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The very best thing

Touch of the Fumbles

I think we can safely say without fear of hyperbole that that was the best thing that ever happened in the world, ever.

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It’s fair to say this round wasn’t looking promising: I had the 1997 and 2007 Grand Finals on standby as consolation pending the expected Power shellacking. Hell, even the Port-flavoured Balfours Showdown donuts tasted better; what hope did the actual team have when even confectionary favoured the black, white and teal?

But by Sunday afternoon it was clear a certain cosmic force was working in Adelaide’s favour: this was, after all, the Yoyos’ designated week for a win; and the four teams immediately above us on the ladder helpfully lost their respective games to allow us to once again crawl onto the cusp of respectability.

But this round wasn’t really about the ladder (well, apart from the blissful realisation that we’d knocked Port off top spot, perhaps never to regain it). This was about an average Crows side sizing up against a rampaging Power outfit and, for once, holding its collective nerve.

It was about Jason Porplyzia finding himself back in the team, and without the dreaded green vest, and dishing off crucial goals as well as kicking one himself when the pressure was on this heretofore-fragile team.

It was about injuries forcing the late withdrawal of the Crows’ two most likely run-with players, despite which the dangerous Monfries and Wingard were held to almost negligible contributions by the undecorated likes of Matthew Wright and Luke Thompson (playing his first game for eighteen months).

It was about the blokes in the Crows jumpers (mostly) winning their positions, which made the blokes in the Port jumpers (mostly) look a lot less imposing than the reputations that had preceded them; we still burned the ball, but we also chased it with a fury rarely seen in the Crows tri-colours (well, once a fortnight, maybe).

Mostly though, it was about silencing the bandwagon-jumping hordes of faux-Power supporters who arrived en masse on the Footy Express from the eastern suburbs.

Much as the Yoyo Crows’ on-again/off-again form has been a source of wry amusement/intense frustration this year, the impeccable form of the once-hapless Power has been disproportionately annoying. It’s a potent example of how confidence can create the illusion of competence so thoroughly that everyone – from the players themselves to their weekly adversaries — buys into the scam.

That’s not to say that Port aren’t genuine contenders, merely to point out that, personnel-wise, the team hasn’t changed overmuch since the days of 138 point home-ground thrashings. And while most of that improvement can be attributed to the fact of a young team growing into its own capabilities, confidence remains the intangible asset that Port has managed to harness this year. And, sadly, the Crows have been all too ready to assist.

But for a freak Hand-Of-God intervention that saw a regulation Monfries behind diverted into a goal in Round 19 last year, both Port and the Crows would have finished with 11 wins apiece in 2013; the Crows superior percentage would have seen it comfortably lock in seventh place, while Port would have missed the eight to finish tenth behind Essendon. It came down to little else, and yet Port’s season was universally acclaimed as a magnificent triumph, while Adelaide’s (with a succession of narrow defeats) was a fizzer; and this mindset seemed to perpetuate through the off-season and into 2014.

There was, we supposed, the psychological effect of He Who Shall Not Be Named, but how many spilled marks or misfired handballs can that genuinely account for? In the end, Port convinced itself it was a contender, and played like a contender, while Adelaide convinced itself otherwise, and played like a team that doubted its ability to win.

And that doubt seemed contagious: this week Bryce Gibbs, the former number one draft pick who slipped through Adelaide’s fingers as a father-son recruit, re-signed with Carlton, a club that seems to have zero-to-nil premiership prospects in coming years. Until recent weeks, Gibbs has rarely done much to justify his lofty draft selection, and despite Adelaide’s keen need for a top-line outside midfielder, would have commanded a salary well in excess of his value to the team as a free agent. And yet he chose to eschew good money to play here in order to stay with the hapless Blues. What must it say about the esteem in which we’re held that a player who hails FROM ADELAIDE can opt to keep playing for CARLTON and win FEWER GAMES for LESS MONEY?

Well, it might suggest Gibbs has a modicum of loyalty, which is a rare and distinguished thing in today’s game. But it also suggests that the Crows remain on the cusp of relevance in the AFL competition.

Watch any self-respecting football commentary and there’ll be nary a mention of the Adelaide Football Club. This is partly Melbourne-centrism but largely because the Crows are genuinely irrelevant to the competition. Sure, we write about them at length here at Fumbleland, because we live in South Australia and moreover because it seems to annoy the Port fans. But in the grand scheme of things, the Crows appear destined to make up the numbers amongst the glut of clubs neither good enough to make the eight nor terrible enough to secure decent draft picks.

So yesterday’s win was significant, because it gave us an opportunity to shape the competition in Season 2014, and to suggest we can continue to shape it. Sure, it was a welcome and rare win over the hated Power, but moreover it was a signal to the rest of the competition that maybe, just maybe, our best is still in front of us.

And, rather annoyingly, it continued our borderline-psychotic bi-weekly form; a solid win followed by a meek capitulation followed by a solid win. This year we have beaten Collingwood, Gold Coast, North Melbourne and Port, yet blown games against Melbourne, Carlton and Essendon. The best that can be said for this is that we won’t have to play Melbourne, Carlton or Essendon come September.

Next round, the Kangaroos play Hawthorn, the Suns play Collingwood, the Bombers play Port and the Eagles play Sydney, which suggests that a win should be enough, bizarrely, to put us in the box seat for a finals berth.

We meet GWS in Sydney and haven’t won consecutive games in 10 rounds.

Surely this is the week … surely?

Tom Richardson is InDaily’s political commentator and Channel Nine’s state political reporter.

On Mondays during the AFL season he can be found in InDaily’s sport section, writing this lament – or chronicle of triumph. Time will tell (although we’re starting to settle on ‘lament’).


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