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The army of darkness marches

Touch of the Fumbles

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And so, to paraphrase The Simpsons, it seems the first four finals were won by the very teams that were expected to win them. How ironic.

Despite the guernsey-fuelled hype, Richmond were never going to be victorious yesterday. They were spent, mentally if not physically. Coming from the bottom rungs of the ladder to snatch a finals berth with nine wins on the trot will do that to you.

Nonetheless, the Power, I will concede, came out of the blocks looking every bit the top four side they should have been. They were so good, it only took minutes for the commentators to start their annual speculation that “maybe this is the year a team wins the premiership from outside the top four” (which it never is).

Their first half was ominous; the first 17 minutes alone electric. Despite my annoyance there was one moment of pure gold, when the Fox Footy broadcast cut to Ken Hinkley’s reaction as the Tigers managed one seamless run of play that resulted in their first goal. Ken was apoplectic, the sort of anger you usually only see from Mick Malthouse when he’s asked a question or Brad Scott when he’s told the Etihad Stadium roof is open. I know finals footy is a seething cauldron of tension and all that, but by this point Hinkley’s side had kicked 43 points to nil, so a wry chuckle or an ironic golf clap would probably have been the more appropriate response.

The respective captains, as they should, brought their influence to bear on the result: Boak with his 34 disposals (10 of them and a goal in the first quarter) and 12 clearances, and Cotchin with his befuddling decision to kick into a stiff breeze after winning the toss.

As it turned out, Richmond’s sole final in many ways mirrored their season; they only started trying more than halfway through, and managed to make a potential train wreck look somewhat more respectable.

While I’m no great Tigers fan (due to the unpleasant experience of having once met one of their supporters), if they were my team I’d feel pretty proud of their efforts. But knowing Richmond supporters, they’ll probably form a lynch mob, torch Punt Road and demand Hardwick’s head instead.

And so Port’s army of darkness marches on, like a malevolent juggernaut.

Now, I’m not going to cheapen this debate any further by stooping to the cliché that Port supporters are all incarcerated felons, but what was with all this talk about their “prison bar heritage”?

No-one ever said they were badly managed, shoddily administrated or couldn’t play (well, not for a couple of years, at least); it’s just that if you barrack for them you’re on the side of evil. It’s like rooting for Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm St or Darth Vader in Star Wars (unfortunately, season 2014 is starting to look more like The Empire Strikes Back than Return of the Jedi).

There’s nothing wrong with it, it just means you want the bad guys to win. I suspect that deep down Port supporters realise this, which is why they seem so preoccupied with being despised and maligned. The jumper furore thus played into their hands rather brilliantly, giving them a legitimate gripe and appealing to that “let’s all unite around our tradition of being hated and successful” thing that Port do so well.

While it was clearly important that Richmond were given the opportunity to be humiliated in their traditional strip, the incessant “where are the Port jumpers right now?” updates became increasingly tiresome as the week wore on. And the Tiges wore their (sort-of) clash strip anyway, so it was a pretty redundant exercise, other than providing a bit of extra work for some Fijian factory workers.

Now, I’m not going to cheapen this debate any further by stooping to the cliché that Port supporters are all incarcerated felons, but what was with all this talk about their “prison bar heritage”?

Prison bars, according to CEO Keith Thomas, are “part of the rich history of our club”. This was them saying this, not me; seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

Talking of great storylines, Geelong play North next weekend, an opportunity to showcase yet again why Chris is the more successful Scott brother.

For half a game, the Cats’ grudge match with the Hawks was classic Geelong v Hawthorn, but the second half suggested confected rivalries can have a use-by date. Hawthorn is a balanced side with finals experience and simply too much talent. The almost inescapable inevitability that they’ll meet Sydney in the Grand Final came another step closer on the weekend.

The Kangaroos, though, provided the match of the round, coming from 33 points down in the third to extend the Bombers’ perfect (and perfectly lamentable) finals record beyond a decade. Apparently, inspired by Port’s “Never Tear Us Apart” conceit, the Dons plan to adopt “The Drugs Don’t Work” as next year’s home-game warm-up anthem.

Given the Roos’ Adelaide-esque Jekyll and Hyde season, we should have seen the comeback coming a mile away, but I nonetheless envisaged their supporters reacting something like this to the news their season is still alive.

For the rest of us, as the tagline for Stephen King’s Pet Sematary tells us, “sometimes dead is better”.While I’ve no doubt the Crows would have acquitted themselves more adeptly than Richmond yesterday, in truth we probably just avoided an embarrassing pantsing by our hated cross-town rival.

For those clubs still feeling the Mad Monday hangover, this time of year is pregnant with the possibility of renewal. Of course, sometimes it’s pregnant with the possibility of losing one of your best players for nothing, having your CEO and assistant coach stood down and missing draft picks for the next two years. So swings and roundabouts.

The post-season ups and downs have seen Daniel Talia deservedly claim the club champion award (rumour has it his cat was Best On Ground at the after-party), while talls Shaun McKernan and Angus Graham were delisted. It leaves the ruck stocks particularly bare, having lost talent like Ivan Maric to Richmond, Jonathon Griffin to Freo and He Who Shall Not Be Named to some team that goes OK.

The move has paid dividends for Maric, but Griffin was a late withdrawal for the Dockers on the weekend, extending his career role as “the man who would be a great starting ruck if he didn’t play in the same team as Aaron Sandilands”. He’s the Grant Hackett of Freo ruckmen.

Over at Collingwood, the man formerly known as Harry O’Brien decided the Pies’ blokey culture of passive homophobia was so bad he’d consider going to a team whose players think dressing up as a convicted pedophile and his victim is a bit of a lark.

It’s silly season now for 12 clubs; but for six the dream is still alive.

It’s time to pick a bandwagon and jump on board: choose wisely, and may the Force be with you.

Tom Richardson can usually be found commentating on state politics every Friday in InDaily. On Mondays during the football season he also charts the season from a fan’s perspective – this year, a somewhat bitter fan.

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