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Crows can't seal win, Port falls to earth

Football

Pre-season form can be notoriously deceptive, but there was no mistaking the strikingly different tones struck by the respective coaches of SA’s two AFL teams, both coming off NAB Challenge losses on the weekend.

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Adelaide’s Don Pyke took plenty of positives from his undermanned side’s nailbiting loss to a similarly undermanned Fremantle in Mt Barker, WA, including a free-flowing transition of the ball through the corridor and a defensive mindset to match the Crows’ much-touted attacking flair.

By contrast, Port Adelaide mentor Ken Hinkley was doing little to sugarcoat the Power’s outing on Saturday, wherein a promising first half effort was doused by a resurgent young Melbourne side, which piled on six majors in an incandescent third quarter – Port’s misery exacerbated when its only shot on goal for the quarter was disallowed, Robbie Gray having played on for a snap as the siren sounded.

“We don’t dance around it, we have to say it the way it is…. it wasn’t good enough,” Hinkley bemoaned after Melbourne’s 0.15.5 (95) to 1.10.7 (76) win at Elizabeth Oval.

“There’s lots we need to sharpen up, and clearly we have to.”

In reality though, there is little that can be read into the AFL’s challenge games, such are the variables from the season proper.

Port capped its interchange rotations in preparation for the AFL’s latest rule change, while stand-in Demons coach Simon Goodwin – in his apprenticeship for the senior gig he will inherit from Paul Roos next season – made allowances for the heat by turning over his bench regularly.

Port also came off on the wrong end of a lopsided free kick count, but Hinkley wasn’t making excuses.

“You can use all the excuses under the sun … I reckon it’s effort,” he said.

“We’ve trained for four months. We know how hard it is. We’re now only one game out from the start of our AFL season.

“Both sides came in reasonably level today but Melbourne brought more heat.”

There was plenty of heat under the western sun for the Crows yesterday, but in the end it was a familiar theme – inaccuracy in front of goal – that told the tale.

The Dockers kicked six goals to the Crows’ four after halftime to earn them a 1.9.6 (69) 8.19 (67) win – two late goals from the boot of Nick Suban sealing the victory. At one point, the visitors dominated play but only managed to add eight straight behinds to the scoreboard – finishing with 27 scoring shots to the Dockers’ 16.

“At the moment we will call it an event, I don’t think it’s a pattern,” Pyke reasoned.

“It’s hard to win games when you don’t put scoreboard pressure on… in the second quarter we had enough flow of the game to score more than we did and that keeps a good side like Fremantle in the game.”

But he did not dwell on the frustration, given three of Adelaide’s top five goal scorers from last season weren’t playing. But he would no doubt have seen enough to smile at the prospect of the likes of Taylor Walker, Eddie Betts and Charlie Cameron getting on the end of some of the Adelaide midfield’s forward thrusts – particularly when players such as Brad Crouch, Sam Jacobs and Scott Thompson are reinjected into the Crows’ engineroom.

“[There were] a lot of positives from our viewpoint,” said Pyke.

“Some of the ball movement was what we’ve been working on, and team defence, a lot of those principles we’ve been working on we saw as well… and it was a good contest, a good hard-fought game of footy, which is what we want as an ideal preparation for the lead-in to the season.”

The Dockers were missing Hayden Ballantyne from their attack, while Matthew Pavlich, Michael Johnson and Zac Dawson were all kept in cotton wool for much of the game.

But Brownlow medalist Nat Fyfe hardly missed a beat, with 26 possessions – 17 contested – 10 clearances and two goals – although Crows fans would have been heartened to see youngster Dean Gore, part of Adelaide’s Patrick Dangerfield compensation, crunch the Freo champ in a desperate tackle that earned him a free kick with the game in the balance.

Fremantle are set to treat their final NAB Challenge clash against Geelong as a full dress rehearsal for the Round One clash against the Western Bulldogs, with a raft of fringe players likely to be sidelined after failing to impress coach Ross Lyon.

Only two Dockers – Fyfe and Tom Sheridan (28) – reached 20 possessions, but the likes of Brady Grey, Sam Collins and Ethan Hughes failed to impress, albeit with limited opportunities.

“I thought a couple didn’t put their best foot forward today,” Lyon said.

“I think people that are trying to cement spots, certainly I didn’t think there was anyone that really sewed it up… I thought they were solid without stamping it.”

At Alberton, there is plenty for Hinkley to mull over ahead of a meeting with Richmond on Thursday week, with his side widely predicted to re-ascend the ladder after last year’s disappointing fall from grace.

Notably, the absence of Paddy Ryder – joining his former Essendon teammates on the sidelines – is looming as a defining impediment, with first choice ruckman Matthew Lobbe monstered by emerging Demons big-man Max Gawn.

The 208cm Gawn proved the difference for Melbourne, racking up 42 hitouts, seven clearances and 15 disposals in a best-on-ground performance.

“Certainly we lost the ruck contest… [Gawn] got the better of Lobes and our other ruck backups, and that gave them significant advantage,” Hinkley noted.

“We were playing reasonably well in the first half but in the second half we didn’t match Melbourne’s intensity at all.

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Hinkley makes a point to his charges. Photo: Michael Errey, InDaily.

“We delivered half a performance [and] it’s unacceptable to play half a game of footy… they probably didn’t want to play the game of football in front of them as much, [it was] a bit harder, a bit tougher, and Melbourne were better in those areas.”

Former Docker Ryan Crowley was in familiar territory yesterday – on the receiving end of crowd antagonism.

Carlton fans were onto the Bomber top-up player as soon as he first touched the ball.

But the man who drove opponents to distraction with his tagging at Fremantle is exploring different roles with the Bombers; he started the 10-goal win as an opportunistic forward and when he went into the midfield after half time, it was with much more of a free rein.

That will no doubt change when the need arises, but coach John Worsfold has now said several times that he wants to try Crowley in different roles.

“We’ll have a look at him where he’s not accountable for anyone, which was the second half … but we also want to see what he brings in that forward line,” Worsfold said.

“At this stage we’ll just keep throwing him around – in season, it still may be a real mix.”

Crowley was among four of Essendon’s 10 replacement players who took to the field against the Blues.

Sam Michael, Sam Grimley, Jonathan Simpkin and Crowley all had solid games as Essendon overwhelmed a young Carlton team.

Grimley has a suspect goalkicking action, but he and Joe Daniher worked well as key forwards.

“Neither of them are going to be the target for us – as in just one key target,” Worsfold said.

“They’re both going to be able to play higher and push back to the goalsquare as well.”

Michael worked hard in the ruck, a position Worsfold wants him to make his own.

“He’s not going to finesse too much,” Worsfold said with a grin.

Fellow top-up players Matt Dea and Mark Jamar will probably come into the team for next Saturday’s Shepparton game against Geelong.

But James Polkinghorne has a calf muscle injury, while Nathan Grima, Mathew Stokes and James Kelly are another week away at least from playing.

-with AAP

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