It was sometime early in the final term, when the Crows’ lead had spiraled north of 70 points – which we were starting to think might be enough to see us home – that the six-ish year old girl draped head-to-toe in Port’s teal, black and white sitting a couple over from us decided to fire up.
“CROWS SUCKS!” she loudly exclaimed, to general amusement.
I briefly considered summoning the Adelaide Oval security and having her turfed out, but decided against it. Given how the afternoon was travelling, I figured I could afford to be magnanimous.
For, putting aside the predictably garbled grammar and the fact that a quick glance at the scoreboard would suggest her fundamental contention was demonstrably flawed, I had to admire her commitment to the genuine antagonism at the heart of our Showdown rivalry – and at such a tender age, too.
Ah, the impetuousness of youth.
Of course, it’s easy to condescend to Port supporters (fun, too!) when you are among a throng of 50,000-odd sympathizers, their team is getting soundly pantsed and their most vocal advocate is a precocious sixish-year-old girl.
It’s a different tale on those occasions when the stadium keys are handed to the Power for the weekend.
You know that scene from Shaun Of The Dead where the protagonists have to pretend they’re braindead zombies in order to avoid getting eaten alive by the shuffling hordes?
That’s kinda how I feel at Port home games.
But despite their fans being in the significant minority on Saturday, the Port Adelaide merchandise cart – or, as I prefer to call it, the Caravan of Courage – was still open for business. Although that might have just been to facilitate an expected rush of returns after the Power’s insipid capitulation.
No-one really saw that coming, despite Port struggling for three quarters the previous week against St Kilda (who it’s just possible are not a finals-bound side this year).
Rory Sloane went into the Showdown on 119 games – which, as we all know, is Port’s lucky number
No, it was too easy to look at the obvious – the Power were coming off a victory, the Crows a defeat – rather than the more telling, that Adelaide had lost despite a competitive outing against a decent side while Port had won despite being crap for three quarters and had since lost three first choice players.
Still, few gave us any hope. I wish Don Pyke had simply come out for his post-match presser and recalled the famous words of Mark Williams: “Allan Scott, you were wrong.” Except taken out the words “Allan Scott” and replaced them with “Everybody”.
After all, the signs were there through the week, the odd omen warning that all was not as it appeared.
For starters, Rory Sloane went into the Showdown on 119 games – which, as we all know, is Port’s lucky number.
And then the Power’s most significant players started toppling: Hartlett, Schulz, Van Berlo. The much-maligned former Adelaide skipper was replaced by the even-more-much-maligned Kyle Hartigan, who played a solid game in defence, including a memorable spoil to cruel a certain goal in one of Port’s few genuine forays forward in the first half.
Indeed, this was a victory built on a team contribution; our lowest possession-getter was, as usual, one of our standout players, Daniel Talia, who in his 100th game blanketed Charlie Dixon. The heralded hulk from the Gold Coast may eschew his pre-game red-wining these days, but he made up for it with his ‘whining’ on the field.
Eddie Betts, with boots so green they could kill Superman, kicked five and put in a serious contender for ‘Behind Of The Year’, while ‘Ten goal Tom’ Lynch again fell short of his benchmark PB with a disappointing six. And David Mackay, who has copped some stick (ok, largely from me), was brilliant, polished and finally almost worthy of his 15-year contract extension.
The best thing about winning a Showdown is that you don’t even need another result to go your way to complete your weekend: you get a Crows win and a Power defeat for the price of one.
We beat them again yesterday, incidentally, with an SANFL side that wouldn’t look out of place in the AFL itself (although, y’know, right down the bottom of the ladder…)
Annoyingly – albeit thankfully for the mood of that bolshy sixish-year-old – Port should recover. They host Essendon this week, who will definitely not win a game all year…oh wait.
Even Kurt Tippett kicking four goals for Sydney did little to sour my mood
But those capricious bastards the Footy Gods were indeed smiling because yesterday Paddy Dangerfield and his Moggs Creek Moggies followed in the steps of our state and territory leaders and ventured to the national capital. And like the state and territory leaders, they returned home empty-handed knowing they had a lot of work ahead of them.
Paddy ran out of puff as the commentators puzzled at his wayward kicking, as if they’d never seen him pull on a guernsey before.
But The Scott Brother Who Coaches Geelong was adamant there would be no excuses for failing against the Stevie J-fired Giants, insisting: “If we’re going to be a footy club that says ‘Oh, we played well against the reigning premiers last week and we only had a six-day break and they had eight, and we had to go to Canberra’, then I’m going to quit and go and coach somewhere else. But we’re not like that. We don’t make excuses.”
Which, it has to be said, sounded like a guy making a lot of excuses.
So, the perfect weekend of football, really.
Hell, even Kurt Tippett kicking four goals for Sydney did little to sour my mood.
And it was a funny old round: all the losers from the previous week were pitted against winners from the same round. And five of them emerged victorious.
Of the remaining winless four, three weren’t really expected to do much this year anyway, leaving only Fremantle as the genuine curio of the top-eight hopefuls.
So as usual, all Round Two really teaches us is that Round One was utterly meaningless.
The Showdown ended gloriously, and then daylight savings ended, less gloriously. That one weekend of the year where most people get to sleep in and those of us with young kids get to wake up at 4.30am (my one-year-old daughter was handsomely rewarded for her efforts by getting to join me as I re-watched the first half).
If you have trouble remembering which way the clocks go, there’s this simple phrase, if you can stomach using the terminology of a country where they don’t even watch the AFL, poor devils: “Spring forward, Fall back.”
Which, coincidentally, also sums up our form over the past almost-two decades.
Just when we think we’re building to something, it all comes crumbling down.
The season before last, we managed to do it every other week.
Spring forward, fall back.
One week an ominous drubbing of a top-four contender, the next a meek capitulation to a middling side.
Then there was last year’s finals campaign: that win for the ages in a frenetic, unrelenting struggle against the in-form Bulldogs followed by a shellacking at the hands of the ageing Hawks.
Spring forward, fall back.
And now, for the first time probably since we jetted over to play last year’s non-finalist Geelong in Round 23 – and lost – we will go into Saturday’s game against Richmond at Docklands as favourites.
Which, according to our traditional bent, should ensure we screw it up.
That is, unless we have finally found a way to avoid ‘falling back’ into two decades of mediocrity.
Quite literally, we can only hope.
Touch of the Fumbles is InDaily’s weekly AFL column, published each Monday during the AFL season. Yes, it’s shamelessly biased. Even up the score in the comments section below.
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