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Touch Of The Fumbles: The Night HE Came Home

Touch of the Fumbles

We’ve been avoiding it for a couple of weeks now.

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After all, you can never read too much into a Showdown victory, and a regulation win over Richmond is hardly cause to start cancelling weekend commitments through September.

Damien Hardwick said during the week that Richmond – who have played elimination finals in each of the past three seasons and lost them all – “don’t want to make up the numbers” in September this year.

So they’re on track there.

But Saturday’s last-gasp win over Sydney, after a pulsating, heavyweight bout reminiscent of those mid-2000s-era Swans clashes (except that there were goals scored this time) means there can be no more putting it off.

We’re officially on the Don Pyke Bandwagon.

Which, in deference to old Adelaide institutions, we’re going to name: The Pyke Cart.

AFL Season 2016, Round 4 Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows,

ON THE PYKE CART: The Adelaide Crows. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

AFL Season 2016, Round 4 Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows,

NOT ON THE PYKE CART: The Sydney Swans. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Not only was this a victory that cements Adelaide’s status as a genuine finals aspirant, but it was just the kind of match we would almost certainly have found a way to lose in recent years.

The gap between the teams was three points at the quarter, two at the main break and one at the final change. And yet, when Eddie ran in to that open goal at the death and 51,330 Adelaide Oval patrons rose as one (apart from the mate of a mate sitting next to me who had awkwardly rocked up wearing a Sydney scarf), we knew we had managed something special.

AFL Season 2016, Round 4 Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows,

The sealer. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

We had finally shrugged off possibly the most annoying losing streak since that same mid-2000s-era, when we just couldn’t find a way past West Coast – a failing exacerbated by the subsequent revelations that many of them had more chemicals than Stephen Dank’s shopping list at the time.

Because, since losing Kurt Tippett to the Swans we’ve found ourselves fundamentally, embarrassingly and monumentally frustratingly unable to beat Sydney.

And now, finally, our old Number 4 was coming back to compare bank accounts with his former teammates.

AFL Season 2016, Round 4 Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows,

TWICE AS GOOD AS BEFORE? Sydney’s Number 8, formerly Adelaide’s Number 4, flies above Sauce Jacobs and 250-game Crow Scott Thompson. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Given his departure was basically the Adelaide Crows’ equivalent of the State Bank crash, there was just a touch of residual animosity among the crowd.

His Swans teammate Ben McGlynn said during the week he expected the forward-cum-ruck would likely “be nervous going against his old team”.

“Obviously there are a lot of players who have moved on since he’s been there, though he’s probably still got a lot of mates there,” he reportedly said. I can only imagine that was one of those lines that was wasted on the printed page, and McGlynn probably said the word “mates” while making a none-too-subtle “inverted commas” gesture in the air with his fingers.

Josh Jenkins – the forward-cum-ruck who took not just Tippett’s spot in Adelaide’s 22 but, symbolically, his Number 4 guernsey to boot – started the match nervously, like a guy who finds himself sitting next to his new partner’s ex at dinner.

He helpfully peppered shots for goal, endearingly trying to remind us that he could be every bit as frustrating as Kurt was.

And, like the match itself, Tippo’s own performance had it all. The sprayed set shots and the freaky clutch goals. Indeed, if he’d managed to get himself concussed it would have been the definitive Adelaide-era Kurt Tippett throwback.

Of course, we don’t wish injuries on anyone, not even KT. (Well, maybe just a small niggle, nothing career-ending). I’d much prefer he misses a finals series through suspension or poor form than through a season-ending injury.

Is it churlish to still harp on about Kurt after all these years?

Well, yes. But as Principal Skinner once said to Bart Simpson: “I’m a small man in some ways, Bart… a small, petty man.”

And after all, football fandom needs its villains. That’s why we have Port Adelaide (and yes, I’m getting to them.)

And while for the fledgling coach and his players, this was all about notching up a handy win and maybe inviting just a skerrick of respect from the rest of the competition, for those of us now crowding aboard the Pyke Cart, this was all about the night he came home.

That phrase was the tag-line for John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher Halloween, wherein a tall, muscular sociopath returns to his old neighbourhood and duly slaughters its inhabitants. It’s fair to say I found the looming script of Saturday night’s final chapter more frightening than any horror movie. Well, other than Friday the 13th – the date, bizarrely, that the other great escapee, Patrick Dangerfield, returns to face the Crows.

Mind you, Paddy will have my best wishes this Saturday, when he drops in to take on the People’s Republic of Port Adelaide.

The Power’s much-hyped China Strategy dominated the media this week, but it hit a snag yesterday when it turned out said strategy does not involve “Being Good At Football”.

Power players look on after a Giants goal during their Round 4 AFL match between GWS Giants and the Port Adelaide Power at Manuka Oval in Canberra on Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

“That didn’t go very well, did it?” Players converse between GWS goals at Manuka Oval. Photo: Mick Tsikas, AAP.

Now, I suppose you expect me to ridicule the People’s Republic’s push to play AFL in Asia, or to cast aspersions on its “multi-million dollar” deal with a Shanghai property developer?

Far from it. That’s not the way we roll here at Fumbleland.

It’s a brilliant idea, showing the kind of guts and nous you’d expect when a club imports one-time Crows supporters and Norwood premiership heroes such as Andrew Hunter and Keith Thomas.

And that’s not to marginalise the efforts of David Koch, who arrived late to the Shanghai showpiece but made up for it with gusto, enthusing to media as he toured a prospective site for an AFL game in China that both “the Prime Minister and the AFL committed us to that today, which made us choke a little bit” – a touching nod to the Port sides of 2001-03.

The Orient is also a great fit for the Power, since Chinese people, much like Port supporters, don’t really understand irony and because the Alberton faithful, like the Communist Party, come down hard on any whiff of dissent.

They seemed a bit touchy last week despite coming off a ten-goal win against the Bombers, so I hate to think what a 14-goal loss to the league’s youngest side has done for their collective mood.

But anything that safeguards the financial future of Port Adelaide is just fine with me.

That way, we get to keep enjoying performances like the one we saw yesterday against GWS.

The 86-point shellacking put an untimely end to the generally self-congratulatory tone that had been a hallmark of the preceding week.

I’ve long been wary of the Power’s depth, but the issue goes far beyond that, with some of their leaders and top-liners falling well short of expectations.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the loss of the likes of Schulz and Ryder have meant Charlie Dixon has gone from being the cream on the cake, to the cake itself.

But on the strength of his rash, impatient performance yesterday, the cream may have curdled in any case.

Nonetheless, Port are still 2-2 and have every opportunity to turn things around. And if not, as their anthem goes, they can always make wine from their tears. As long as Dixon doesn’t scoff it all pre-game.

I’m a bit torn on the prospect of Paddy playing Port. It’s a bit like watching Alien vs Predator – it might be entertaining, but at the end of the day you’re just watching two evil, slimy entities fighting each other, and you don’t really want either of them to win.

Brenton Sanderson (you may remember him, he coached us for a time) once said of the potential departures of Tippett and Dangerfield that “if they both left we’d have to start again in some areas”.

They both left, and we have started again in some areas. We can only hope we continue as we have begun.

Eight years after John Carpenter made Halloween, Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters had a scene wherein one of the protagonists – the one played typically by the director as a nervous, pseudo-philosophical hypochondriac – runs down the street in a fit of joy upon learning that he is not, as he suspected, dying of a terminal illness.

But he suddenly stops in his tracks, consumed by an impetuous, intractable depression.

He later tells a colleague that in the midst of his exuberance he was struck by a profound dread at the inevitability of mortality.

“Do you realise what a thread we’re all hanging by?” he says.

That kind of sums up how I feel whenever I start getting carried away with the Crows’ good form.

AFL Season 2016, Round 4 Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows,

GETTING CARRIED AWAY YET? Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Sure, we can celebrate a hard-fought win, but if the season is only going to end in another tortuous failure, what does it all mean?

And every time we prove ourselves just a little bit more capable of contending for a premiership, there’s that unspoken fear… that we might not be a premiership contender.

A week or so ago, journalist Mike Sheehan spoke to members of St Kilda’s lone Grand Final triumph to mark the 50th anniversary of the one-point win. It was clear that, for most of them, that milestone is now a millstone, a bit like the time ‘Ten Goal Tom’ Lynch got to double figures against GWS.

After a while, even the sweetest victory can turn sour, as people stop talking about the last-gasp heroics of Barry Breen and start instead pondering why the club has taken so long to follow it up with any genuine success.

Our 1997-98 premierships, while still cherished, are not long from falling into that category.

So yes, Saturday was significant, because we needed to put our equivalent of the State Bank crash behind us, we needed to show ourselves we could pinch a close one and mostly just because we needed a win. But we’ll need plenty more if the Pyke Cart is going to carry us to that ever-elusive third flag.

Yesterday, the Kangaroos won their fourth straight to hit the top of the home-and-away ladder for the first time since 1998. We know how that year finished. Surely, that’s a good sign…?

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.

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