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The Team who Crowed Wolf

Touch of the Fumbles

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It’s now time to consider some season-defining questions: what the hell does Phil Hughes need to do to earn automatic inclusion in the Australian squad?

How is an opener in such form not a walk-up start to a team with few comparable alternatives, and only garnering a late inclusion to the extended team on the back of the predictable injury to Shane Watson?

What’s that you say? We’re here to talk about football?

Nope, football is dead to me.

If you were to characterise the ultimate crap weekend of football, my worst AFL nightmare, it’d go something like this:

Port Adelaide kick things off with a three-figure drubbing of a sort-of-half-decent opponent and a record attendance on the national stage of Friday night football, before the Crows surrender their season with a narrow loss in front of a handful of curious Taswegians in a must-win game against a team missing two of its stars that hasn’t beaten us in its last three attempts. To round things out, Collingwood rally to overrun GWS, West Coast trounce Melbourne in a percentage-booster and Richmond does what it has to against the Saints.

From an armchair ride to the finals a month ago, we’re now eleventh, slipping behind all three of those teams that actually managed to win their respective “must-win” games this weekend.

I’m not sure why, but in Adelaide Crows parlance “must-win” seems to translate as “must start slowly and then fall heartbreakingly short”.

Brenton Sanderson described himself as “emotional” after the loss, which suggests he might have been watching Kramer Vs Kramer or The Notebook instead. The rest of us were just really pissed off.

This team has had more chances to make the finals than Shane Watson has had soft tissue injuries, and we’ve spurned almost all of them. That game against Melbourne, which we almost rationalized away on the grounds that the Demons had improved under Paul Roos? They’ve won four games; they haven’t improved. We just didn’t turn up to play.

We’ve also been favourites against Carlton, Essendon, West Coast, Richmond, even an injury-hit Hawthorn. Loss, loss, loss, loss, loss.

But, just for fun, we intermittently suggest the depth of our potential, just to keep the supporters guessing. It’s been a frustrating-as-hell season, but you couldn’t claim it’s been boring!

And given we were playing the Kangaroos – our runner-up for the illustrious “Most Psycho Team In The League” Award – this was always going to be a game that inspired nausea with its seesawing momentum. There were six lead changes and the scores were locked up as many times. Every 15 minutes we’d have a patch of the “Good Crows” that stunned Collingwood and Port, before reverting to the wastrels that showed up the following week.

And then, in a poignant moment of incompetence, the J-Pod summed up Adelaide’s year beautifully, taking an incredible clutch mark in the final quarter, only to give away a free, a 50-metre penalty and, effectively, the Crows’ season. He missed a fairly routine shot in the dying moments too, but he’s hardly Robinson Crusoe in squandering chances, the match easily matching our 2014 KPIs in turnovers and missed opportunities, personified as usual by Brodie Martin, who was repeatedly handy mopping up as the third man up in defence, only to gift the ball back to North Melbourne on several occasions (his disposal efficiency running at 57.1 per cent; Rory Laird impressed at 100 per cent, marred only by the fact he managed just one possession before he was knocked out).

Two Kangaroos goals came directly from defenders effectively just passing the ball straight to their opponents, under fairly minimal pressure.

It’s all very well to try and mimic this “Golden-Era-At-Geelong” type run-and-handball game, but not without the cattle to do it (specifically, some outside runners with pace and poise, a combination that is evidently not as common as you’d expect). Port, sadly, has managed to find a couple, which has given them the ability to not only win the ball but to move it cleanly without giving it back again (a handy knack when it comes to winning games).

Amid the jubilation of the toothless throng on Friday night, the late injury scares – with Westhoff jarring his knee and Jamison driving Schulz’s head into the turf – suggested a worst-case scenario for a side with a desperate dearth of tall marking targets, but the panic appeared shortlived, with both cleared shortly after.

If my theory that the Power’s recent form slump might reflect a fitness regimen designed to peak in September, it appears to have done the trick. They were relentless against Carlton, in a contest so one-sided it would have been amusing were it not for Port winning.

The caveat will be if their lean month costs them a coveted top four finish, which effectively means it has cost them a premiership (the only team to win one in the national competition from outside the four is Adelaide in 1998, and under the current system we’d have been soundly eliminated in the first week of finals). Their match-up against the Dockers (sans Fyfe and possibly Barlow) in Perth will be the game of the round for mine. Well, besides Hawthorn/Collingwood, Sydney/Richmond, West Coast/Gold Coast and Adelaide/St Kilda. Oh, and Carlton/Essendon should be good too.

A betting man would suggest the eighth spot is now the Eagles’ for the taking, with only the setting Suns on their horizon. Collingwood (aka The Walking Dead) must contend with the ominous Hawthorn and Richmond with the Swans, who might well be tempted to rest their most damaging players in a bid to extinguish Adelaide’s last finals hope (and, parenthetically, to freshen them up for a concerted premiership tilt).

The Crows will have to thoroughly trounce St Kilda to overcome the Weagles’ 4.7 per cent-and climbing advantage (as a clue, Port’s 103-point thrashing saw its percentage jump almost six percent), even assuming the Pies and Tigers fall short.

Which should be possible, if they can do for an entire match what they did in the last five minutes against North (ie keep attacking desperately; even with our accuracy, we’re bound to get it through the big sticks eventually).

The story of our forever frustrating 2014 campaign has been akin to the tale of the boy who cried wolf; or, in our case, the Team Who Crowed Wolf. Every second week, we’re told this is a must-win match, a chance to consolidate a finals berth, an opportunity to find some consistency. We’re told our team must be cleaner with its skills, sharper with its decision-making under pressure. So the crowds all flock to see, only to be subjected again to the same frenetic incompetence of a team that is always simultaneously so close yet so far.

There’s only so many times you can Crow Wolf before you run out of luck, and we appear to have reached that point against North Melbourne.

Nonetheless, it’s been a strange, strange season, and scraping into the eight with a final percentage-bolstering goal on a Sunday afternoon would be a suitably strange denouement.

Perhaps, though, finishing ninth is what we really deserve, given the Richmond-like cadence of our campaign.

I’m philosophical though; if our season was ended with a seven-point loss to North, it almost certainly saved us from the humiliation of losing to Port in an elimination final. On the weekend’s respective efforts, they would have murdered us. Anyway, back to the cricket …

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 things aren’t looking good.


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