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When is a win not a win?

Touch of the Fumbles

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I feel utterly betrayed.

Thoroughly deceived.

Like James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch after OneTel collapsed, “I have been profoundly misled”. Except, y’know, I don’t have several buckets of cash with which to console myself.

No, I’m not talking about being sucked in by the allure of those first two rounds, and thinking the eternally baffling Crows might finally have turned over a new leaf.

I’m referring to Phil “Weirdo” Walsh.

The guy who came to helm the Adelaide Football Club practically promising to be a complete bastard, a hard-arse to players and administrators alike, who’d made Dean Laidley look like Brendon Bolton. And the worst of his ire was reserved for the hated media.

“It’s been blown a little bit out of proportion, my disdain for the media,” he told us when he arrived.

“But not by much!”

It suggested dagger-eyed press conferences combining the subdued scorn of Alastair Clarkson with the snarling snark of Mick Malthouse.

And yet instead we have this garrulous, avuncular armchair-philosopher and self-described “weirdo”, a guy who takes his as-yet-unsigned vice-captain on a surfing weekend during the bye and believes there’s no problem that can’t be solved by a solid Man Conversation.

His oft-repeated desire for a “team first” attitude is so well-established, it’s as if Elaine’s boyfriend David Puddy from Seinfeld is ghost-writing the quotes on his media releases, which tend to wax lyrical along the theme of: “You gotta support the team.”

And far from shunning the hated media, Weirdo Walsh speaks happily and expansively about his football philosophies to almost anyone who asks, from Caroline Wilson and Mark Robinson to the Warrnambool Standard.

Heading into a must-win match against the lowly Lions, the Crows coach took his homespun home-truths to a new level, recalling a visit to Amsterdam and a trip to the Van Gogh museum, wherein the “bogan from Hamilton” had some kind of zen epiphany while standing transfixed before the ear-challenged artist’s still-life Sunflowers: “There’s a man with great frustration.”

“I’ll sound again like a bit like a weirdo,” warned Weirdo Walsh, before pondering the correlation between said frustration and great art.

Ergo, the greater the frustration, the greater the masterpiece.

He must have been pleased for the first three quarters on Saturday then.

If his players took anything to heart from his “Vincent” soliloquy, it was evidently that they need to be as frustrating as humanly possible.

Either that, or they were simply channeling a different Amsterdam tourist attraction.

At any rate, they got halfway there: they achieved the great frustration bit, but it sure wasn’t great art. Or if it was, as one wag pointed out on social media, it was less Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and more the carpet-corrupting abomination that made Pro Hart’s cleaning lady recoil in horror: “Oh Mr Hart, what a mess!”

After falling over against Hawthorn the previous week, Walsh took his charges to task over their poor tackling, lack of team defence and appalling footskills. But, as American songster Don McLean lamented in his own paean to Van Gogh: “They would not listen, they did not know how … perhaps they’ll listen now?”

How bad were the first three quarters on Saturday?

Well, at one point in the third term I was forced to miss five minutes of the contest because my one-year-old opted to defecate in the bath – and dealing with that was still more pleasant than watching what the Crows were dishing up.

Sure, we pulled it together in the final term when the leaderless Lion cubs ran out of puff, but the way we played throughout suggests this wasn’t so much dodging a bullet as a stay of execution.

But was it art?

If so, it was the football equivalent of a five-year-old’s painting of “My Mummy and Daddy’s House”: sure, you’re pleased for them and dole out a few patronising plaudits to reward their callow, scrappy efforts, but deep down you’re fervently hoping they’ll get much, much better.

And so after Van Berlo, as he did in 2012, kicked the matchwinner at the Gabba, the club song blared out across the swiftly vacating stadium: “We’re the pride of South Australia …” Which seemed, in the circumstances, monumentally far-fetched.

It put me in mind, as most things do, of The Simpsons, and that moment when Bart recognises a strange new feeling of positivity about his father, anathema to his familiar shame.

“Pride?” suggests Marge.

“No, not that far from shame…”

“Less shame…?” Homer ventures hopefully.

“Yeah!” Bart agrees.

So here we are then: the Less Shame of South Australia.

When we scraped over the line against Carlton, I rationalised that a win is a win. I’m not sure I can be as upbeat about the Lions shemozzle.

So, when is a win not a win?

When it lulls us into thinking we’re better than we clearly are, that we can keep playing our traditional game of “give the crap team we’re playing a five goal headstart and see if we can reel them in before the siren goes”.

While we’re doling out Simpsons analogies, there was an episode that saw Homer take up semi-professional boxing, utilising a strategy of doing nothing and letting his opponent tire himself out. It’s a strategy the Crows seem to have adopted with gusto.

The problem is that not every opponent will fall away like Brisbane did; at some point, we’ll have the same dreadful realisation that Homer did in the final reel: “He’s not going to get tired. You’ve got to hit him back.”

And when that moment comes, it’s clear we’re not equipped to stem the flow against most half-competent, swift-running sides. Statistics show disposal efficiency is a major issue, but the stats actually flatter some of our players; they don’t show just how egregious some of these disposals really are. Truly, the world was never meant for skills as ugly as these.

crowssongBut the great fear for the Crows is that their patently appalling execution is not merely an error of skill, but a symptom of poor decision-making, and you can’t teach that. You can’t coach it. It’s like painting a picture; while the best of us can grow Sunflowers, the rest will never move far from “My Mummy and Daddy’s House”.

When is a win not a win?

When your team finally metaphorically does to your premiership dreams what my child decided to do to my bathtub on the weekend.

Less Vincent Van Gogh, then, than Andres Serrano.

The problem is, our next three opponents can actually play football quite well on occasion, and even the eight-day turnaround might not be time enough to teach some of our players basic foot skills. Or convince them that the guys in red, blue and gold are actually on the same team.

Given the three-goal minimum headstart we’re evidently legally mandated to give up at the start of every game, I’d also suggest a new warm-up routine. Maybe one involving a simulation of “half-time conditions”, complete with a stirring speech from Weirdo Walsh about how frustrating the first two quarters have been.

Who knows? They might find a way to turn that frustration into some kind of masterpiece.

But I fear season 2015 will continue in much the same vein as Don McLean’s ode: “They would not listen, they’re not listening still…”

Perhaps they never will.

NB: Port Adelaide didn’t play this week, but they still managed to piss me off.


Port Adelaide: Did nothing, but still annoying.

Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each 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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