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Touch Of The Fumbles: Pleasure and pain

Touch of the Fumbles

As the Prime Minister might say, there's never been a more exciting time to play Fremantle. Yes, despite a heart-stopping loss, Tom Richardson is upbeat this week. But as the Divinyls (and Don Pyke) might say, there's a fine line between pleasure and pain. Or not such a fine line, if you're Port Adelaide.

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With about seven minutes to play, and with the Crows just having gone 15 points up against the reigning three-time premiers, a mate texted through a cautionary – and premature – salutation.

“Touch Of The Fumbles is going to be a whole lot less endearing if the Crows keep playing like this,” he noted.

Fortunately, of course, he needn’t have worried, since we blew our near three-goal advantage by conceding, yes, three goals before the final siren.

I had noted after the previous week’s epic win over the Swans that it was the kind of match we’d have found a way to lose in years gone by. Apparently that’s a skill we still possess.

Some teams (Hawthorn, for example) are noted for finding a way to win. We’re more one of those that, when required, can always find a way to lose.

Luke Brown of the Crows reacts after kicking a goal during the round 5 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and Adelaide Crows at the MCG in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

As Don Pyke (and the Divinyls) once said, there’s a fine line between pleasure…

Taylor Walker (centre) of the Crows is seen alongside teammates after losing the round 5 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and Adelaide Crows at the MCG in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

…and pain. Photos: Julian Smith, AAP.

Do I blame the umpiring? Not really, though how nice would it have been to be lining up for a shot on goal to win the game after the siren?

Nonetheless, the error – as it has been widely agreed to be – was only one of many made in those final few minutes. We can’t complain about umpiring errors while ignoring the many we heaped upon ourselves. (And I’m not naming names, suffice to say there is a player that leaps to mind whose initials correspond with the expletive I uttered when his turnover gifted the Hawks a clutch goal…)

But my friend had a point, even if he was only getting in early because he is a Fremantle supporter, whose team – having won last year’s minor premiership – have just lost to last year’s wooden spooners, are by their coach’s own admission playing “horrible football”, are missing roughly five of their best five players through injury and will be searching for their first win of the year against us this Saturday.

As that noted AFL enthusiast Malcolm Turnbull would say: “There’s never been a more exciting time to play Freo.”

However…

When I began this weekly missive in 2014, it was generally a weekly lament, a sort of therapeutic debrief of a season in which the Crows would continually confound on their way to an inauspicious, coach-dismissing 10th place finish while the eternal nemesis, Port Adelaide, generally went from strength to strength as they set an early benchmark for the competition and established themselves on the national stage.

The tone of rueful lament this conjured, therefore, sat comfortably somewhere alongside Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh: “We can’t all, and some of us don’t, and that’s all there is to it.”

So the prospect that, five games in, Adelaide is Actually Pretty Good is a bit troubling.

It’s going to be tricky to maintain a suitable degree of morose melancholy if we keep playing this kind of freewheeling, high-scoring, occasionally-winning brand of football. If we can keep it up when we finally get round to playing some average sides (of which there appear to be many in 2016) we might even crack the eight, from which we are currently, frustratingly ostracised.

The ‘line in the sand’ lasted well into the quarter-time break, at which point the Cats sauntered along and kicked the sand in their proverbial faces

The fact the Crows sit ninth after five rounds is almost as insulting as the fact that, had Port won against Geelong on the weekend, they would have boasted the same win-loss record as us.

They didn’t of course.

They drew a ‘line in the sand’ that lasted well into the quarter-time break, at which point the Cats sauntered along and kicked the sand in their proverbial faces.

The Power supporters made a point of booing Paddy Dangerfield’s every touch, which seemed a bit odd. Shouldn’t they have been cheering him?

The Port players took the weird ‘Adelaide Crows Revenge Fantasy’ even further, doing their best to sink the boot in (literally), and throwing their weight and punches around in a quarter time melee that largely summed up Port’s 2016 thus far, a season in which all their heavy hitting has been done after the siren.

In any case, Dangerfield responded with an equal-best-on-ground performance (note to self: don’t annoy Paddy).

Perhaps he was still smarting from the fact his father-in-law was a prominent member of the infamous Geelong Council that got the collective sack by the Victorian Government the previous week. The prosthetic-abbed former Mayor Darren Lyons boasted to News Corp last year that he and his deputy Bruce Harwood, whose daughter Paddy married as his first course of business after quitting Adelaide, “have been planning and plotting for some time over getting Paddy back”. We’re not sure if this admission prompted the council’s mass sacking, but we suspect so. And quite right too.

Australian Tennis 2016, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Don’t make him angry…

Australian Tennis 2016, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

…you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry! Photos: Michael Errey, InDaily.

The Port supporters duly left en masse early in the fourth term. Which is fine because, as Ken Hinkley later explained, the mantra about “never, ever giving up” is apparently more of a long-term aspiration than a week-by-week proposition.

Still, on the plus side, the “match-day experience” was considered a roaring success and word is the broadcast into China was a huge hit, with a corresponding run on Geelong merchandise in Shanghai.

But try as they might to throw their season away, the stars just keep aligning for Port. Richmond could be without two of their best three players for their MCG clash this week, after Riewoldt limped from the ground on Sunday and Alex Rance realised he would rather be suspended and universally despised than line up on a pissed-off Charlie Dixon.

Against the Giants, Dixon managed five kicks and gave away six. Which basically meant he had a one-kick deficit on aggregate. Against the Cats, he still only managed five kicks for, but at least limited the against ledger to one. He also managed to kick three goals, which was helpful, along with taking out Chad Wingard, which was not.

(Chad is now in doubt for the Richmond clash with ‘delayed concussion’, another symptom symbolic of the Power’s season, given it’s taken us all several weeks to realise just what’s hit them.)

If there is a player that epitomizes Damien Hardwick’s strange “two steps forward, one step back” analogy, it is probably Dixon.

He has 30 kicks for the season, and has given away 11 to opposing teams. So, roughly, for every two kicks he gets, he gives one away.

It is possible he is not Port’s Messiah after all – just a very naughty boy.

Australian Tennis 2016, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

NOT THE MESSIAH, A VERY NAUGHTY BOY? Dixon realising he has four and three quarter years left to serve on his Power contract. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

But he’s not alone, and it’s worth noting that there were still 11 players out there on Saturday night who played in that infamous 2012 loss to GWS that cost Matthew Primus his job.

It’s an event worth revisiting, and not just for the amusement value – but also to prick this myth that the Power’s resurgence was sudden, unexpected and inextricably linked to the ensuing regime change.

In fact, 2012 was a significant improvement on the previous year. Port won a first round nailbiter against St Kilda, and had a series of competitive losses thereafter, before a run of three wins on the trot. It was merely the symbolism of losing to the Giants that ruined them, but they were clearly a better team than they had been in 2011, when they used to lose by about 300 goals a game.

In any case, largely on the back of one dominant season, they have shouldered a heavy weight of expectation.

On that, I can empathise, if not sympathise.

Australian Tennis 2016, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Fantasy football: Port and Geelong playing stacks on. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

If the sight of Port and Geelong players belting the crap out of each other at quarter time wasn’t the perfect tonic for my wounded Crow heart, the ensuing days wherein jaded Albertonians clogged talkback airwaves with their theories on what – and who – has gone wrong helped erase the pain of Friday night.

Evidently the consensus on why Port can’t recapture their sparkling 2014 form is because they don’t have Paddy Ryder – who, as we all remember, played a significant role in their 2014 campaign.

It does suggest, too, the importance of winning games when you have the opportunity.
I am firmly of the view that had Port pinched just one more home-and-away win in 2014, they would have clinched the Premiership.

Australian Tennis 2016, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Harry Taylor: Still not as embarrassed as Port Adelaide. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

They had narrow losses to the Bombers, Collingwood, the Swans – but it was the final round loss to Freo that ultimately ruined them. An eight-point margin in an eight-point game – the Dockers finished two wins and negligible percentage above them – that would have propelled them into the top four at year’s end.

In the form they were in by then, two home finals would almost certainly have seen them through to a Grand Final. And if their three-point loss to Hawthorn after a road trip to Perth was any indication, they would have been hard to beat.

Their supporters reasoned that their time would come again soon. But it now appears that was their time.

Thank God for that.

Still, an object lesson in not letting the close games slip.

Which we have done twice already in five games this season.

Yep, there’s never been a more exciting time to play the Dockers (well, apart from Round 15, 2009, when we kicked 19.16 (130) to their 1.7 (13) – that was pretty good.) We face Freo without their Brownlow medallist Nat Fyfe; thus, according to the Ewing Theory that explains our own 2016 resurgence, they’ll probably dominate.

But if they don’t, I’ll have to return to my conundrum of maintaining a suitably dour tone in the face of a team that is beginning (just beginning, mind you) to look ominously good.

Matt Crouch (second from left) of the Crows handballs to teammate Scott Thompson (right) as of Cyril Rioli (left) the Hawks tackles during the round 5 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and Adelaide Crows at the MCG in Melbourne, Friday, April 22, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

POSSIBLY GOOD: The Crows. Photos: Julian Smith, AAP.

How can I avoid sounding anything other than insufferably smug?

The truth is, I have no idea.

But I can’t wait to find out.

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