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Touch Of The Fumbles: '97 all over again - and not in a good way

Touch of the Fumbles

It wasn’t all beer, skittles and premierships in 1997.

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Sure, Adelaide and Norwood winning flags in successive weeks ensured it would always be one of the Greatest Years Ever.

Even the fact it also incorporated the maiden season of our fledgling foes the Power doesn’t dampen the wistful reminiscences; for a league without Port would be like the original Star Wars trilogy without Darth Vader. Boring and a bit pointless.

But for sporting tragics of a certain stripe, 1997 will only ever recall bitter memories of defeat: sudden, hideous, ignominious defeat.

Australia's Harry Kewell is up ended by Iranian defender Mohammadali Pieravany as Australia attacks after Iran had scored two late goals to draw 2-2 and qualify for the 1998 World Cup finals at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne 29 November. A crowd of 85,000 saw the underdogs Iran clinched the tie after being down 0-2 and progress to the final on the away goals ruling after drawing the first leg in Tehran 1-1. AFP PHOTO

Harry Kewell during the 1997 draw with Iran. Photo: AFP.

For ’97 was the year in which the World Cup-bound Socceroos, coming home with a wet sail at an MCG packed with parochial supporters, somehow let Iran score twice in the second half of their home qualifier to draw the match and knock them out of contention.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that beating Essendon by 82 points in a home and away season percentage-booster left me with the same sensation of grief and regret as the 1997 world cup qualifier.

Any game in which Kyle Hartigan scores a goal is likely to be a fairly one-sided affair.

But there was also a hint – just a hint, mind you – of that familiar feeling that we may have just blown a golden chance.

For a side that has actually won more games than they’ve lost against the Crows, I tend to associate Essendon with memories of rampaging Adelaide victories. Generally in the vicinity of 100 points, or thereabouts.

Back in 2005, the Bombers flew in to Football Park to leave demoralized by 88 points. Which was pretty good.

The following season we managed the same margin by three quarter time, which was pretty good too. Particularly since we then managed to blow it out by another 50 before the final siren, with Trent Hentschel alone kicking four goals in the first ten minutes of the final term.

So in that context, hitting an 82-point lead at three quarter time yesterday – and finishing the match with the same 82-point margin – felt like a bit of a cop-out, really.

Indeed, there are actually few things more frustrating in football fandom than reaching a 100-point lead only to see it pegged back to something more (for want of a better word) respectable.

Frankly, I expected more from Essendon. After all, we helped them get rid of Hirdy with that 112-point drubbing last year; you’d think the least they could do would be to show us a bit of gratitude!

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The Crows out-muscled the young Bombers for most of the game. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

But no; instead of capitulating, they decided to kick the last three goals of the game – roughly a third of their entire night’s score in a few wasted minutes.

Now, I know Don Pyke was publicly big on the fact that this game was all about the four points and not at all about the percentage, but here’s the thing. This game was all about the percentage.

And not to read too much into it, but we now have the faintly terrifying prospect that yesterday’s win over Essendon might become a microcosm of our season. That, like the Socceroos in ’97, we will be sublime in patches, efficient in others, and stand poised for the desired result with the end in sight… and then piss it away in a few lazy minutes of junk time.

Of course, it’s quite possible too that allowing the Bombers the final three goals of a game that, by rights, we should have won by a three-figure margin will not come back to bite us on the proverbial bum.

After all, there’s still time to bolster our percentage and wrest back that unlucky 0.13 per cent margin that Geelong (Geelong, dammit!) has on us – the margin currently keeping us out of the top four.

We have the Lions at home this week, the Dockers away the week after; two teams that lost by a combined total of 184 on the weekend just gone.

Freo’s 90-point drubbing by the Swans seemed an odd way to commemorate Pav’s 350th game, but they’ve always done things differently over there.

After that, though, we face Port and West Coast: games in which – to recall the parlance of the song recently dusted off to mark the AFL’s “Retro Round” – we will be doing nothing more than Playing To Win. Games in which percentage will be an afterthought at best.

And meanwhile, over the next four weeks, the Cats face Essendon, Richmond, Brisbane and Melbourne. Which is really the definitive percentage-building draw!

So it’s entirely possible that those three junk-time goals to Essendon will be the difference between success and failure this season.

In a year of margin calls – silly frees and errant kicking in a final term arm-wrestle against North in Round One, the missed goal by Seedsman that would have put us ahead of Geelong in the final term at home, that last-gasp loss to Hawthorn – it would almost seem apt to let a single goal cost us a top four finish.

Still, at least we’re building our percentage with actual purpose… as opposed to Port, who seem to have embarked on a fun game of ‘let’s see how high we could have gone if we weren’t mired three games behind the nearest top eight side’.

Brad Ebert of the Port Adelaide Power (left) takes a mark ahead of Daniel Rich of the Brisbane Lions during their round 19 AFL game at the Gabba in Brisbane, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Will Port have enough bandages to accommodate Brad Ebert this year? Photo: Dan Peled, AAP.

It would be tempting to suggest that the only intrigue Port’s last four games hold is wondering whether the club’s supply of medical gauze will outlast Brad Ebert’s propensity to throw his head in front of moving objects, or playing the annual edition of “Can John Butcher save his career?”

But annoyingly, Port seem more interested in actually winning games, which could prove problematic, given the Bulldogs and Kangaroos are still no sure things.

Port Adelaide Power players celebrates a goal during their round 19 AFL game against the Brisbane Lions at the Gabba in Brisbane, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

John Butcher nails a goal, misses the high-five. Photo: Dan Peled, AAP.

Thus, once again, we face the perpetual “Power conundrum”: do we actually want them to beat Sydney this week, knowing that it puts them closer to the unlikeliest of finals berths?

To give them their due, they certainly play much better without a ruckman than we do, given we not only lost the hitouts 26-60 after Sauce went down yesterday (with Matthew Leuenberger responsible for a ludicrous 53 of them) but fell short in clearances as well.

Fortunately, Jacobs is expected to be back in action well before the Round 22 Showdown, so we won’t have to face off in a Battle of the Makeshift Ruckmen.

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Josh Jenkins getting out-rucked. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

But amusingly, if Port do fall short, for the second year running it will effectively be because of an ill-advised mid-season loss to Carlton.

A loss which, in hindsight, probably represented the Power’s own “Socceroos-vs-Iran” moment.

Let’s just hope the Showdown doesn’t become their equivalent of the 2005 penalty shootout against Uruguay.

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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