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Touch Of The Fumbles: Mini-final, major choke

Touch of the Fumbles

The Crows dropped their bundle on Friday, and have now dropped out of the top four on the eve of the finals. That means it's time for Adelaide supporters to wallow in self-pity, Port fans to become insufferably smug and Tom Richardson to vent.

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Hello darkness, my old friend… I’ve come to talk with you again.

Yep, the Crows really got us a beauty this year.

I was genuinely, albeit slowly, starting to believe this season could be ours for the taking.

But one of the ceaseless wonders of football fandom is how quickly we manage to forget, when the going’s good, that your club will invariably end the season by RIPPING THE BEATING HEART RIGHT OUT OF YOUR CHEST AND HOLDING IT IN FRONT OF YOUR DYING, DISBELIEVING EYES.

Which, of course, is what the Crows did to us on Friday night.

AFL Season 2016, Round 23, West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows,

The Crows’ defence under siege, as usual. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Yes, unless you support Hawthorn (or occasionally Geelong) you can be guaranteed your team will take all your hopes and dreams and crap on them from a great height.

But that’s a lesson we should have learned many times over in the past two decades.

The fact that we can still be lulled into believing otherwise is more a reflection of our own gullibility than anything else.

And importantly, at least the Crows’ many country-based fans were able to attend on Friday night to watch their team make absolute dunderheaded asses of themselves, looking weary, listless and lost after two six-day breaks in succession. Sure, if the match had been on a Monday – as the AFL wanted and the club rejected – the country supporters might have seen their team win, but they would have had to watch it on TV. And who wants to do that?!

So big pats on the back all round, Adelaide!

Geelong’s victory over Melbourne would have almost certainly knocked us into third spot… so at least we managed to alleviate that disappointment early

And fortunately, we’ve learned a few new things this weekend as well.

Chief among them, when a third-string ruckman gets a call-up to replace an injured top-liner, don’t immediately think ‘Ah well, that’s curtains for that team then’.

That was a mistake I made not once, but twice.

First up when West Coast brought in Jonathan Giles for Nic Nat – and he proceeded to dominate Sam Jacobs, shading him in the air, killing him around the ground and generally making him look like a slow, lumbering mess (although to be fair, he didn’t really need a lot of help to do that on Friday).

Of course, anyone who remembers Giles from his GWS heyday shouldn’t have been surprised that he’s a big game player – he was, after all, best on ground in all (ie both) their wins in their debut season.

AFL Season 2016, Round 23, West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows,

OUT-SAUCED: Jon Giles getting the better of Sam Jacobs. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

But just in case we didn’t learn the lesson that reserve ruckmen are wont to take their limited senior opportunities, Hawthorn debutant Jack Fitzpatrick stepped in for Jon Ceglar yesterday – and booted the final goal of the match to put the decisive nail in the coffin of Adelaide’s top four chances.

It was just one of those weekends, really.

After the Crows’ insipid capitulation to the Eagles, instead of going about our business with a home final and double chance sewn up, we had to hang on the results of every other finals-bound side.

Who wants a home qualifying final anyway? We’ve had three of them over the years, and none has delivered anything but pain, failure and disappointment

Mind you, in hindsight, resting my hopes on Melbourne and Richmond was probably a tad over-ambitious.

Paul Roos was probably sitting back thinking ‘I’m earning $30,000 for every point we lose by’, while Damien Hardwick just spent the entire game wondering if it was too soon to ask the AFL to call it off.

Anyhoo, after they both fell 224 collective points in arrears, it was all down to North Melbourne. Fortunately, the Kangas had been given a huge fillip the previous week with the graceful and respectful sendoff they afforded four of their veterans, including the AFL’s games record-holder Boomer Harvey – so they were always going to make a good account of themselves against GWS.

Nonetheless, it turned out the coach and club chairman announcing the start of a painful rebuild wasn’t enough to inspire the team over the line (who’d have thunk it?), and thus we found ourselves – again – being forced to barrack for Collingwood.

Collingwood player Dane Swan runs with the ball as the Magpies play Essendon during the Anzac Day round five match in Melbourne, Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Collingwood won by one point. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Swanny: Happy days. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

This was only the third time I’ve ever really cheered on Collingwood. I did it once when my then-Dream Team captain Dane Swan – the only Mapgie I’ve ever truly loved – led the Fumbles to a memorable Grand Final win with 42 touches, 12 marks, six tackles and a crazy 187 fantasy points. And once, of course, roughly this time last year when the Pies smashed Geelong to hand us a finals berth (which we cheapened considerably by losing to the Cats in a dead rubber the following week).

By late Saturday night, I had visions of that Princess Leia hologram in the original Star Wars pleading to anyone who could hear: “Help me, Collingwood: you are my only hope.”

Sadly, though, by late afternoon Sunday, it was more like the bit where Obi-Wan Kenobe feels a great disturbance in the force, “as if a million voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”

Silenced by that bloody Fitzpatrick goal, and a rushed behind to Puopolo a minute later.

By the end of the weekend – possibly the most annoying weekend of football in living memory – I felt like I’d lost a gut-wrenching, season-defining game at least four times over.

And that one-point Collingwood loss to Hawthorn was almost the worst of them.

Almost.

Jack Fitzpatrick of the Hawks (right) reacts after the siren during the Round 23 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Collingwood Magpies at the MCG in Melbourne, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Jack Fitzpatrick, delivering a horrible finish to a lousy weekend. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a truly shiteful weekend without Port winning.

The Power might have had an enjoyably capricious season, but they did something we evidently won’t: finished with a victory.

For there’s no doubt we were the biggest loser from the AFL’s final round.

Even the wooden-spooner Essendon managed to finish the year on a high – winning their final game while still retaining the number one draft pick.

It was in some jeopardy for a while there, with Brisbane – sitting just 0.5 per cent above the Bombers on the ladder -falling to the Saints by 58 points.

But somehow, the loss saw the Lions’ percentage actually rise from 61.5 to 61.6; you know you’re really having a shit season when a ten-goal drubbing is a percentage booster!

A dissapointed Brisbane Lions coach Justin Leppitsch walks off the ground, during the Round 23 AFL match between the St Kilda Saints and the Brisbane Lions, played at Etihad stadium in Melbourne, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016. (AAP Image/Joe Castro) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Justin Leppitsch: “Well, we couldn’t get the win, but at least we’ll get the number one draft pick… oh wait!” Photo: Joe Castro / AAP

But, in truth, even if Collingwood had won yesterday, it would merely have papered over the cracks of our own dismal performance, much like Richmond’s final quarter flurry of junk-time goals against Sydney somehow turned a 123-point three-quarter-time bollocking into a more ‘respectable’ 113 point shellacking.

Put simply, the Crows were awful.

For a match touted as a mini-final, this was a major choke. A choke beyond a joke.

The midfield, sans Sloane, looked slow and one-dimensional. And meanwhile, Eagles Gaff, Priddis and Shuey had the ball on a string, five-goal Coleman medallist Josh Kennedy made Daniel Talia look second rate and 12-game defender Tom Barrass utterly em-Barrassed our much-vaunted forward line, cutting off foray after foray and rebounding with a Burgoyne-esque 94.1 per cent disposal efficiency.

We did, however, learn a vital truth: that Rory Sloane is even more important to Adelaide than Nic Nat is to West Coast.

AFL Season 2016, Round 23, West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows,

Josh Kennedy marking strongly: one of the many annoying sights we witnessed repeatedly on Friday night. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

There were shades of that other great wasted season, 2005, in all this.

That year (again, against West Coast) it was Ricciuto who got rubbed out for a week heading into the major round; we lost the ensuing home Qualifying Final against St Kilda by eight points.

Mind you, I’ve always argued that the late withdrawal of Nathan Bock with the flu was more significant than Roo’s suspension, since Trent Hentschel was forced to play in defence in his absence to curb the in-form Nick Riewoldt (who, incidentally, kicked nine goals yesterday – a lazy 11 years later). And our problem was less in getting our hands on the ball in the midfield than finding a marking target forward (besides Ken McGregor). Not that I’ve ever had the heart to watch it again.

Still, I never minded that loss as much as I should have because it enabled us to absolutely destroy Port Adelaide the following week, in what remains the only final we’ve played against them.

Of course, if I’d known then that it would take another decade before we’d seriously contend again – and even then we’d piss it away in the final round – I might have been less flippant.

Because let’s face it, this year is all but gone now.

Don Pyke noted we didn’t bring our A-game… unfortunately, we didn’t bring our B or C games either

Sure, we’ll probably beat North at home.

We might even beat GWS away the following week (but probably not).

But to win three weeks on the road when the quality of the top four is as high as it is – that is a bridge too far.

AFL Season 2016, Round 23, West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows,

Eddie’s influence, like every other Adelaide forward, was curbed by a dogged Eagles defence. Photo: Michael Errey / InDaily

Don Pyke, rather optimistically, noted that “we didn’t bring our A-game” on Friday night.

Which is suitably understated.

More unfortunately, we didn’t bring our B or C games either.

It’s interesting that Pyke was part of that ‘05/’06 era, as there are markedly similar traits.

As then, we are supremely well-drilled, but strangely slow to respond when things go awry.

To be fair, that doesn’t happen overly often, but nonetheless the mentality seems to be to back the players and the game-plan – an interesting dogma for a club whose only two premierships were won by a coach unafraid to throw the magnets whimsically at the board.

Of course, those flags were a long time ago (in case you needed reminding).

The distinguishing feature of the Crows in the intervening years has been their knack for disappointing, and spectacularly so.

For example, that time in 2002 we entered the finals in third spot and jetted to the Gabba to face Brisbane, full of confidence given we had beaten them there the previous season… only to lose by 71 points in a game in which we managed only two goals in the first 90 minutes.

Then there was that time in ’08 we beat the Bulldogs in the final round to elevate us into the top four, with only the ridiculous prospect of a 100-point win by St Kilda against Essendon threatening to dislodge us.

They won by 108.

And we lost at home to Collingwood the following week, and that was that.

So much hope. So much failure.

AFL Season 2016, Round 23, West Coast Eagles, Adelaide Crows,

One of Charlie Cameron’s rare touches goes awry. Photo: Michael Errey / AAP

If there is one consolation this week, it is that had we beaten West Coast we would have airily assumed a top two finish and a home final. But, like in ’08, we would have been stunned by the magnitude of Geelong’s victory over Melbourne – a win that would have almost certainly knocked us into third spot in any case.

So at least we managed to alleviate that disappointment early by getting our ass handed to us on a platter.

But, as in that Brisbane game in ‘02, it wasn’t merely the fact of the loss, but the nature of it that was so dispiriting.

It was like waking from a crazy dream that we had (for a brief minute) been a genuinely competent AFL side.

Still, a football team is like a lover who keeps breaking your heart, and you keep following them around like a puppy dog anyway.

So of course I’ll be there in a fortnight, cheering on every goal against North, and somehow managing to convince myself that we haven’t already blown our whole season.

After all… who wants a home qualifying final anyway?

We’ve had three of them over the years, and none has delivered anything but pain, failure and the disappointment of having your hopes and dreams crapped on from a great height.

So why would we have wanted another prospective armchair ride to the Grand Final?

It would only have got our hopes up. And, as we know (right?), our hopes are only there to be dashed.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased, but you can even up the score – or vent your schadenfreude – in the comments section below.

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