Last week, the great Tony Lockett was rightfully anointed a legend in the AFL Hall of Fame.
Like many Sydney supporters, I clearly remember the last game the hulking, brawling goal-machine played on his home turf, at least until his ill-fated 21st-century comeback.
I don’t, of course, remember it as fondly as the Swans fans might.
It was Round 20, 1999. Lockett kicked eight of his 82 goals for the season, as the home side trounced the visitors by 118 points. On such an auspicious occasion, it hardly mattered who the visitors were; they were probably always in for a shellacking.
But as it happened, they were the Adelaide Crows.
Chris Judd, the premiership captain, Norm Smith medalist and two-time Brownlow winner, didn’t go out quite the same way. Plugger walked off his home turf a winner; Judd’s Blues were gallant but fell short. Lockett was chaired off by teammates; Judd by medicos.
When Lockett retired in 1999, he had played 278 games across two clubs. Bizarrely, when he took the field against Adelaide, so had Judd.
And he, too, played his last home game – indeed, the last AFL game of his career – hosting the Crows.
So in the end last weekend’s match against the Blues won’t be remembered for the weird second-quarter incident involving Charlie Cameron nearly-but-not-quite muscling Carlton’s defender over the goal-line for a behind, or for Tex’s increasingly shaky accuracy, or even for Josh Jenkins’ timely reminder that he can be a solid forward target.
It won’t even be remembered for the fact the Crows managed to pull off what should have been a routine win, but turned out to be The Great Escape.
It will just be the game in which one of the best players of the modern era did his knee.
It’s not quite the season’s halfway point, but the bye is the obvious moment to take stock of the year thus far; that symbolic fork in the road by which point you hope to have laid a decent claim on a finals berth and perhaps sewn up a few out-of-contract stars. Or in the case of Carlton, sacked your coach.
In Adelaide’s case, we have neither laid firm claim to a finals berth nor indeed sewn up any looming contractual fracas; our desultory season is so redolent of the previous two, the obvious question to ponder over the bye is “how much has the sacking of Brenton Sanderson improved the Crows”?
Many of the frustrating hallmarks remain: the obligatory three-goal (minimum) headstart we invariably gift opposition teams, an endearingly integral part of our gameplan. The enjoyable propensity for players in clutch moments to kick to the one part of the ground that contains not a single teammate, merely a sole defender sporting the other team’s colours.
The uncanny capacity for players to routinely kick miracle goals off their non-favoured boot from the boundary, coupled with an unerring tendency to pepper set-shots from 20 metres out on no discernable angle.
All of this and then some was on display against the Blues.
If you wanted to showcase the best of Australian Rules football for a curious novice, you might show them, say, a random selection of Hawthorn v Geelong games post 2008. If, however, you wanted a snapshot of the depths to which the game can sink, you could either show them Essendon’s first half or sit back and let them experience the majesty of last Saturday’s Crows-Carlton match.
I’d suggest the 18th placed Blues managed to drag our skills down to their level, if it weren’t for the fact that the game was the perfect microcosm of the myriad frustrations to which Adelaide supporters are wearily accustomed.
But for all that, it was a gripping contest.
After all the faux-romance of the Freo game in which Dangerfield and Fyfe were allowed to run head to head racking up important possessions, Paddy’s game against Carlton was perhaps more significant, fighting his way through the close checking of Carrazzo to still loom as a dominant presence.
And here’s the thing: if it were last year, the Crows would have lost.
No doubt. Playing the bottom-placed side a week after taking it right up to the top-placed side; in 2014, once the Blues hit the front in the fourth quarter, we were never coming back. We might have rallied to draw within a kick, but we would have drawn achingly, exasperatingly short.
So we can go into the break at least appreciating that if the horrible hallmarks of last year’s Yo-Yo Crows still persist, they are at least no longer the team that let the Melbourne Demons roll them by three points at home.
Fortunately, Port Adelaide are no longer the team that kicked eight goals to one against the Tigers in last year’s elimination final, but they still have the annoying potential to score quickly and efficiently.
Their match against the Bulldogs was a hard, close game…for the first three quarters. After which point Wingard got bored and iced the game and Ollie Wines reminded the Doggies that the plaque for the alternates is in the Ladies’ Room.
Y’know, ‘cos he looks exactly like Iceman from Top Gun…?
Anyway, the Power play the Moggs Creek Seniors at home this week in the split round’s Friday showcase. It’s one of several trips to Adelaide for Geelong this year, what with another game at Adelaide Oval against the Crows within a month, and all those visits to stand on Dangerfield’s front lawn holding a giant novelty cheque.
So it’s entirely and depressingly possible that by the time we lose to Hawthorn in a fortnight, Port could have replaced us in the eight. But from there, who knows?
Polec, who like Judd may have played his last game in 2015, is a massive loss, not merely because he is pivotal to Port’s outside run but also because he is a deadringer for Jaws from the James Bond films, thus adding to their roster of 1980s pop culture lookalikes.
The Crows can at least expect to add some talent from their burgeoning injury list in coming weeks. Jarryd Lyons went back to the reserves and was dominant in their breakthrough win over Sturt, suggesting we’ll be seeing him back in the familiar green vest before long.
Brad Crouch also returned strongly in the twos, but does he come in at the expense of his brother Matt, making for awkward future Crouch family gatherings?
And does the J-Pod, who returned to the magoos’ forward line and kicked a bag, have one more fairytale comeback in him?
By this year’s bye, that psychological demarcation point at which to take stock of the season to date, there are still far more questions than answers.
Indeed, we’re hardly wiser than we were at Round One, and certainly not much closer to solving the imponderable riddle: “Are we that much better than last year?”
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