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Touch Of The Fumbles: The audacity of hope

Touch of the Fumbles

So it turns out away semi-finals are not really our thing.

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I kinda got that impression this time last year, what with that eight-goal-to-two opening quarter against Hawthorn.

But it’s always good to have it reinforced by a seven-goal opening term to the Swans.

We should probably try to avoid playing one next year.

By which I mean, in a Geelong “finish top four, win the first week and sit back ahead of a home preliminary final” sort of way. Rather than a Port Adelaide “miss the major round altogether” sort of way.

On the plus side though, the cash I’d set aside for airfare to a preliminary, and possibly grand, final has now been freed up to spend as I so choose.

Which means it will be spent drowning two decades of frustration and unfulfilled ambition through the off-season.

A dejected Adelaide Crows after their loss to the Sydney Swans in the 1st semi-final AFL match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Richard Douglas, no doubt thinking: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” Or something. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

Here’s a confession.

I don’t really enjoy football anymore.

And I’m not talking about Saturday night; of course I didn’t enjoy that!

And of course, I love the game, and I revel in it. But enjoy? Not so much.

I’ve come to realise I don’t intrinsically enjoy wins for their own sake anymore; that once the initial euphoria wears off I can only ponder what it all means in the context of our quixotic quest for a flag.

Let me take you back to one of my favourite Adelaide Football Club moments. Having come back – twice – from 40 down, the Crows closed within five points of North Melbourne in our Round Nine clash of 2013. With mere seconds on the clock, Sam Kerridge (sigh) lobs the ball to full forward; it clears the waiting pack, but Jared Petrenko chases it to the goal-line, nudging it past the posts with an outstretched toe. A one-point win for the ages. 125 to 124.

It was a beautiful moment, not merely for the poetry and the theatre but because for the first time in that wretched season, we pulled ahead on the win-loss ledger, 5-4, and suddenly anything seemed possible.

But I can’t think of it now without recalling that we lost our next three games – including a hideous home drubbing by those bastard Swans – and never really recovered.

So, you see, no victory can be merely appreciated on its own merits, and no game is ever an isolated, standalone event.

It is merely yet another stop on the endless, interminable sojourn toward that ever-elusive third premiership.

A pilgrimage that, now once again, seems to stretch out before us like a long day’s journey into night.

It wasn’t really Sydney that killed our season; you can’t, after all, kill what is already dead

But for all that, I’m surprisingly unperturbed about how it all ended on Saturday night.

I guess that’s because it wasn’t really Sydney that killed our season; you can’t, after all, kill what is already dead.

In truth, it was all over from the moment the Crows fell at home against West Coast in that hideous finale to a home and away season that, once again, had flattered to deceive.

From that moment, we were marking time.

It was pitiful, in a way, to see the reams of copy throughout the week, extolling hope of a finals miracle on the strength of a single game against the pedestrian North Melbourne.

Maybe it was the hype that got to me, or maybe the euphoria of the Doggies’ trouncing Hawthorn on Friday night, but I started to think we might be a shot against the Swans, if everything fell our way.

But we could see within the first five minutes of the bounce that this was not to be.

Dan Hannebery of the Swans celebrates after kicking a goal during the 1st semi-final AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Adelaide Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

The Swans: can play, unfortunately. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

No matter. If it didn’t end then, it would have ended the following week against Paddy’s Cats.

Yes, the Bulldogs have made a preliminary final from 7th place and I really, genuinely hope they can go all the way. And one day some team will from outside the top four. But it will likely be a Victorian team, playing other Victorian teams. Not a team traversing the country for three weeks straight to gain the ultimate prize.

It has been done once, of course. Once upon a time.

But the fact is, we’re spoilt.

The grand narrative surrounding the Crows’ back-to-back flags has become almost biblical in its hushed retelling; which is appropriate, since it now feels part of a long-forgotten age.

Eddie Betts of the Crows fails to mark during the 1st semi-final AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Adelaide Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Eddie Betts: what goes up… Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

When, 18 years ago, Adelaide set out in search of its second premiership, the club’s marketing slogan was “I believe in miracles”. And they pulled it off.

The problem is, after only eight years in the league, we were not merely taught that miracles can happen, we came to expect that they would.

And thus, there is still a part of us that believes even now in that mythical second coming, that a new messiah will turn up and win the next two flags in succession.

There is still a part of us that considers winning three games on the road against the league’s best teams a poetically noble challenge, rather than a logistical implausibility.

Our early success taught us to dream big, and that’s fine.

But I don’t believe in miracles anymore.

None of us do really. Except, apparently, the Adelaide Football Club itself.

We are usually competent, occasionally incandescent – and eternally annoying

A digression.

When former state Liberal leader Iain Evans, a sometime contributor to these pages, retired from parliament, he offered some friendly advice to his colleagues about the benefit of teamwork, ironically enough allowing himself one final swing at his nemesis Vickie Chapman in the process.

“Politics does not have to be that hard,” Evans noted.

“For instance, when asked days before an election if you rule out a challenge to the leader, the answer to that question is ‘Yes’.”

In the same vein (and borrowing from the original Ghostbusters) my unsolicited advice to the Adelaide Football Club is: if someone asks you if you want a nine-day break heading in to a finals-shaping game against last year’s Grand Finalists…you say ‘YES!’

It’s fair to say the Crows have tested our resolve a few times over the past few years: Kurt Tippett’s chef commercials (which were just plain annoying even before they basically crippled the club); the 19th Man (I enjoyed Mark Stevens’ work, but surely this was OTT?); David Gallagher.

kurt

Tippo, possibly signing his name with the blood of Adelaide supporters.

But demanding a Friday night showcase in a bid to pump up ticket sales after the AFL offered a Monday night game against West Coast was perhaps the most egregious own-goal in club history.

It is literally the worst response to a decent offer since George Costanza turned down the chance to “come up for coffee” at the end of a date by insisting “I can’t drink coffee late at night, it keeps me up”.

And thus, a bumper crowd of 50,785 got to see the Crows throw their season away in woeful fashion.

The worst of it is, you just know the club is going to spend the off-season boasting about their attendance record.

So just remember when they do that they might well have squandered a finals campaign for it.

I’m beginning to see why Paddy thought it would be a grand idea to go to Geelong, where they would rather play in a half-built stadium in front of a handful of snaggle-toothed yokels – and win – than boast about how they’re the best attended team in the league without a premiership to its name in the past two decades.

Fortunately for the Cats, they got to play in front of almost 90,000 at the ‘G and still get away with a win (how Isaac Smith must have contemplated that errant kick at three-quarter time on Friday night!)

Sam Mitchell (left) and Luke Hodge of the Hawks react after the AFL Semi-Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG in Melbourne, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

The weekend’s one consolation. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

Until that moment, though, the Hawks had won all six of their games decided by a single-digit margin this year.

Given such victories are effectively akin to the toss of a coin, let’s imagine they’d only won half of them; they’d have finished seventh, and likely been bundled out by the Bulldogs a week earlier.

Which tells us what? That this a game of seconds, and of millimetres. And that we should never again consider – for a moment – compromising seconds and millimetres just to get a few thousand extra bodies through the gate.

It’s not like we’re the Melbourne bloody Demons, forced through dire circumstance to sell a home game each year to keep the whole shebang afloat.

It made you really want to be a bona fide Bulldogs supporter, if that didn’t entail your entire life to that point being a living hell

We’re now in the ironic position of barracking for the sentimental favourite, the AFL’s hard-luck story, the Western Bulldogs.

Ironic, of course, because much of that hard luck was inflicted by us.

Still, they did enjoy a post-’98 purple patch against us, wherein they won five games straight across three years (which felt like a big deal at the time, but in hindsight probably did little to cheer them up).

In ‘99, at the first MCG game I ever attended, they came from 40 points down to beat us by two. Nevertheless, as of Friday night, they are forgiven.

Bulldogs players react after winning the AFL Semi-Final match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Western Bulldogs at the MCG in Melbourne, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. (AAP Image/Julian Smith) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Time to jump on the Bulldogs bandwagon, before it inevitably crashes. Photo: Julian Smith / AAP

Indeed, one couldn’t help but be carried away with the euphoric symbolism of Footscray’s domination of the Hawks – a win for the ages that told of a dynasty in the making.

It made you really want to be a bona fide Bulldogs supporter, if that didn’t entail your entire life to that point being a living hell.

I’m assuming September 16 will now be declared a national holiday, to mark the moment we were finally freed from boring Hawthorn Grand Finals.

But I fear the euphoria will fade as the Dogs go from rags to riches and back to rags again. For in all likelihood, we’re now faced with the very real prospect of either Sydney or Geelong winning the whole damn thing, and I consequently have to decide once and for all who I hate more – the Smiling Assassin or He Who Shall Not Be Named?

kurt2

He Who (sometimes) Shall Not Be Named: how could anyone not like him?

But one thing we know already: whatever else happens when the Swans and the Cats tussle this week, Dangerfield will be mighty. He is built for these games; for finals. We have missed him ruefully this year, and on Saturday night we missed him desperately.

Yes, ‘tis true we are suckers for vapid symbolism. That’s why Sando the Snake Oil Salesman was able to convince us a premiership was in the offing because – in his words – “this is the hottest summer Adelaide’s had since the ’97/’98 summer… you know where I’m going with that don’t you?”

Hell, I was even half drawn into slack-jawed optimism last week when someone noted the ominous portent that the Pembroke Old Scholars had just won their first flag since their back-to-back premierships of ‘97/’98.

It’s likely we’ll never again have a season so untroubled by injury, at least until its final outing

But even in the weekend’s capitulation, there were things to be wistfully optimistic about, the odd sign of history repeating.

A wiry kid with the number 23 on his back coming of age in a final, for a start.

Charlie Cameron of the Crows kicks a goal despite the efforts of Harry Marsh of the Swans to pull him down during the 1st semi-final AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Adelaide Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Promising? Charlie Cameron. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

But it’s also time to cast aside our traditional whimsy and embrace the somber reality. It’s likely we’ll never again have a season so untroubled by injury (at least until its final outing), and the list of legitimate contenders grows ever longer and stronger (we can only hope the prophesied GWS juggernaut turns out to be to the AFL what the Crows’ reserves side was to the SANFL).

And then there’s this.

It’s time too to let go of the Phil Walsh narrative.

There is a creeping expectation that because something bad has happened to us, fate must now throw us something good

Not to cast aside his legacy, for that is considerable, both in what he instilled in his tragically brief tenure and in the resolve his former charges found in the aftermath.

But, as with so much of Adelaide Football Club mythology, we are in danger of over-romanticising our status as a hard luck tale and miring ourselves once again in its forlorn symbolism.

There is a creeping expectation that because something bad has happened to us, fate must now throw us something good.

But it doesn’t work that way.

Lance Franklin of the Swans tackles Kyle Hartigan of the Crows during the 1st semi-final AFL match between the Sydney Swans and the Adelaide Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

‘Operation Stop Buddy’ was not a roaring success. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

We may not have endured as much endemic heartbreak as St Kilda or the Bulldogs, and we may have never been as persistently pitiful as Fremantle, Melbourne or Brisbane have all been in their turn. We may not be as perpetually frustrating as Richmond.

But we have elements of all of them. We are usually competent, occasionally incandescent – and eternally annoying.

A team’s season is wont to be defined by its final outing, whether it be the Tigers’ lifeless capitulation, Collingwood’s brave defiance or Port’s pointless palate-cleanser against the Suns. But only one team is ever defined by the ultimate victory, and once again we are not that team. Rather, once again, a season of audacious hope has been all but written off by a game that showed us not how far we’ve come, but how far we have yet to go.

Bugger.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly and long-suffering AFL column, published each Monday during the football season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased, but feel free to vent, sympathise or gloat in the comments section below.

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