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There's always next year...

Touch of the Fumbles

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And so, for the second year running, our season was ended in a thrilling, seesawing nailbiter, an epic contest that went right down to the wire.
Unfortunately, for the second year running, we weren’t playing in it.

Once again, our strategy of waiting for Essendon to get kicked out of the finals has backfired. Just like that dark day last season when Carlton edged out Port by a point to steal the Bomber’s vacated berth (the only time I’ve ever barracked for a Power victory), Richmond’s ninth win on the trot – an epic arm-wrestle with a wasteful and deliberately-undermanned Sydney – turned the knife in the Crows’ 2014 campaign that had already endured a death by a thousand cuts.

[Parenthetically, it also cost me a six-pack of beer courtesy of a “seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time” wager with one enterprising reader: well played, sir; nominate your preferred poison and pick it up from the Solstice Media office at your leisure.]

But that aside, no sour grapes about the Tiges: they may be frustrating and psychotic, but they came from three wins and 10 losses to make the finals, and they made it by knocking off the likely Premiers at home. They deserve to be there. The Crows do not.

We’ve had a fair crack at similarly high-stakes games in far more propitious conditions, and haven’t been capable of capitalising. And in the event, Richmond’s victory wasn’t our final nail in any case; just as the Kangaroos made sure of it in 2013, yesterday West Coast nudged us further out of contention. There would have been some symbolism in finishing ninth, since in our capricious schizophrenia we are now the new Richmond of the competition, but having finished eleventh last season, we’ve managed to peg it back to tenth. At this rate, we’ll win the Premiership in 2023.

On the plus side, I didn’t have to bother keeping tabs on a tedious Suns vs West Coast game (though I did anyway); and (fingers crossed) I’ll never again have to hear that “squawking crow” sound effect that greets every home team goal at Adelaide Oval.

And, while we’re looking at positives, at least the Power lost.

Indeed, it was all on track for a fairytale finish for a while there; the Pies predictably decimated, Port falling away after a tight tussle in the first half before a final quarter rally that fell just short (which suggests it’s better to be third quarter specialists than fourth). Unfortunately no-one gave Horse Longmire or Dimma Hardwick the “Crows scrape in to beat Port in a Finals Showdown” script. Which was too bad, since it was the first time in two years Adelaide fans have had cause to cheer on He Who Shall Not Be Named. It was a one-night-only détente and, as usual, he rewarded their faith with heartbreak and desolation. Thanks for the memories, KT!

As one office wag suggested, perhaps having opened proceedings with “Never Tear Us Apart”, they should have “Kiss The Dirt” on standby for their season’s denouement.

It was that kind of weekend though; we’d already had to deal with the guilt of barracking Jack Gunston on as his five goals helped put paid to the Pies. He Who Shall Not Be Named, though, flitted in and out of the contest, just as he once flitted in and out of our collective affections. The Swans, indeed, lacked a forward focal point after the late withdrawal of Buddy Franklin (utter selfishness by Longmire, putting his premiership campaign and list management ahead of helping a middling competitor limp into finals contention).

But with that pipe dream now extinguished, it seems inevitable Port will progress. Though writing off the Tiges prematurely has already cost me relatively dearly (depending, I guess, on the preferred tipple of our Punt Road punter), I suspect they played their Grand Final on Saturday arvo and, in their second successive week on the road, might justifiably not have much left in the tank.

The Power, though, were gallant save for a second half lapse – a scenario, one might suggest, that sums up their season. Just as finishing on the cusp of mediocrity with 11 wins and losses is a fair summation of Adelaide’s.

But nonetheless, fortuitously, the hated Alberton exports have fallen in on the wrong side of the top four, which history tells us has no Premiership precedent (and Port supporters, as we know, love talking about history almost as much as they love INXS). As one office wag suggested, perhaps having opened proceedings with “Never Tear Us Apart”, they should have “Kiss The Dirt” on standby for their season’s denouement. And comfort themselves with some Hutchence wisdom: “Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked.”

Roo, who didn’t trouble the scoreboard, only had one genuine shot on goal all day, and that was only because Talia was briefly distracted by a vomiting cat.

For the Crows, now’s the time to take stock of another season that constantly threatened to soar but ultimately failed to take off. We have a fair glut of second tier players that look poised to step up (providing they don’t seek a trade in the next few days after being consistently overlooked for selection).

Matt Crouch is much-discussed, but the midfield likes of Lyons, Grigg, Ellis-Yolmen and Kerridge, as well as Thompson, Shaw and Hartigan in defence and Johnston as a forward foil have all shown glimpses, without becoming household names (indeed, even the umpire yesterday didn’t know who Kerridge was, instead referring to him as “Kerrigan” throughout). We could have used him last week against the Roos, incidentally, when Jack Ziebell reminded us that sometimes a midfielder pinch-hitting forward can prove a matchwinner. You could almost hear the coaches’ box collectively ruminating: “Oh yeah, maybe we should have played that Kerrigan bloke who kicked 10 goals in his last two games against these guys?”

That aside, at least we went out with a fair win, even one against wooden-spoon opposition, despite the frustration that for the second year running everything only clicked for us once it didn’t matter anymore.

The forecast 23C conditions didn’t bode well, given Sando’s stated antipathy to moderate sunshine; but evidently the promise of several weeks off managed to quell his frustration.

Fading Saints champ Nick Riewoldt was blanketed by Talia, around whom we now need to rebuild our once-solid defensive wall. Roo, who didn’t trouble the scoreboard, only had one genuine shot on goal all day, and that was only because Talia was briefly distracted by a vomiting cat.

Eddie Betts raised the bat with 51 goals for the season, suggesting he was a wise, if extravagant, investment. He kicked five yesterday, but his best was his sixth, a gimme, that he instead gave off to Truck Rutten to ensure the retiring veteran defender finished with the unusual distinction of goaling with his first and last kicks in the AFL. That was the moment of the day.

Hopefully Eddie can carry on with it, and his 2014 isn’t the crescendo we so often see from players starting afresh.

Yesterday didn’t end well for Brodie Martin, but he’s hauled his career off the canvas and seems a lock for the club’s coach’s award. Nonetheless, we still have a vacant spot for a quick outside mid who DOESN’T turn the ball over every second disposal; that, along with an established key defender, might help us progress apace to a very Richmond-esque ninth-place finish in 2015.

In the meantime, the Fumbles are kicking on through September, so like the supporters of nine other clubs this week I’m forced to pick a default team to follow. It goes without saying Port doesn’t qualify, and He Who Shall Not Be Named obviously precludes Sydney. If Gunston injured himself (nothing dramatic, just a hammy), I could fall in behind Hawthorn, and might otherwise be inclined towards Freo, given their historic haplessness and Ross Lyon’s concerted charitable efforts to fight insomnia.

But on the balance of things I’ll jump on Geelong, if only because we seem to be slowly appropriating all their retirees in the hope some of the magic will rub off.

It hasn’t happened yet of course, but there’s always next year.

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.

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