There was still 15-and-a-half minutes on the clock when Dayne Beams plucked the ball from a stoppage and snapped truly to give Collingwood the lead.
Then, when Cloke grabbed and goaled, putting the Pies six points up with less than 11 minutes left, the Crows – having never troubled the top eight all year – suddenly faced the prospect of being stranded two games adrift with only five left to play. Fox Footy commentator Gerard Healy, picking the moment well, mused that we were “about to find out whether Adelaide deserves to play finals”.
We found out.
First Podsiadly levelled the scores against the flow. Moments later, Dangerfield chased the ball from the centre bounce and dished it off to Douglas to goal from beyond 50. Then Walker found Mackay in space for the third of the term. Tex kicked the fourth and fifth himself. It was glorious.
There was still plenty of baffling decision-making, but the endeavour and tempo never wavered.
Brodie Martin keeps getting better, and he’s become something of a microcosm of the team itself: a high propensity to turn the ball over but a relentless desperation for the contest.
And, at the end of the split round, we finally find ourselves in finals territory for the first time. With Port at fifth. And Collingwood ninth. It’s a beautiful thing.
When the team plays well – which it is doing more and more frequently as the season goes longer – it is possible to forget that these are the same Yoyo Crows who routinely followed up the most soaring of victories with the most flaccid of defeats.
And, not that I’m superstitious or anything, but it’s almost possible to believe that a curse was lifted this week; the curse of He Who Cannot Be Named, finally laid to rest by the surprise defection of Steven Trigg to Carlton.
I’ve managed a fairly cordial relationship with Trigg over the years, despite getting off on the wrong foot some time ago when, as my Year 8 PE teacher he ordered me out of the room for breaking wind a little too loudly (entirely accidental, I’m certain).
Ironically, the reaction I elicited from him then is more or less the same that he inspires from many Crows supporters these days, with a lot of fans happy to put some distance between the club and its long-serving CEO.
Sure, he’s not going straight away, instead hanging around awkwardly for a few weeks like Wayne Carey at a Stevens family reunion.
But this was just one of those weekends where some strange magic seemed to be at work.
Even He Who Cannot Be Named himself started strongly but soon faded, finishing up with only two goals as the Swans went down.
His curse, though, still appeared alive in the early moments of yesterday’s game, when Collingwood’s opening goal went to Jesse White, the journeyman beanpole who Sydney once kindly offered us as a fair exchange for a versatile forward-ruck who happens to be one of the competition’s best contested marks.
Funnily enough, we didn’t jump at the chance, and the deal was never sealed before the AFL came knocking.
But, as part of the ongoing hex, White tends to play a blinder whenever our paths have crossed since.
So I was a tad apprehensive when he’d already bagged two goals within the first 20 minutes of play. But I needn’t have worried. I should have known the curse had lifted, and White wouldn’t trouble the scorers for the remainder of the day.
I’ll concede the memories of many a narrow 2013 defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory came back to haunt me when Beams and Cloke surged in the last quarter, but perhaps this 2014 Crows vintage has finally matured.
Adelaide was the better team yesterday; and held its nerve better when it mattered.
And now, five games from finals, we need to keep holding our nerve.
On paper, North Melbourne are the most ominous proposition, but since you’re never sure which manifestation will turn up there’s not much that can be read into that game.
Still, given the Crows’ predilection for following world-beating victories with inept collapses, there are some obvious danger games, starting with West Coast this weekend.
Despite the predictions of doom and gloom, Brisbane have shown of late they have plenty of cause for optimism; they have one of the best midfielders in the competition in Tom Rockliff and will see Leuenberger, West, Rich and Redden come back from injury in 2015.
They’re still a decent tall forward short of an ominous lineup, but they’ll be no pushover at home.
Richmond have now won four on the trot and, were it not for our win yesterday, would have come uncomfortably close to costing me a six-pack of beer from the guy who bet me they’d finish above us on the ladder.
I hate this time of year; it’s probably a symptom of the fact that the team I support is more often than not “a mathematical chance to play finals” by about now, and many an August hour is thus utilized workshopping various scenarios whereby this hypothetical equation can transpire.
Adelaide’s tendency to float around the middle of the ladder means a disproportionate amount of consternation is expended on the mere question of whether we can make the play-offs, rather than what we can actually achieve once we’re there.
Ultimately, it’s a mug’s game getting too analytical about these things anyway, since there’s always some North Melbourne that never does what’s expected of it and scuppers all your meticulous calculations.
Back in 2008, for instance, the Crows had effectively sewn up a top four spot with a dour win over the Bulldogs (then still a formidable side).
The only way St Kilda could recoup enough percentage to usurp us was to beat Essendon by triple figures.
So, sure enough, in the last match of the round they spanked the Bombers to the tune of 108 points, leaving Adelaide to face a sudden death final against Collingwood, who obligingly bundled us out. Indeed, the Magpies have literally ended our season on three separate occasions (2002, 2008 and 2009), so I can’t pretend I had a lot of sympathy when we more or less ended theirs at the MCG yesterday.
Not that any of it matters particularly, since it’s generally considered that a double chance and home ground advantage are pretty much non-negotiables in the quest for a Premiership. But, after last year, just making finals is an important symbol.
Supporters need to be able to quantify our progress.
Only then can we truly be certain that the Curse of He Who Cannot Be Named has been lifted.
In the meantime, we’d better not mention him again. Just in case.
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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