premature retirement early in 2005.

  1. The most boring win in history. (Adel d Kang, 49-42, Football Park, Round 18, 2004)

This one was actually counted in the Tiser’s “Best Of” list, and it’s certainly arguable. After all, we’d been trounced by 141 points by Brisbane the previous week, so to come back from that and snatch a victory was pretty impressive. And after all, a win is a win, right?

But this was the kind of win that makes anyone who witnessed it poorer for having seen it. The kind of win that makes you want to go home and have a long, hot shower to wash off the remnants of the experience.

As the then-football writer for The Australian Michael McGuire wrote at the time: “How bad was it? Well, the Crows kicked their first goal halfway through the third quarter…and hit the front!”

The Crows had 10 straight behinds by the long break. By the final siren, they had added nine more, but fortunately managed to jag five majors as well; enough – just – to escape with a shred of credibility.

It was one of those games that defies explanation, if not belief. Perfect conditions, but a sort of cosmic, universal inability to kick straight in front of goal. The only saving grace being that we passed the contagion on to North Melbourne as well, and kicked enough behinds to finish in front.

  1. The Reality Check. (Eagles d Adel, 165-83, Subiaco, Round 17, 2006)

The Crows were flying in 2006 as they jetted over for a top-of-the-table clash against West Coast with 14 wins from 16 starts under their collective belt. Spirits, hopes and confidence were high.

I recall Mark Bickley — then the weekend sportsreader at Channel 9, where I worked — privately surmising that Adelaide couldn’t lose this game, such was their dominance in every area of the ground. Yeah, nah…

In fact, we never bettered the Eagles in 2006, nor often thereafter. And while on the subject…

  1. The nadir. (Eagles d Adel, 106-67, Football Park, Round 12, 2011)
crowseagles

Matthews Priddis and Jaensch manage to stay to the end of one of the most unremarkable home drubbings in the Crows’ 24.5 year history.

Another utterly unremarkable match, memorable solely because it was the only time I ever deliberately chose to leave the ground early. After seven losses and a mere three wins, the Crows were floundering, but as the Eagles, our eternal bugbear throughout the noughties, opened up a 40-point lead at home early in the last quarter, I finally decided if my team wasn’t going to turn up to play, I wasn’t going to stay to watch.

  1. The last straw. (Carl d Adel, 115-83, MCG, Round 5, 2013)

Tex did his knee. What more can I say?

  1. The Hand Of God. (Port d Adel, 107-103, Football Park, Round 19, 2013)

To be honest, this one didn’t bother me overmuch when it happened. I know Power supporters still go into raptures over it, which irks me somewhat, but at the time I had pretty much concluded that our season was already shot going in, and was happy just to see us put in a four-quarter effort. Or, to be precise, more of a three-and-three-quarter-quarter effort. Which was kind of the problem.

At the 22-minute mark of the final term, the Crows led by 20 points. In such a predicament this year, Power supporters would generally start heading for the exits or heckling a nearby 10-year-old. But instead, their team did something kind of amazing, in an annoying sort of way. They piled on four unanswered goals. Wingard’s fifth iced the game, but it was the penultimate one, from Bomber recruit Angus Monfries, that really jarred; a snap that was sailing through for a behind, only to bounce askew through the big sticks.

It was Port’s equivalent of Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, and as it turned out, the intervention was divinely auspicious. For, in the end, had Monfries’ goal not bounced bizarrely through, the Crows would have finished up with 12 wins for Season 2013, and the Power 11. And all the respective hype and rancor would have been very different. Who knows, we might still have Brenton Sanderson as coach. Um…yeah. Thanks Gus!

 

There were great moments in among it all, too, of course. If I was a glass-half-full sort of follower, I could list a collection of warm-bath memories of interstate matches I’ve attended, such as the game against Richmond at the MCG in 2001 in which we momentarily broke the run of poor goalkicking from which we continue to suffer to this very day, to bizarrely notch nine straight in the third quarter, the best of them a Chris Ladhams checkside and a booming goal on the run from Simon Goodwin as he exploded from the centre bounce.

Or when we played the Cats at Kardinia Park in 2002 and somehow managed to better them by three points despite having 12 fewer scoring shots.

And so we face the ominous Hawks on Thursday night. As ever over the past 25 years, we won’t turn up with much confidence, but we’ll turn up regardless. And you never know. For as Leigh Matthews told his Brisbane charges back in 2001 as they lined up to play the reigning premiers before setting off on their own march to destiny: if it bleeds, we can kill it.

NB: A few weeks back, I recalled attending Nick Riewoldt’s first game at Docklands in 2001. He had three kicks, Darren Jarman kicked six goals and the Crows won by 97. By chance, it was also the game that saw a St Kilda star return to the fray for the first time since tearing his hamstring off the bone three years earlier. Jason Cripps dobbed the first goal of the game that night, and was the Saints’ best with 28 touches.

In recent years, as Port’s list manager, he’s overseen the drafting of the likes of Ollie Wines and Chad Wingard. On Saturday morning he collapsed while running in Perth, and remains hospitalised, with no further word on his condition.

We keep up a good line in banter here at the Fumbles; as we should, for our game is built on rivalry, and it is rivalry that makes it great. But just as every football supporter was glad for Cripps when he kicked that first goal in Round 15, 2001, there is not a follower of the game who does not now fervently wish him well and hold a prayer for his family. Be well, Jason.

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