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Touch Of The Fumbles: The Captain's Curse

Touch of the Fumbles

It was, as Paul Keating once coined it, a beautiful set of numbers.

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Crows win by 75.

Port lose by 8.

Even Paddy Dangerfield had a relatively quiet weekend as the Cats got rolled by Collingwood, with a van Berlo-esque 21 possessions and a Paddy Dangerfield-esque no goals and two behinds.

So, a Richo Trifecta, then.

A beautiful set of numbers.

Except.

Keating infamously used that phrase in December 1989 to describe the nation’s current account figures. Not long afterwards, he coined another famous phrase, as Australia’s economy slid into “the recession we had to have”.

And I fear the weekend’s beautiful set of numbers could portend a similarly grim road ahead.

There has been much celebration after Adelaide’s timely demolition of Gold Coast that our recently-maligned midfield had played itself into form.

Really?

Crows players leave the field following the round 9 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Back in form? Maybe, maybe not. Photo: Dave Hunt, AAP.

For a team that was always set to dominate a Suns outfit that is, with the injuries they’ve endured, effectively a state league side (and not a very good one), we actually lost the contested possession count 136 to 127.

Contested marks were 13 to 11 in Gold Coast’s favour.

By three quarter time, we had even been out-tackled, although we snuck ahead in the final quarter.

What does this tell us?

Perhaps that Crows players approached the game like the walk in the park that it was, rather than an opportunity to genuinely stamp itself as a contender against a weakened prey.

Sure, we doubled the Suns’ inside 50s, but we also doubled their score. That means they scored roughly as often as we did for every foray forward. Given we’ve generally lost the inside 50s differential this year, that’s actually not overly reassuring.

Crows player Charlie Cameron during the round 9 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Charlie Cameron showed flashes of brilliance for the second week running. Photo: Dave Hunt, AAP.

Most of the damage was done in a second-quarter purple patch, a term during which Adelaide managed eight goals with relative ease. In the third, they snagged another four, but allowed Gold Coast to claw back three of their own. Despite that, the margin at three-quarter time was a promising 74 points, with the expectation of a final quarter flourish against a demoralised home side that had lost their past three matches by an average of 95 points while conceding 159.

Their injury toll and – one imagines – confidence were at direst ebb, and yet the Crows still managed to improve both Gold Coast’s average losing margin and average score conceded.

And in the end, we improved on our three quarter time margin by a solitary point.

Yes, there were positives. The continued improvement of Milera and McGovern, Tex rediscovering his radar.

Tex hasn’t played with the same free-wheeling, mullet-sporting, teapot-pose-striking joie de vivre since he became compelled to spout po-faced clichés about KPIs

The captain came some way to emerging from the shadow of that game against the Bulldogs a fortnight ago; a game Don Pyke described as “almost there”, inasmuch as he got close to the ball a few times. So close, but so far. In that match, he was reminiscent of that sad figure an underdone Mark Ricciuto cut in what turned out to be his swan song – that hideous defeat to Hawthorn wherein Buddy kicked the winning goal at the death after Scott Thompson’s 34th touch had put the ball out on the full.

Roo sat out much of the second half after managing just four disposals – and two behinds – having been rushed back from injury to lead his side into the finals. Playing deep forward, time and again he got a fingertip to a mark, but his timing – and his confidence – was off.

Ricciuto never got a chance to recover – but Tex has, of course. Nonetheless, one wonders whether the captaincy itself has added to the burden under which he seems to labour. There’s no denying Tex hasn’t played with the same loveable, luggish larrikinism – that free-wheeling, mullet-sporting, teapot-pose-striking joie de vivre – since he became compelled to spout po-faced clichés about ‘KPIs’ and ‘total football’.

This is not to say he is not a worthy and effective captain, merely to point out that the role has necessarily stifled some of the natural ebullience that was an integral part of his game.

Still, he did kick five goals. We’ll take that.

But if the aim this week was to awaken the competitive beast that had some pundits putting the Crows in premiership contention after four rounds, it was not achieved.

And moreover, with a similar effort against GWS this week, we will get mauled.

Crows player Rory Sloane (right) gets the ball away during a tackle during the round 9 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

The Suns stuck more tackles than the Crows for three quarters. Photo: Dave Hunt, AAP.

The faux-controversy heading into the game was the match committee decision to drop the underperforming SANFL-specialist Brad Crouch, combined with a surprise move to replace him with former captain Nathan van Berlo.

To maintain this week’s political tone (it’s election season, after all!), the old classic BBC series Yes Minister revealed the public service euphemisms to damn government decisions with faint praise. If something was described as “controversial”, that meant it would cost you votes. The most damning indictment, though, was “courageous” – which meant it would cost you the whole election!

From the reaction on social media, one could only deduce that van Berlo’s inclusion was the most courageous decision of the Don Pyke era.

Unhappily, the return of our one-time skipper elicited the kind of reaction from pundits you’d expect if Paul Keating himself decided to make another run for politics.

The captaincy may not yet be a curse for Tex, but it has weighed heavily on VB – even more so in its aftermath.

In the end, the match committee’s decision was neither vindicated nor a bust. He managed 21 possessions, with eight of them coming in an industrious final term.

In the SANFL, meanwhile, Crouch clocked up 37, while Mitch Grigg amassed a lazy 28 and Cam Ellis-Yolmen was typically industrious.

Would they have been better inclusions? Who knows? But presumably they’re part of the club’s future plans. Shouldn’t that involve playing the odd senior game at some point?

A bit was made of how close Harrison Wigg is to selection, with the youngster designated as the travelling emergency to the Gold Coast.

Mind you, the SANFL Crows had a bye last week, and have another one next week. So the upshot of being the travelling emergency is that Wigg won’t have played a game at any level for almost a month.

In the end, the selection drama merely became symbolic of the game itself. It was a nothing game. No great strides forward. Not investing in the future. Just doing enough to get it done.

Everything from the first centre square contest to the singing of the club song had an underwhelming sense about it.

By contrast, Port’s eight point loss to West Coast – a team usually more averse to leaving home than Julian Assange – was, while amusing and enjoyable, also kinda gutsy.

Crows player Sam Jacobs gains possession during the round 9 AFL match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast, Saturday, May 21, 2016. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

At least we have a ruckman. Photo: Dave Hunt, AAP.

Their Amazing Ruckless Hitout strategy (aka the Superfluous Ruckman Theory) continues to bamboozle. On paper, putting a career defender up against two in-form ruckmen, one of them arguably the best and certainly the most athletic in the competition, should be a walkover.

In fact, not just on paper. In practice too.

West Coast won the hitouts 71 to 15. Port probably wouldn’t have fared worse if they’d adopted the strategy suggested by Pat Conlon during the week:

But here’s the thing. They only lost the clearances by a perfectly respectable 45 to 36.

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Trengove v Nic Nat. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Which really makes you wonder why clubs even bother putting so much time and thought into developing and coaching elite ruckmen, when they could just get some idle key defender to throw his weight around at ball-ups. They say reading the ball from the ruck is easiest for rovers when they know their big-man is either going to win the contest or lose it. The difficulty comes when they don’t know which way to run.

Wouldn’t it be much cheaper, then, to simply pick up the single lousiest ruckman in the competition on minimum wage, coach your midfield on how to shark the ball and save a bundle on your salary cap?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

No? Touché.

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He didn’t win many taps, but Trengove enjoys throwing his weight around. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

Kudos too to Josh Kennedy: a lot of guys deal with the nerves of awaiting the impending birth of their firstborn by pacing the room impatiently, chewing their fingernails or drinking copious short-blacks. He works it off by kicking goals against Port Adelaide. Lots of goals.

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’80s hair? Yeah, yeah. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

And when one of those goals put the Eagles 35 points up late in the third term, it looked as though the visitors would cruise to victory. Instead, Port kept coming, and when Aaron Young – whose ‘80s-glam-metal-singer haircut belies the fact he is unquestionably the shining light in their thus far underwhelming season – kicked them within single figures it looked like anything was possible. As long as it could be achieved within ten seconds – which was all that was left on the clock.

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“Come on guys, we can do this…can’t we?” Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

It wasn’t, but Port lost no fans through their effort. (To be fair, they probably didn’t gain any either, so they probably broke even on that front.)

The Power now enter a strange mid-season patch of games that will certainly determine their fate, and which are difficult to gauge. They face the Melbourne Demons (and their own, presumably) in Darwin, a resurgent Collingwood in Melbourne and host the ominous Bulldogs.

The Dockers have a dangerous month ahead… they might accidentally win a game.

They then fly to Perth to take on the winless Freo. (The Dockers, incidentally, have a dangerous month ahead themselves, with the Port matchup following the Saints, Bombers and Lions. They’ll have to knuckle down and follow Ross Lyon’s gameplan or they might accidentally win a game.)

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Pittard launches over Cripps. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

But at least Port held true to their club song. Well, not the bit about having the Power to win, but arguably the bit about not stop, stop, stopping.

Mind you, the Crows went into the weekend talking up their ambition for “Total Control”, and they arguably generally hold true to the ‘80s song of the same name by the Motels. Or at least the bit that goes: “Steadfast collapse always certain, any moment.”

And, against GWS on Saturday, almost inevitable.

For while it’s difficult to cast a downbeat tone for a team with the weekend’s highest winning margin, the fact is this beautiful set of numbers could, like Keating’s, paper over some very large cracks and presage a lengthy and unpleasant correction.

The Motels’ singer Martha Davis concluded that “I’d sell my soul for total control”.

But from the way we played on the weekend, we’ll need to find some first.

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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