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A loss that can never be undone

Touch of the Fumbles

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There was a moment there, as the siren sounded on the first quarter at Domain Stadium, that we allowed ourselves to dream of a fairytale result.

But fairytales are, after all, the stuff of fiction. Life doesn’t work like that.

That much, at least, the Crows had already learned this past week.

I recall once seeing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol described as “unreviewable”, inasmuch as it’s near-impossible to remove the emotion almost everyone has invested in it as an intrinsic part of their dearest childhood memories and judge it objectively as a work of fiction.

If that is so, then Saturday’s round 15 clash between the Crows and West Coast is similarly unreviewable – there’s simply no response that does it justice.

A mere match report will point out that Adelaide were dashing, bold and electric in the first term, brave in the third but ultimately undone by the polish and manic drive of the Eagles, a team so cruelled by injuries to key personnel that many predicted they were all but done before a single ball was bounced in season 2015.

But there was no way of quantifying the emotional toll wrought by the events of the preceding week. Was the Crows’ first quarter salvo a collective exhalation of breath, and the second term a sign that the team collectively had little left to give? Or was this simply what would have happened anyway when the eighth-placed team on the ladder faced off against the second-placed team at home?

Some commentators were quick to blame our slow start on the turmoil of the preceding days, conveniently forgetting that conceding a three-goal advantage has been pretty much our standard gameplan for the past three years.

So many onlookers, and not just those of us who fervently support the Adelaide Crows, were watching this game and hoping for some kind of miracle.

In the end, though, the spirit was willing but the flesh just couldn’t conjure a win.

It wasn’t for want of effort.

eagles-fans

Eagles fans show their support for the Crows. AAP image

The players left the ground amid scenes unmatched by any sporting loss I can recall. They looked broken, spent and shattered, like they’d just lost a grand final. But they hadn’t lost a grand final. They’d lost so much more.

I wonder if the post-match scenes would have been any different if they’d snatched a win; if that first quarter onslaught had set the tone for the ensuing match, and they’d romped home, or if they’d managed to rally rather than succumb in the last.

Probably not. It was said all week that the win, or the loss, wasn’t important. Just playing the game.

And when that game was done, whatever happened, the Crows had still lost. And that loss can never be undone.

But they had won something too. For, after that shattering final huddle, as the tears flowed freely both onfield and off, the players trudged from the field with something they have not had since they limped off the MCG after losing the 2012 preliminary final to the Hawks by five points: the admiration of the football community.

Back then, it lasted about a week, until Kurt Tippett’s messy exit and its ugly denouement rightly usurped any residual goodwill.

This time round, it will last much, much longer.

There were good things here: Riley Knight’s first game was full of poise and promise. Sadly he will remember his first game not for his two goals but for the tears he shed for his slain coach in the silent aftermath.

Tom Lynch’s game displayed a capacity for cool thought under pressure for which I had hitherto abandoned hope.

Tex kicked three, Charlie Cameron two – the first, crucial two – after our traditional slow start.

Eddie was back to doing freakish Eddie things, and Dangerfield was relentless; unbreakable until at last, post-siren, he finally broke, in the circle where friends and foes became simply teammates, flying as one.

In the normal order of things, all these elements would point to a solid win, rather than a nine-goal defeat. In the normal order of things, we could point out that our midfield deficiencies would look far less glaring if the likes of Sloane and Brad Crouch, and even Grigg and Kerridge were available. But this is not the normal order of things; in truth we have no idea what this loss means. We only know that, like football followers everywhere, we are proud of our team this week.

It was a strange, surreal feeling to bask in the well-wishes of the Port Adelaide faithful, and to know, deep down, that their victory was the best of all possible outcomes last Thursday, as the Oval was enveloped in a darkness barely lit by the warmth of a multitude of mobile phone backlights and the shared anguish of 45,000 football fans.

Next week will be similarly unreadable, and unreviewable. For the moment, the Crows play in a vacuum of grief and unpredictability, immune from the normal constraints of form, injury and hunger. It is impossible to isolate the emotion from the team’s failures. Or, hopefully, its successes.

One thing though. I know we were all barracking for Port on Thursday, just that one time. But there was a passage there, when the ball lurched toward the waiting hands of Collingwood forward Travis Cloke as the seconds ground down in the last, that I found myself momentarily, desperately willing him to mark it.

Just for a second.

I’m taking that as a good sign.

Touch of the Fumbles is published on Mondays through the AFL season.

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