We all have our favourite Dom Cassisi moment.
Mine is probably the first round of the now-defunct Wizard Cup pre-season competition in 2003, when he gave away a free kick in the dying seconds to the Crows’ Chris Ladhams, whose checkside goal gave Adelaide a one-point win.
Meaningless, but cause for mild celebration at the time; although while Cassisi’s career swiftly recovered, Ladhams never really cemented his spot.
I suppose actual Port supporters would probably choose a different Dom Cassisi moment; say, his running goal with three seconds on the clock in Round 21, 2007, that handed the rampaging Geelong a five-point loss, their first in 16 weeks.
Of course, that memory might inadvertently remind them of the 124-point turnaround a few weeks later in the Grand Final, so it’s probably a bittersweet reflection.
Cassisi retired this week in slightly odd circumstances, little more than a month before his club contests what would be only their second finals campaign since that ’07 debacle.
Since he’s adamant he wasn’t pushed out but rather his body’s no longer holding up to the rigours of AFL football, it seemed a typically selfless sacrifice from someone who has long embodied a low-key blue-collar, team-first ethos.
He’s had a distinguished career: a premiership in his third season, appointed team captain five years later.
But he was still a background figure in 2004; he had nine touches in the victorious Grand Final. And his captaincy was undermined from the get-go by his then-coach Mark Williams’ tactless revelation that he’d have preferred Shaun Burgoyne but got over-ruled.
His tenure at the helm coincided with Port’s nadir – a reflection not of his captaincy but of unfortunate timing – but it makes his decision to bail out this week, with the Power still in the premiership mix, all the more surprising.
I’d like to think it’s a sign even club insiders recognise Port’s 2014 season is a sinking ship, but more realistically it’s just an indication that the former skipper is a pretty good, selfless bloke.
Never thought I’d say this, but for that reason if certainly no other, it’d have been a bit of a shame if Port had blown it yesterday. Much as I still hoped they would.
We’re just over halfway through the second split round of 2014; or “Bizarro Round”, as it should be more appropriately known.
It started out with Carlton rolling the Roos which, since it’s now universally understood that the Kangas are collectively psycho, probably wasn’t technically an ‘upset’, merely the latest in a long list of inexplicable defeats North Melbourne devotees must discuss in their weekly Group Therapy session.
But then things got really strange.
I thought my AFL mobile app must have had a meltdown when I checked on the Saturday arvo scores to be told the Saints were smashing Freo by more than 75 points halfway through the third.
“Yeah, good one, AFL app,” I surmised, “you’ve got the scores arse about.”
But no. It was actually the Dockers’ season that had suddenly gone arse about.
Every contender’s entitled to an off week (up until the Grand Final, the Cats had just one loss in 2008, but it was by 86 points to Collingwood, giving Geelong the bizarre distinction of having just one home and away defeat and the year’s biggest average losing margin).
But the nature and magnitude of this loss would have Freo supporters unsettled (more than usual, even).
It threatened to see them relinquish their spot in the top four, except that this was Bizarro Round, so they weren’t Robinson Crusoe when it came to dropping their bundle:
GWS almost rolled Geelong, the Bulldogs nearly pipped the Bombers and, incredibly, the Power almost dropped their fourth on the trot. At home. Against Melbourne. I mean, what self-respecting team would do that? (Ahem…here’s a clue; their acronym is AFC.)
In the end though, as usual, it was AFL largesse that saved Port’s bacon, particularly the contentious goalsquare free given against Jack Watts on third-quarter siren. I thought at the time, “They’d better not win this by less than a goal”, so naturally they went on to win it by less than a goal.
Most Melbourne supporters probably don’t remember Andrew Leoncelli, a late-blooming journeyman who played some good football over a six-year career with the Demons.
But he’s burned on the brains of many a Crows fan; in Round 2, 2001, after Adelaide had hauled back a 35-point half-time deficit to hit the front, he grabbed the ball from a throw-in and kicked a running goal to give the Dees back the lead with seconds on the clock.
It was one of the more traumatic moments of my football-watching career.
For a brief moment yesterday, Rohan Bail looked set to be that forgettable almost-fringe Melbourne player who bobbed up to imprint himself on the psyche of Port Adelaide supporters for years to come, with an incredible snap from the boundary that dribbled through for a goal, putting the Demons on the cusp of a victory that would have seemed ludicrous a fortnight ago.
The Power managed to steady, but they look a far cry from the team that had the competition quaking a few rounds back.
There was some comfort in the fact their percentage hardly moved, so they weren’t able to haul themselves back into double-chance territory despite Freo’s drubbing.
It appears likely the two will fight it out for the top four in their final round clash in Perth, although having made heavy going of their supposed gimme-games against the Tigers and the Dees, Port’s draw gets a fair bit harder after their week off.
Bizarro Round continues next weekend, but the denouement is unlikely to be as thrilling purely because, on paper, it’s unclear who the favourites are.
I don’t think the term sits particularly comfortably with either the Crows or Collingwood at the moment but, perversely, the winner will go a long way to sewing up a finals berth.
I’m starting to get quite excited about this conceptual scenario wherein the Crows, without having cracked the eight all year, finally slip in at the death, while Port, rarely outside the top four, throw away the double chance on finals eve.
Setting up a salivating, sudden-death Adelaide Oval Showdown. Which we win.
Unlikely, sure. But, as Bizarro Round has shown, anything can happen in football.
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.
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