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But at least we won the Groundball...

Touch of the Fumbles

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Just quietly, I’m really not very fond of Port Adelaide.

You might have noticed this, if you’ve been paying attention.

Their success is almost as distasteful to me as Adelaide’s lack thereof; thus, when they succeed at our expense – as was the case last night – it really is the worst of all possible worlds.

I caught the bus to Adelaide Oval yesterday for the twilight game because, after all, it’s always good to end the weekend with the fetid stench of disappointment.

I went along with … not hope … what’s that other thing called? Apprehension.

Which quickly turned to stunned disbelief as the second quarter unfolded, a litany of egregious errors that would have been very funny were it not for the fact that it was not very funny at all.

And then that familiar despondency. The propensity to play on with no thought as to why, where, how or to whom was eerily reminiscent of last year, although at least last year we used to snatch a win every second week.

But at least we won the groundball, right?

Yep, that stat that was hardly ever written or spoken of until Phil Walsh insisted it was the single biggest indicator of success; we finally won it.

And won it convincingly. We bettered Port in the all-important groundball contest by 18. We bettered them in the inside-50s by, incredibly, 29. We bettered them in clearances by 13. And we had one more scoring shot. But we still lost by 24.

We may have finally escaped the Groundball Groundhog, but Punxsutawney Phil Walsh could still be looking at a long, bleak winter ahead.

Things could be worse, of course. We could be Carlton. We could be a team that marks its coach’s milestone 715th match in the most reverent way possible: by taking a public holiday.

Malthouse insists he’s up for the challenge, saying: “I don’t know what it feels like to not want to coach.”

He has, however, learned all too well what it feels like for others to not want you to coach.

The Blues set the tone early this weekend for how you don’t want to see your team play, and fortunately it was not a template to which Adelaide subscribed. The Crows, indeed, went hard; they had a crack. They just didn’t have the answers.

For, much as it pains me, we need to take a leaf out of Lionel Shriver’s famous book and acknowledge the ominous presence that looms above us.

We need to talk about Port.

Port Adelaide's Chad Winged celebrates a knife through Crow hearts. Photo: Michael Errey/InDaily

Port Adelaide’s Chad Wingard celebrates a knife through Crow hearts. Photo: Michael Errey/InDaily

It was comforting, for a week or so there, to convince ourselves that they’d slipped off the pace, that the whole Power-set-for-a-decade-of-dominance thing was just a bad dream from which we’d happily awoken. But it wasn’t. They are a perfectly balanced side right now; they have the muscle to win the contested ball, the pace to ship it forward, the height and accuracy to capitalize and, if all else fails, a solid defence and some emerging rebounding creativity in the unlikely form of Jasper Pittard, whose capricious flights of fancy have traditionally seen his name uttered more in bemused outrage than exultation.

If there’s a broad consolation today it’s that we somehow remain above Port on the ladder; our losses have been bigger than theirs, but so have our wins.

But that consolation is predicated on a very fragile foundation; more fragile, perhaps, than we’d realised.

In that traditionally-Adelaide, change-averse way, I was naturally sceptical when we recruited Eddie Betts on a four year deal. But there have been times this year, and never more so than in that first half yesterday, that you could genuinely wonder what the hell we’d do without him.

The small forward was responsible for almost our entire halftime score, even despite an acute case of the yips in that infamous second quarter (I blame the setting sun behind the northern mound).

When, at length, we finally got a morale boosting major, it took Port all of about 30 seconds to bang on one of their own in reply.

It never feels like it, but the Showdown is just one of 23 chances we get to notch a home and away win this year. I still hate Port though.

Betts was supposed to be the icing, not the entire cake, but the forward line Sando the Snake-Oil Salesman once predicted would be the envy of the league is looking decidedly one-dimensional. Cameron has not yet progressed beyond a bit-part player and Jenkins looks this year like a poor man’s Kurt Tippett (which, I suppose, he is.)

Scott Thompson jagged a couple of clutch goals that gave us hope of a late charge, albeit one that was quickly snuffed out. Like St Kilda last year, when Nick Riewoldt beat out Lenny Hayes to the best and fairest: when your oldest player is consistently your best and most reliable, you have a problem.

Is it an intractable problem?

That depends. On reflection, a four goal loss to Port, whom many had pegged for a Grand Final berth, is a reasonable (maybe even a flattering) indication of where we stand.

And after all, our lamentable performance the previous week already looks marginally better now that it appears the Western Bulldogs are Actually Pretty Good.

So let’s do something we don’t generally do here in Fumbleland … and look on the bright side.

After all, from here we play Gold Coast (officially the least shithouse team in all of Queensland), St Kilda and GWS, before we crash up against the might of Freo, who yesterday somehow managed to forget their heartbreak at the retirement of Colin Sylvia to dole out a healthy dose of reality to the previously-resurgent Demons.

Port (not that it matters, since you’d pencil them in to beat just about anybody these days) have West Coast, Brisbane (officially the most shithouse team in all of Queensland) and Richmond, who for most of Saturday’s game were ordinary enough to make the Geelong of 2015 look like the Geelong of 2014.

So all things being equal, both teams should be 6 and 2 after round eight.

The Crows, in their 25th year, seem determined to emphasise the notion that they are a proud club with a proud tradition; hence the pre-game clips of the likes of Ricciuto and McLeod and Modra doing great things. The Hall of Fame was a nice touch, though it may have been a bit over-ambitious to kick things off with eight inductees. Sure, there’s some contention about the likes of Mark Bickley and Tyson Edwards missing out, but if this is to be an annual enterprise it won’t take long before we’re scratching around for worthy candidates, inducting the likes of Bryan Beinke and Chris Ladhams just for the hell of it.

But it was a timely reminder that as supporters of a club, we are always part of something bigger than the previous round, however glorious or heartbreaking it may have been.

Legend has it that after Adelaide lost that first ever Showdown, in Round 4, 1997, Malcolm Blight wrote a single digit on the whiteboard: 1. This, he told the players, was just one game; just one loss.

It never feels like it, but the Showdown is just one of 23 chances we get to notch a home and away win this year.

I still hate Port though.

As I made my dour way among the dispirited throng back to the Footy Express, I heard a father reassure his despondent young son: “The sun will come up tomorrow, and everything will be ok.”

And sure enough, the sun came up.

Now, just as long as the Suns don’t rise next weekend.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published on a Monday during the AFL season. For new readers – yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.

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